Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

Estonia’s far-right ministers accused of Nazi-style antics

Ministers made white nationalist symbols during a swearing-in ceremony

Estonian Finance Minister Martin Helme attends the swearing-in of the incoming coalition government in Tallinn. Reuters
Estonian Finance Minister Martin Helme attends the swearing-in of the incoming coalition government in Tallinn. Reuters

Estonia’s new coalition government has caused controversy in its first week in office after two far-right ministers made hand gestures associated with white nationalism at a swearing-in ceremony and another was forced to resign a day after his inauguration over domestic violence allegations.

At elections last month the eurosceptic and nationalist Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) won 18 per cent of the vote. A deal was brokered between two other parties allowing the EKRE five ministers in a new coalition, the first time a far-right party has made it into government of the Baltic state.

As the EKRE ministers were being sworn in in the Estonian Parliament on Monday, concern was raised when two ministers made an “OK” symbol with their hands.

Mart Helme, the new Interior minister, and his son Martin, the finance minister, made the gestures, which have become associated with white power movement on alt right online forums. The symbol was made by the suspect in the Christchurch mosques attack when he appeared in court.

Estonia's Interior Minister Mart Helme. Reuters
Estonia's Interior Minister Mart Helme. Reuters

Martin Helme drew criticism during his election campaign for comments he made in 2013, arguing that Estonia was a “white country”.

“Our immigration policy should have one simple rule: If black, show the door,” he said during a TV interview.

The Helmes’ actions drew immediate rebuke from former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who said he was appalled to see the “white power sign” made in parliament.

“Doing this in front of the entire diplomatic corps at the swearing in ceremony certainly gave diplomats something to write home about,” he said.

While Sweden’s former prime minister Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Affairs, said the gestures were alarming.

“I get genuinely worried when I see this behavior by two members of the new government in Estonia,” he wrote on Twitter.

Just one day later, Marti Kuusik from the EKRE was relieved of his role of IT and foreign trade minister after reports surfaced in Estonian media linking him to allegations of domestic violence.

Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid said she had removed Mr Kuusik from the government at the request of the prime minister Juri Ratas.

Police began an investigation into the claims, which Mr Kuusik strenuously denies.

“In addition to a horrible media attack against me the prosecutor’s office decided to start a criminal investigation. In this situation I cannot work as a minister. Also the rest of the government cannot work normally,” he said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

The EKRE, founded in 2012, campaigned in the March elections to reduce immigration, slash taxes and hold a referendum on the country’s EU membership.

Former prime minister Taavi Roivas from the liberal Reform Party expressed concern that his country, with a population of just 1.3 million, was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Posting a link to a report from a Spanish newspaper about the Helme ministers, Mr Roivas said internationally Estonia was getting "unequivocally negative attention".

Updated: May 2, 2019 06:22 PM

SHARE

SHARE