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Lost Brother

Over the past few weeks, four men have been vilified and demonised by the Estonian media. Priit Toobal, Kajar Lember, Tiit Ojasoo and myself. One man is accused of having an affair with an underage person, another is accused of accepting bribes, a third was caught on camera beating and kicking a woman and the fourth myself what did I do?

For those of you not familiar with Estonian politics, I left my party the Social Democrats and taken a job with the city, which is controlled by a rival party the Centre Party. I started my new job the end of May 2016. I don't want to comment of the merits of the cases, the other three men who have been subject to abuse. It is for them to defend themselves, but in my case since it is tax payers money we are talking about I have to explain myself. 

The right of centre party Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (IRL) think I am a greedy self-serving bastard and a traitor to the nation. Jegveni Ossinovski, chairman of the Social Democrats, thinks I have brought disgrace onto myself.

“Very disappointed in you wrote one reader. You have shown that you are bribable.”
“You are a lost brother (kadunud vend) to Estonians now,” wrote another commentator.

Personal friends have been very upset with me. One friend, a former student, now a rising star in the IRL couldn’t even look at me, he just scowled. My advisor in the City Council reacted in a similar way. At last week’s Tallinn City Council sitting, she just handed me my things, without even looking at me and stormed off. I felt like John Snow in Game of Thrones just before he is stabbed. “Traitor.”

Years ago, I anticipated that this would happen someday.

In my book Väike Valge Riik (Small white Nation) which came out in 2012, I wrote in the introduction.

“Ma mõistan hästi, et millalgi tulevikus põrkan ma ägedale väenulikusele. Minu vastu tuntakse tõsist viha. Ent see juhtub alles siis, kui eestlased hakkavad mind pidama üheks endi seast.” 

(I realise that at some point in the future I will face real hostility. There will be serious rage against me. But it will only happen when Estonians start to think of me as one of them).

So on one level, I was somewhat relieved that I turned out to be right. I would have been worried and upset had there been no abuse, no ridicule, no anger, just silence.

I was even touched by the “lost brother” thing. I hope it isn’t too presumptuous of me to say I was actually proud of Rainer Vakra, Magnus Tshakna, Jegnevi Ossinovski, Hanno Matto and everybody else who was so angry at me.

And it will get worse before it gets better.

Whereas some Estonians were angry at me, Westerners, at least the ones I know, were not. They saw it differently.

“That’s great you should do that,” said one.

“I don’t get it what was the catch. Why did you even consider not doing it?” said another.

“It’s like being hired by Richard Nixon,” I explained to him

He still didn’t get it.  
There is clear division between the way Estonians see the World and the way outsiders see it. All my personal Western friends and acquaintances whether they live in Estonia or not, whether they know a lot about Estonia or nothing at all, thought I am doing something good.  A lot of Estonians I know think I am doing something bad.

There was one exception to this. I will come to this in a minute.

Some Estonians are very Westernised, they also “got it”, they got it immediately. I didn’t have to explain it to them. I called two people before I made the decision.

One of them, is very influential, well connected and no friend of the Centre Party. I thought she would try to talk me out of it. Instead she said: “No you have to do that, not for yourself, but for the country. You are going to get a lot of abuse but you still have to do that.”  

Before I get to the nitty gritty why I quit and why I felt I had to take this job let’s clear up some of the nonsense.

You took this job for the money

False. I have read some outrageous figures for what I will be earning, €5000 a month €6000 a month, €9000. Nonsense. Logically, it is impossible that the city is ever going to pay that kind of money. It would cause resentment with other city employees, who I have to work with.  My actually salary in €2100 Gross (bruto) a month.
I appreciate that a lot of people in Estonia can’t earn that kind of money and I am grateful for the opportunity, but it is not an outrageous sum. It’s less money than I was earning in the UK before I came to Estonia eight years ago, it’s less money even than the average wage is in Britain, it’s a lot less than the average wage in London and the South East and here’s the kicker, it’s less money than I earned before I took this job.

I was doing freelance work for Euromonitor a market research company. Since the company is based in the UK, the pay is good. This is also the reason I haven’t been writing anything, I have been so tied up with this work I just haven’t had time.  

There is a very simple way for clever journalists to work out my salary. As a city councillor I am required to declare my income and assets every year. This information is publicly available. My income from Sihtasutus Tallinna Arengu- ja Koolituskeskus is declared automatically. All a clever journalist needs to do is to check and they can see that I am telling the truth,

You are doing this to enhance your own career. 

True somewhat. One of my oldest friends who lives in the UK, but knows Estonia well said this to me. It stung because I realised that he was correct.
My job is to attract positive media and investment into the city by generating interest in the city’s cultural life, opportunities for entrepreneurs and technological and urban development. This has to be done at a municipal level since economically Tallinn is Estonia. It is also tacitly though not officially within my remit to try to promote the areas around Tallinn.

The job also has a technical aspect because I am also to write, edit and translate news content. There aren’t very many people speaking English as a mother tongue who can translate from Estonian into English and are also professional writers.

Actually I have been encouraging people who are wealthier than me to come to Estonia and invest for years. Now I get a chance to do this in an official capacity. Since I will be spending a lot of time in Brussels and flying all over Europe, yes of course it is an opportunity to make contacts and raise my profile.

So yes the job enhances my career but it comes with a cost. I am perfectly aware that I might have blown the opportunity to work in a public job at a national level.

I feel what I am doing is in the best interests of the country. I believe with my background as reporter and newspaper editor, native English speaker. I am best qualified to do this job and obviously the city powers think so too.

You are doing this to spite the Social Democrats because they didn’t promote you or give you a job.

False. It’s true I had a difficult relationship with the party. But it was based on ideologically differences not career. I have said repeatedly and consistently from the start that I am a social liberal not a social democrat. The decision to stay in the coalition was wrong. Some of their most cherished policies are wrong.

Their communication is horrible. When I stood for the European Parliament, the party put out web flyers on social media asking people to vote for me: “to prove you are not racist.” They also had flyers with, “prove you don’t hate women, vote Marianne Mikko.” and “Prove you don’t hate Russians vote for Jevgeni Ossinovski.”  Unbelievable. This was insulting the intelligence of the voters.

The web flyer with me went viral, I was never informed, the first I heard of it was when a friend got in touch in alarm and asked: “Do you realise what they are doing with your campaign?”

I later found out that this idea came from the very top, the party leadership. A dozen people in a room and no-one thought to say: “No we shouldn’t do that, that’s a bad idea.”

It was then that I started to really wonder if I want to be in a party that could be so contemptuous of its own voters.

Jevgeni Ossinovski has said that I asked for a ministry job. This is not true, I don’t think I have had a proper conversation with Ossinovski, or Indrek Saar, or Sven Mikser, ever! I gave a speech at a conference once last year. Ossinovski was there also. Ossinovski, me and the organisers had dinner at a table together. We barely said two words to each other. I didn’t read anything into it. I just assumed he is an introverted person. So no I never asked Ossinovski for a job. I never asked for a ministry job, nor would I, for selfish reasons. There is absolutely no job security.

I am not a spiteful person. I don’t hold grudges; I am too old for it. Life is too short. Most of the people in the party are good people. I am sorry that I upset them. I am sorry I upset my advisor she’s a very nice lady, but I don’t regret it.

By doing this you are helping to keep Savisaar in power. 

False, false and again false. This is just a silly idea and I can prove it. It’s based on a misunderstanding of how the local government electoral system works. The theory is, if the law changes and Riigikogu members can also sit in the City Council, the so-called Kadri Simson gang will come down from the big house and try to kick out Savisaar. Savisaar is not even the Mayor at the moment, but in the highly unlike event that the law is passed before the local election, and the even more unlikely event there is yet another coup attempt; the Social Democrats could just as easily send Andres Anvelt down from Riigikogu to take my spot. In the event of a power struggle, I wouldn’t be in the city council.

In any case, I’m sure my handlers don’t mind me saying that I was offered this job when it first became available months ago, long before the Simson power grab. I turned it down flat. I am given to understand my employers were looking at someone else, it didn’t pan out. Then they approached me again, and this time I was more receptive. Why I changed my mind you will find out in a minute.  

By associating with the Centre Party you are making them look good. 

True. Obviously true. The Centre Party wants to perceived as a modern progressive party. As the only international person in Estonian politics I could help with that. There are ideological similarities. My opposition to quotas is the same one as the Centre Party it’s also the same position that Dave Benton has. I have met with people from all sides of the party, except Savisaar, I have never met Savisaar. And they all are very keen for me to join the party.

The Social Democrats think the Centre Party is like EKRE (The far right Eurosceptic party). “They are like brothers,” one social democrat said to me, but I can’t imagine EKRE being so keen for me to join them. It seems unlikely somehow.
As for joining the Centre Party, at every meeting I’ve had one condition which is non-negotiable. I need an assurance there is no Russian money in the party.

By associating with the Centre Party you are making Savisaar look good. True again, he is the party chairman, see above.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Why am I doing it? Why did I change my mind?

Nobody in Europe cares one jot about the internal politics of Estonia!

If I am flying over Europe as an official representative of the city the only thing decision makers, and the media are going to notice is that a black man with a Muslim name and an English accent is representing the whitest country in Europe.

A lot of people voted for me because they wanted Estonia to be seen as modem, cosmopolitan and tolerant.  As a society which is successful and flexible, all the things Ossinovski waffles on about. If I meet up with the mayor of London, or the Mayor of Copenhagen, they are going to notice and remember.

If Estonia wants a positive image, this is going to help. It’s not a whole solution but it’s going to help. The fact it’s coming from me, not just coming from an Estonian, is more persuasive.

It’s more crucial than ever the Estonia gets good PR because what most people who are not involved in international journalism are not aware is there is less publicity about Estonia now than five years ago. There are less reporters writing about Estonia, or based here. And the publicity that there is, is bad. Estonia is backward, Estonians are fascist, Estonia is about to be invaded by Russia anyway. It is part of my job to counter this narrative, I might not be successful but I should at least try.

But that’s not all.  I had a dialogue with my handlers which persuaded me, it went something like this.

“You do realise you are sending someone with a Muslim name to Brussels?”

“Why is that a problem?”

“Brussels was just bombed by terrorists, Muslim terrorists.”

“You’re not a terrorist, are you?”


“Then what’s the problem? “

I was born in England. England is a Christian country. Since my parents settled there in the 1950s they raised me as a Christian. I went to an Anglican church I was a choirboy in a Christian cathedral. I read the bible, memorised the Lord Prayer. I had a typical English Anglican upbringing.

But Abdul is a Muslim name and my father was a Muslim. One of the myths about Islam is they want everyone to convert to Islam, actually a lot of Muslim, convert to Christianity or allow their children to convert. Most of the younger members of my family are now Christian and active Christians.

My father could read Arabic letters, and begun to take his faith more seriously towards the end of his life. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca. He was never a bad man but he became a better man because of his faith.

Initially when I was approached and offered this job, I turned it down without hesitation, because “people will say I am working for Savisaar.”

Then Paris happened, then Cologne happened, then Brussels happened. That was the last straw. I was approached again quite soon after this and this time, I was prepared to listen.

For my father’s sake if not for my own I had to do something to persuade people not all Muslims are bad.

Who have I betrayed?  How have I betrayed the country? I say not sticking up for my father’s memory because I am afraid of nasty press would be the real betrayal. A lot of EKRE minded people are going to hate the fact that a black man with a Muslim name is representing Tallinn on an international level. That’s why I should do it. That’s why I have to do it.  

People have embraced me so fully that they have forgotten that I’m not Estonian. And yes, I have divided loyalties. So respect to Ossinovski, Vakra and Tshkana.    

The last thing I’d like to say is this, I have been living in Estonia for quite a long time now. I don’t embezzle funds, beat up actresses, or burst into women’s cabin rooms. I don’t gamble, take drugs, drink, smoke, womanise, or listen to hip-hop. I lease a car but I still get on a bus to go to work or cycle., I am not interested in high fashion or celebrity culture or ostentatious displays of wealth. It’s a small country, if I was up to no good, people would have worked it out by now.

I have been transparent here about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and how much I am earning. Unlike Donald Trump, I have a thick skin so I don’t need approval but its tax payers’ money so I needed to explain it.

When I first came to Estonia everybody hated me “The man who upsets Estonians,” I was called, then some people liked me… they liked me so much they put me on the city council, I’m in cycle which I can’t avoid or change; villain, hero, villain, hero, villain, pause, big hero. Like Severus Snape in Harry Potter it’s my destiny and I have to face it.

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