To be, or not to be, the next president of Estonia

  • 2010-02-03
  • By Anna-Maria Galojan

Who will be the next president of Estonia? This question is already stimulating much discussion among the populace as well as among the political classes. Indeed, several political parties are already involved in campaigns towards the promotion of one candidate or another.

This is an important issue. Despite the fact that the presidential office does not convey great political power, it is hugely influential as the symbol of the State, its leadership and dignity.
For thousands of years heads of State have evolved, from the pharaohs, Caesars, emperors and kings into the modern presidents. The presidency replaces the monarchy in a republic and enjoys a similar status to most modern monarchs despite not being hereditary. Such status, however, comes with a price; that is, an even-handed responsibility.

The representative role of the Estonian presidency demands such high standards, especially so at this crucial stage of Estonia’s democratic infancy. The next president, who will be chosen next year, must command the respect of all political parties and, ideally, all the citizenry of all ethnic backgrounds. He, or she, will become the leader of the team comprising the prime minister, Cabinet, the ministries, parliament and the diplomatic corps, representing him or her together with the whole nation throughout the world.

This team to emerge following the next election will have to consider some major factors - here are just four of them:
One, is it trusted by the people? There is a general mistrust of politicians everywhere today, and if democracy is to survive, that trust must be restored.
Two, can it rebuild good relations with the Russian Federation? This is essential for economic, social and political reasons.

Three, will it accelerate a constructive relationship with the EU? There must be a fresh understanding of the nature of giving, as well as in taking as the relationship matures.
Four, can it come to terms with the changing nature of U.S. foreign policy? Gone are the days of naive Bushite triumphalism, which greatly mislead some in the ex-Soviet space. The U.S., for economic as well as political reasons, is gradually withdrawing as its empire begins to fall, at the same time as China begins its ascendancy towards becoming the world’s super-power.

In the light of this, the question must be asked: can a politician become a statesman?
By definition, a politician is one who is active in politics, especially Party politics, one who holds or seeks political office via that Party allegiance.

On the other hand, a statesman is a leader in national affairs who is a disinterested promoter of the public good, well versed in the art of governance, showing wisdom, skill and vision completely above party politics.
Clearly, many politicians could never realistically aspire to the presidential office unless self-deceived by egoism. Once immersed in a political party it is very difficult to disengage oneself and show genuine dis-interestedness. (This, of course is not a problem for monarchs!)

History has shown examples of leaders who have risen above party interests, especially in times of tribulation as, for example, Churchill did during World War II.
It serves little purpose now to reflect upon the statesmanlike qualities of the first three presidents of Estonia during the present period of independence. Suffice it to say, within the context of this article, none of the three have enjoyed the support of all the populace of all ethnic backgrounds.

The principal preoccupation of every potential candidate for the presidential elections is to consider whether they can combine their political background with presidential statesmanship, and only then to ask the question, “To be, or not to be, the next Estonian president!”

Anna-Maria Galojan is a political scientist and foreign policy analyst at Tartu University.