Interview with Marina Kaljurand, MEP from Estonia

We present an interview with Marina Kaljurand, MEP from Estonia. Pulia Tetiana and Halyna Krasovska, our coordinators, who are interns within the S&D Group in the European Parliament, spoke with her.

Marina Kaljurand has served as the minister of foreign affairs of Estonia, and the ambassador of Estonia to Russia, Kazakhstan, and the USA, so she has a lot of experience in diplomatic work. The politician is also very active in the European Parliament, supports Ukraine, and participates in the Contact Group for Ukraine. In this interview, we touched upon the issue of the attitude to Ukraine in the EU, changing trends in perception of the war in Ukraine.
How do you communicate with your citizens? What are the most important issues right now for them? What tools do you use in order to be in touch and always be on the same page and how do you explain to people what it happening here in the EP?
When I was elected to the EP, one of the messages that I heard during meetings with voters was "please do not disappear when you are in Brussels, please stay connected to Estonia." I was the most popular politician in my country. I received 65,000 votes, and the runner-up received 40,000. The difference is huge. And it was easy for me because people like me. However, even then, it's difficult to keep in contact.

So what I do are monthly online discussions, monthly texts in online newspapers and weekly updates on what is happening here. I am really active on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter for different groups. Twitter is mainly for foreigners. Facebook is for all generations in Estonia. Younger generation follows Insta. You just have to be creative.

I don't talk only about politics. There are some limits about how far I let the media into my private life. I will never invite journalists to my home. But I am showing photos of my dogs. And I negotiate with my kid about how much I can show my grandkids to the public.

My secret weapon is my dog. I have a 14-year-old mixed breed; his mother was in a shelter. His name is Rocky. When I see the people disappearing after all of my political statements, I publish a couple of photos of Rocky, he has his fun club, and people come back. I have two dogs. But Rocky is much more popular than my second dog, Scottish terrier. Rocky is much more popular than my grandkids, for that matter! So when I see that people are disappearing, I put a couple of photos with Rocky, they all come back and then I publish a political statement.

So you have to play all the time. Because if you only make political statements, people don't want that, especially during summer and nice weather. They don't want to hear about politics, they want to see you as a human being. Therefore, it is up to every person to decide how far they let the public attention go. There are many politicians in Estonia who let media into their bedrooms and everywhere. I do not. I am more conservative. For example, I have 3 grandkids. So my negotiations with my own kids are like this: I can show the face of one grandkid, and two others I can show only from the back or profile. You can see these pictures on my Facebook.

You have to be creative. And I think you have to talk to people frankly and openly. If you start speaking the bureaucratic language and the European Parliament language, they don't understand you. People in Estonia don't always understand what the European Parliament does. Whenever I try to speak about the European Parliament, they still ask about salaries, pensions and everything. So, talking, talking, talking, meeting people and working endlessly.

I would say that our civil society is already very robust. We started building it in 1991, and now it is really strong. I just can't imagine working without civil society.
How do you try to explain to the population that what the EU decides really matters for them, that it affects their everyday lives?
Before the invasion of Ukraine, my monthly discussions were devoted to topics related to the local level, the state level and the European Parliament level. For example, we were discussing COVID certificates. So I started with what it meant at the EU level, then another person continued how it was implemented in Estonia and another person elaborated on what it meant for everyday lives, for a person: if the person receives the COVID certificate, how he or she can travel and so on. Thus, I try to examine all the topics at the three levels: the European Parliament level, the state level and the local level. And it works.

For instance, when we were having discussions after the war broke out, Estonia decided not to accept students from Russia and Belarus for the next academic year. I discussed it from the European perspective, what these sanctions mean. Then I had meetings with Estonian students, who expressed their points of view on whether it is right or not. But you have to be sure that those whom you invite are good speakers, that they are not boring.

Estonian population is 1.3 million. If I received 65,000 votes, it is the biggest number any women politician has ever received in Estonia. In Ukraine it may be nothing, taking into account the number of population, but Estonia is Estonia. The most interesting videos receive about 100,000 views, which is again a huge number in Estonia. The ones that are not so interesting get 20–25,000 views. So judging from that statistics I can see what topics are more interesting. Sometimes I ask people to tell me what they want to be discussed at the next talks: foreign policy, US elections, COVID, disinformation. There are different topics, because instead of pushing a particular theme, I ask people what they want to hear. Besides, I can always put some European perspective into any subject, because whatever the subject is, it has the European perspective. You just have to be creative.
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