City scandals

  • 2002-06-06
  • Kairi Kurm
Juri Mois is a man with wide horizons. He has led Estonia's biggest commercial bank, Hansapank, and then Estonia's biggest city, Tallinn. Interview by Kairi Kurm.

Juri Mois was one of the founders of Hansapank and served on the board until Swedish investor Swedbank replaced him with its own representative in 1999. He shifted to politics and was interior minister for a short time in 2000, until he was offered the job of Tallinn mayor.

Mois has been described as a wandering soul by some officials, someone who walks a different path. He was committed to cutting red tape in government, which didn't make him friends. He survived 20 months and four no-confidence votes in the post until he eventually stepped down in June 2001.

But Mois, a member of the rightwing Pro Patria Union, has said he hopes to regain the mayoral position in new elections in the fall.

What have you been up to since you resigned as mayor?

I had planned to be in politics for about five years, and I believed I could find a new post there. I applied for the post of the secretary general in Pro Patria Union but didn't get it. Then I started looking further in my life.

I can say with a little exaggeration that when holding a top position in the Estonian economy and being kicked out of there, and holding a high position in Estonian politics and being kicked out of there too, it becomes clear that a new position cannot fit in Estonian boundaries.

My new job - in the transit business - is directed outside Estonia.

After years of being in aggressive opposition, the Center Party is now in power in both the Tallinn city and national governments. Aren't you disappointed, especially since it happened because of the defection of the Reform Party?

My opinion and that of progressive mankind is, one cannot aspire after dignified aims with undignified actions. This applies to the Reform Party. It's not only about the defection, it's also about turning one's principles around 180 degrees. They violated the (ruling coalition) pact with the Pro Patria Union in a disgraceful way.

Violating political pacts is not in itself actually a problem; the well-being of the nation is the priority. Many projects were left unfinished because the government fell. Now we're spending hundreds of millions of kroons on municipal apartment houses for the poor and tenants currently living in reclaimed property. Things have gone too far in the other direction.

You angered Mart Laar, the leader of Pro Patria, when you tried to make allegiances with the Center Party when you were mayor last year. Do you think your talks with Savisaar helped to bring down the Pro Patria-led government?

No, I would rather say the opposite. The Pro Patria Union now understands that its position not to cooperate with the Center Party had been too rigid. It's impossible to ignore a faction that has about 45 percent of the votes simply by saying, "We don't want to talk with you, and that's all." You have to cooperate.

Are you still active in politics?

A little. I'm active in my new business, but I've promised to accept social positions in local municipalities or the city council, which are not paid.

How do you rate Edgar Savisaar as mayor of Tallinn?

I'm not the most partial person here to answer that. But Savisaar has violated all the unwritten rules and has started a criminal case against me (about alleged racist comments about Russian speakers). It's obviously a complete bluff. His former personal assistant and right-hand man Ain Sepik is now the minister of internal affairs. They are both "cultivating" something there.

The criminal case was started a few weeks ago. A certain solidarity once existed among Tallinn mayors, which kept them from giving rigid evaluations of their predecessors' work. Starting a criminal case is unheard of. If God could see this, he would take away from Savisaar the authority to wear the badge of office.

The Reform Party, which is now a partner, is absolutely incapable of defending its previous views. This has stopped any chance of long-term economic success.

The previous city government thought it right to spend more money on organizing public events, establishing public buildings, squares, places to gather, and roads. It has changed. More money is now spent on satisfying the well-being of a few people. Take the municipal apartments, for example, that cost 1 million kroons ($60,000) a piece. We can't build these for all 400,000 Tallinners.

Luckily, new elections are coming.

You held the post of Tallinn mayor for 20 months. Did you achieve all you wanted to achieve?

No. The Vabaduse Square development, the new Lillekula football stadium and the Tallinn-Tartu highway were left uncompleted. The highway should have been completed in time for Eurovision.

One thing we changed was the system for supporting sports activities. We used to support coaches for their training, but now we support the participants instead, who can choose their own coaches. Sports schools have been privatized and several were brought under one bookkeeping system. The development plans for the sports hall Saku Suurhall and the Lillekula football stadium were made, which also included private capital.

The city received gorgeous buildings practically without placing any money there. The water company Tallinna Vesi and the heating company Tallinna Soojus were privatized. We planned to cut the number of public officials in the city from 30,000 to 20,000 but only managed half that number before I left the post.

How much further can the number of city officials fall?

A lot of officials have been hired lately. I don't know what the exact numbers are now. It would be good if 15,000 - including teachers - are left. We should have more private schools and private hospitals. The first thing that occurs to people is that they have to be dismissed. No, their work will be reorganized in the conditions of the market economy. Then they can make more money and do more actual work.

What is the single most pressing problem facing Estonia?

To support the birth of children. There is only one country where the declining birth rate is a bigger problem - Latvia. If I want to shock someone, then I tell him or her that 18,000 people die each year in Estonia and 12,000 are born. The difference is 6,000. Each year a population the size of the city of Rapla is lost. It's been this way for the last 10 years. In the Soviet period about 21,000 were born and 18,000 died.

Local municipalities should be made responsible for raising children, as is common in Nordic countries, which have overcome these problems. You don't need marriage; we're living in the 21st century.

You have fulfilled your part of the task by bringing up three children.

Why do you think three is enough?

Despite your busy schedule, do you have time to get out and relax in the evening?

These projects have temporally been halted. I am struggling with my one-and-a-half year old child, waking up at 6 a.m., and so on. I'm not currently a good guide on entertainment. I'm trying to relax from raising my child and watch him grow.