• 2005-07-20
The recent scandal with Estonia's police chief, Robert Antropov, once again illustrates a quality largely peculiar to Estonians: an intolerance of impropriety. Mr. Antropov was "caught" using a police vehicle to take his parents to Saaremaa Island. As he later claimed, his personal car would have been too small for the task, so he used a government automobile. Immediately the press impugned the police chief, and calls for his resignation resounded.

Honestly now 's is it fair to begrudge Antropov 's nay, vilify him 's when all he wanted to do was to drive his parents to the countryside in a government car? If a healthy society promotes family values, then what's so awful about a government official giving his mom and dad a lift in an official vehicle? The police chief should be required to pay the gas bill, and the case closed.

But not in Estonia. In the national quest for perfection 's or, said differently, in the national witch-hunt against imperfection 's Antropov will be stripped of his 600 euro monthly bonus for at least six months and deprived of his summer holiday. All because he wanted to help out his parents. So much for family values.

Oddly, when tendering his resignation, Antropov said he realized he had injured the public's "sense of justice." But what sense of justice is this? It is not as if the police chief quashed an investigation into a crime committed by a relative. He did what any compassionate son or daughter would do. Besides, as every professional police officer knows, the call to duty never ends. A cop is a cop around the clock. It is curious how things would have unfolded if, while taking his parents to Saaremaa, Antropov had become witness to a crime, or even prevented one from taking place. What would the perfectionists say then?

Indeed, the obsession with impropriety, which now smacks of holier-than-thou double-standards, is reaching a summer climax in sultry Estonia. Last week the country's agriculture minister, Ester Tuiksoo, was criticized for using a siren while rushing to, according to reports, a Tartu nightclub. Apparently she had received official permission to use the siren, which allowed her to exceed the speed limit and make it to her destination on time. It was unclear whether the trip involved official or unofficial business, but media reports pointed out that, other than the minister, no one of status had been present at the nightclub. Estonians want a government that is closer to the people, just as long as leaders stay out of the fast lane.

Perhaps this heightened fascination with ministerial road-manners is a function of the summer lull: Nothing newsworthy is taking place, so let's see how our government leaders behave themselves. In a country such as Estonia, which has one of the highest road fatality rates in Europe, it might serve the public good if people paid more attention to how they behave behind the wheel.