TARTU - The world was completely shocked by the events of July 22, when Anders Behring Breivik decided to commit the worst mass murder in Europe since the Second World War. For a society that prides itself with openness and tolerance, a hate crime of this magnitude sent shockwaves through the populace and political circles.
It is a time for other countries in Europe to evaluate their domestic security situations. Breivik is a mentally very ill person whose actions cannot be explained through politics or immigration laws. Nevertheless it is possible to discuss the readiness of the security services and what the state could do to prevent acts like this.
Although Breivik’s political opinions are very much irrelevant, it is important to consider the environment that pushed him towards rage like that. Islam is the second biggest religion in Norway and the last 50 years have seen large-scale immigration into the country. Breivik was an insane right-wing extremist who aimed to cause chaos in the society to get his point across. Estonia has a very big Russian diaspora and nationalism is mainly focused on anti-Russian sentiments.
Although immigration has not been as high into Estonia as it has been to Norway, Estonian society is becoming more multi-cultural. Islam is not as prevalent in Estonia, either. According to the 2000 general census, there were 1,387 Muslims living in the country. This number has probably increased significantly since. According to official data, religious discrimination or violence is not commonplace. Nevertheless, according to many analysts, an inevitable rise in immigrants could prompt new problems that could have an effect on tolerance.
According to the Estonian Minister of the Interior Ken-Marti Vaher, although there is increased interest in Estonia as a destination for immigrants, many of them apply to Estonia with the sole aim of getting access to other Schengen countries. Nevertheless, it is clear that with rising living standards, immigration is on the rise from outside the European Union. Some problems have, however, already emerged. There have been several reported cases of foreign students being physically assaulted, based on some arbitrary external criterion.
Similar to other Northern European countries, immediately after the emergence of the true hellish horror of the events in Norway, there were calls in Estonia for a review of the gun laws. The minister of the interior said in an interview to Postimees that it is important to examine the medical checks that are compulsory before a gun license can be obtained. “Today the general practitioner makes the necessary checks, and specialist doctors are included, if necessary. The question is, whether the current checks are enough to ascertain whether a person has a psychological disorder which, according to the law, prevents a person from obtaining a license, and whether a person is capable of committing the atrocities which insane people have committed in Finland, Norway, the U.S. and other countries.”
According to the current legislation, there is a compulsory talk with a psychiatrist as well as brief interviews with the household. There will probably now be discussions over whether this is sufficient to weed out maniacs. At the moment, there are 29,000 gun owners in the country, 15,000 of which are hunters.
In an interview with Postimees, a representative of the Estonian Police, Margus Kotter, said that the police can use helicopters, boats, hovercraft and other water vehicles to access islands or other areas. The police also have ATVs for different landscapes and have access to different technologies that their partners have. The press officer, Kaarel Kuusk, stated that getting to an island will always take longer than to a city center, but the police will always get there anyway. No police representative has yet answered questions about how long it would take to get to given points in Estonia, saying that it all depends on the situation at hand. According to Ken-Marti Vaher, there are around 100 police patrols at work at any given time, in addition to several fast response units and the use of AgustaWestland helicopters.
This event created emotions and opinions like nothing else. Perhaps the most sensationalist of which was a statement by Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s representative to NATO, whereby he claimed normal citizens are capable of committing atrocities like this because they are encouraged by politicians, especially in the Baltic States, who praise Nazism. In his statement to Voice of Russia, he argued that European politicians propagate Nazi ideas and fascism, which is most clearly demonstrated by the apparent neo-Nazism that is proliferated in the Baltic States.
Claims of an abundance of fascism in Estonia have been part of the populist artillery used by Russian authorities since 1991. Estonian top-level officials, including Urmas Paet, the foreign minister, were quick to rebuke statements like that, claiming that Rogozin brought politics to a tragedy.
In his manifest, Anders Breivik mentioned Estonia on several occasions. Once was when he described the deportations by the Soviets of the 1940s, and secondly, when he described his friendly ‘brothers and sisters’ and quoted two Estonian political entities. He claimed to have visited Estonia before and called the Estonian Independence Party and the Estonian Patriotic Movement as friendly to his “cause.”
The Estonian Independence Party made a statement saying they “do not accept responsibility for terrorist acts in Somalia, Afghanistan [...] or Norway, neither underground nor above-ground, not on this planet or any other.”
Neither party has even come close to being accepted as a legitimate and credible political force on the political landscape, especially after statements like this. It does not, however, show the number of desperate and insane people there may be in the parties.