Youth help right wing populist party rise to new heights in Estonia
TALLINN, Estonia. Artur Lusmägi (22) is commencing his third year of study in informatics in Tallinn University of Technology. Next year he plans to find a high-paid job in IT in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltic countries. Lusmägi is one of those youth representing a conservative shift in thinking in Estonia.
While universities tend to be liberal leaning, a growing number of people like Lusmägi harbour more nationalist views in response to the growing number of people flocking to Europe due to conflicts and social problems in Middle East and Africa.
„The biggest problem we have here in Europe is the migration and the influx of people from third-world countries. It will certainly affect both Europe and Estonia as well in case we don’t put an end to it,“ he said.
He is going to vote for the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) in the coming parliamentary elections in March. In fact, more and more young people have started supporting the populist right wing party that has set a new national awakening of Estonia as one of its main goals. The Eurosceptic party also has a staunch anti-immigrational stance, and supports a judicial reform to curb the rights of the courts and prosecutors it deems as corrupt.
If EKRE triumphed this would make Estonia yet another European Union member state with a government critical of Brussels in power, similar to those in Poland and Hungary.
EKRE growing in popularity
According to the most recent poll conducted by Turu-uuringute AS, the support for EKRE was at all-time high in August, being the third most popular party in Estonia. A total of 19 % of people supported it. Only Centre Party and Reform Party were more popular with 27 % and 25 % of people, respectively, supporting them.
Whilst depicted as a party supported mainly by elderly men of rural background this is beginning to change. According to the poll, the party was more popular in the age group of 24-34 than amongst the people aged 50+.
Ruuben Kaalep, leader of the party’s youth wing Sinine Äratus („The Blue Awakening“), said that this is logical: „Radical politics is youthful in essence“. He argued that the voters’ base of the party is evening out and the party’s typical supporter might not be the elderly man of rural background anymore, as it used to be.
He also attributed the success amongst the youth to the social media campaigns of Sinine Äratus that are youthful and use the internet culture to their benefit. „We are preparing a big social media compaign for the parliamentary elections that is going to be really memetic. The other parties and their youth organisations can’t compete with us since they don’t have this kind of connexion with the internet culture nowadays.“
Possibly in the next government
According to Kaalep, EKRE aims to get at least 21 out of 101 seats in parliament in the coming elections in March. This would open the door to make proposals to change the constitution. A change the country needs, he says, is the direct election of the president for example. Currently the president is elected by the parliament
Jaanus Karilaid, vice chairman of the ruling Centre Party, said that the direct election of the president, the need for judicial reform and the views on regional politics are some of the main topics that the two parties have in common. He regarded the rise of EKRE as a positive feature on the political landscape.
„First there is going to be a new potential political partner. Secondly, I see that they are biting away quite a lot of the electoral of the Reform Party. The stronger EKRE gets the weaker the Reform Party is going to be,“ he said.
Karilaid said that although the economic programmes of the two parties are rather opposite to each other, the formation of the government with EKRE is not ruled out. It all depends on the deal that is going to be negotiated in the coalition talks.
Urmas Klaas, vice chairman of the oppositional Reform Party, that is said to have a similar economic programme to EKRE, also didn’t preclude forming the next coalition with EKRE. He said it would be difficult to find a common part with EKRE though since the Reform Party stands for pro-European liberal democratic values.
„The messages of EKRE are oftentimes irresponsible, simplified and carried by the desire to get attention no matter what it takes,“ he said.
Alar Kilp, a political scientist at the University of Tartu, agreed that EKRE is vying for attention with its simplified messages. This is also one of the main reasons, he said, the party has got so popular. „These messages are being distributed amongst the people. I don’t know any other party in Estonia who would have as strong messages as EKRE has at the moment,“ he said. He added that the rise of EKRE is connected to the overall populist tendencies in Europe.
Kilp argued that the rise in popularity shows in fact that the party is no more only supported by people who hold radical views but also by people with mainstream views. The party is getting more mainstream.
„EKRE shouldn’t rise in popularity now that the refugee crisis has abated and the economy is doing relatively well but I rather think that they are not as radical as it might seem,“ he said.