Defence Minister suddenly resigns

  • 2005-09-28
  • By Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Defense Minister Jaak Joeruut resigned on Sept. 26 in response to scandalous anticommunist T-shirts worn by the director of Estonia's war museum at a soccer game.
Joeruut, a member of the Reform Party, also hoped this move would signal his protest against corruption allegations in political and business circles that have so far been left unanswered.

The minister wrote in his resignation letter that he did not have the strength to work in a government due to the anger, vulgarity and unanswered accusations of corruption.

Indrek Tarand, manager of the Laidoner Museum, appeared with others in public in a red T-shirt with the words Kommarid ahju! ("Commies to the oven") at a soccer match held between Estonian National TV and Estonian Radio on Sept. 23.

Tarand was not available for comment.

Juku-Kalle Raid, chief editor of KesKus and the individual who made these shirts, told The Baltic Times that the incident was just an excuse for the defense minister to do what he would have done sooner or later 's distance himself from the "bad lot."

Raid believes that Tarand wanted to show that he did not tolerate the "red nomenclature."

"Commies to the oven" is the right translation, said Raid. The translation offered by Baltic News Service 's "burn the commies" 's is too violent, he said.

Raid's paper, KesKus, is known for its black humor.

The shirt bore the names of former Communist Party members, including heads of the current coalition parties and the president of Estonia. Joeruut was also listed.

Joeruut and Tarand know each other well. The museum Tarand manages is run under the auspices of the Defense Ministry.

"This picture stunned me," said Joeruut, referring to the photo of Tarand he saw in a tabloid SLOhtuleht. He said that Estonia was a democratic country, and its management and institutions had been elected in a democratic way. It would be normal to elect somebody else if the current management did not satisfy, he said.

Police are investigating the case 's in particular, who made the shirts and what the point of the shirts was.

In Raid's words, "[Economy Minister Edgar] Savisaar started the criminal case. So far it has been okayed with police. They even asked me if they could buy a shirt for investigation. I went and took it to them myself."

He added, "A police representative said on the air that interpreting 'commies' could turn out to be problematic. Besides, none of the names bare big letters. I have a decent crew of lawyers behind me. I do not see why I should be afraid of the police of my own country."

Raid said T-shirts have been part of pop-culture in Europe, and he did not know of any such precedents that had been taken so seriously. He admitted he expected a reaction from society, but not such a strong one.

He is certain that Joeruut's main concern was not the T-shirt but the charges of corruption. Raid told The Baltic Times that the current situation in Estonia resembled the Soviet one of 25 years ago.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, a Reformist, has four weeks to accept or turn down the application, but he promised to make a decision sooner. His initial response was that Joeruut's move was not well thought out.

Joeruut, however, was unequivocal. "I didn't make this statement as a chess move and I do wish to resign," he told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Savisaar, who is chief of the Center Party, suggested that the heads of all parties involved in the "shameful episode" should step down. He also called on parties to kick out all members who were part of the incident, and wondered openly why none of Res Publica's former communists were mentioned on the shirts.

If he were to put all the names on the shirt, Savisaar said, he would need two meters of material. The MP added that he took the first ones he found on the Internet. At the end of the list it says "etc.," he stressed.

Raid does not exclude that a "volume 2" shirt could appear in the future. Incidentally, Raid is listed on Res Publica's list in the forthcoming municipal elections, though he is not member of the party.

Raid's colleague is running on the Pro Patria ticket. He also tried to sell shirts at the event, but organizers stopped him.

"The shirt was our fabrication, and the coalition parties have nothing to do with it. Savisaar has always been paranoid," said Raid.

Res Publica, a right-wing opposition party, said the scandal had no connections with the party and was organized by KesKus. Siim Mannik, party spokesman, said that even if party leaders wanted to, it was too late to exclude Raid from the list.

Mannik added that the radicals who came up with the slogan "commies to the oven" were pointing out the right thing but went too far with their choice of words.

"We have to admit that Soviet thinking is indeed more strongly established in Estonia, and Res Publica, in any case, objects to the system where we have to be thankful to some politicians, fellowships or parties for a better position or a higher pension," explained Mannik.

"Politics based on back-scratching, where people do each other favors, has less common points with the democratic development of the country and inevitably leads to the deterioration of Estonia," he said.

Res Publica has called for a meeting with coalition parties to discuss open government. In Res Publica's opinion, the wrong minister resigned.

In his resignation letter, Joeruut also criticized the Center Party for good relations with Russia and the People's Union, the third coalition party, for bringing in foreign observers to monitor Estonian elections. In his opinion, it shows distrust for one's own country.

Some observers have accused the minister of playing pre-election games. Joeruut is considered to be a good candidate for next year's presidential elections.

Sociologist Juhan Kivirahk wrote in a daily Eesti Paevaleht that after the resignation, Joeruut has a good position to start a presidential election campaign. The society is waiting for a moral purification and a positive hero.