Why there’s no “fifth column” in Estonia


The General Director of the Estonian Internal Security Service, Arnold Sinisalu, says it’s time to put aside talk of the “fifth column”.

The term, which originated in the Spanish civil war, is used to describe a significant group in society that are actively working in the interests of a hostile force. The exact origin of the term has remained unclear, although it has gained international usage. In the context of Estonia, it is sometimes used to label the Russian-speaking community, which the Kremlin favours by labelling them as part of the so-called “Russian world. The international media also often feeds into this by assuming that Russian speakers in the Baltic countries and Ukraine would be automatically aligned with Kremlin views.

“The fact is that the Russian-speaking population in Estonia is very different,” said Sinisalu.

“The Russian-speaking population of Estonia is very different. Their living environment is also very different. We cannot compare Russian-speaking residents in the cities of Tartu, Võru, Maardu, Sillamäe, Narva, Tallinn – they have different interests, they have been integrated differently. And it must also be said that, often, how well a person speaks Estonian and what citizenship he has, it has no connection whatsoever with how he views the Estonian state, the politics of the Estonian state, political choices,” said the leader of Estonian Internal Security Service.

“It’s all much more multi-layered, and it would be wiser to leave all kinds of talk about the fifth column aside. This is also confirmed by very different studies that have been carried out over the decades by researchers at the University of Tartu,” explained Arnold Sinisalu.

The 20-60-20 rule

One of the simplified models on the basis of which to treat the non-Estonian population is the “20-60-20” model developed by Polish mathematicians.

“This means that in every organization or national group, there are about 20% of those people who are against something, do not come along with the changes and who are simply in the spirit of protest. Then there is the 60%, a larger group that looks at where society is heading. And then there are 20% who are always progressive, who want change, support change. And, of course, there are different trends within these layers,” director Sinisalu analyzed.

According to him, if we now take as a basis that there are 20% of people who perhaps do not perceive the politics of the Estonian state so well and support, for example, the Kremlin’s current policy regarding Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, then about 10% of these 20% are ready to actively protest and demonstrate their opinion in every way, the remaining 90% can passively support them. “But of course it shouldn’t bother us too much, and expressing your opinion is a constitutional right,” said Sinisalu.

The influence of Russian propaganda

Lauri Hussar, leader of the political party Eesti 200, talked about the possible temporary disenfranchisement of citizens of Russia and Belarus in the “Intrevyu nedeli” program, commenting on the influence of Russian propaganda on the worldview of citizens here: “If people live in the sphere of influence of Russia and the Kremlin, they submit to its propaganda. We saw this during the elections of Riigikogu, when the United Left Party of Estonia and its candidate received considerable support. He also appeared on Vladimir Solovyov’s show, which also allowed him to gain significant support. And we have to think about how to slow it down.”

At the same time, Hussar did not provide any facts about the actual impact of the said particular candidate’s participation in the Solovyov program on the election results. Propastop believes that the reasons for the successful election result of the said candidate lie elsewhere than in Solovyov’s TV show. The show itself is just another irritant in the Russian propaganda toolbox.

Journalist Jan Levchenko wrote an opinion piece on how to limit the consumption of propaganda. In his opinion, a year ago, when it became clear that the influence of Russian television was greatly exaggerated, its consumption should have been made voluntary and time-consuming. “Because people press the button without thinking about it. Television is part of the circadian cycle. Watching the same thing on YouTube requires a different activity involving conscious choice. And not many people do that,” writes Levchenko. And he continues: “In order to make a conscious choice in favor of Solovyov, one must be mortally offended by the lack of such an opportunity. Often, we remember our rights at the exact moment when we feel that they have been violated. Let’s start looking for a way to restore the “familiar image”. In fact, we don’t need it at all. But if it is not there, we will start running against the wall to our deaths, the main thing is to get it back.”

What are the threats to security?

Recently, lawyer Aleksei Ratnikov pointed out in the ETV+ program “Insayt” that the state does not clearly state what security is in the law. Lawyer Vladimir Sadekov adds: “Each individual case is assessed by the court separately, because it is not possible to give any universal formula to assess what is actually a threat to the security of the state.”

The lawyers’ opinion is also confirmed by Veiko Kommusaar, the Undersecretary for Internal Security of the Ministry of the Interior: “Yes, there is no specific definition of this term. But it can be interpreted through the various dangers that this or that activity can bring”.

The expression “threat to national security” is mentioned in several laws. For example, in the Penal Code, the Citizenship Act, the Act on International Protection of Foreigners and the Weapons Act. However, the laws do not describe exactly which actions of a person can lead to the accusation of endangering the security of the state.

According to Harrys Puusepp, spokesman for the Estonian Internal Security Service (kapo), security threats can be divided into direct and indirect. “Our main task is to prevent and avoid them. In addition to direct threats, such as a terrorist attack or a military attack, there are also indirect threats to the country’s sovereignty, such as Russia’s actions to influence Estonia.”

“It’s not that someone has an opinion on a certain issue. But how is this opinion supported, what actions, what practical steps does a person take in this context. Here it can be said that if people support the eastern neighbor, then they are not loyal, do not share Estonian values,” commented VeikoKommusaar, Deputy Chancellor of the Ministry of the Interior.

Lawyers believe that a person’s opinion should not be equated with a threat to national security. “Every person has the right to self-expression. Every person has certain rights and freedoms. And of course, if he expresses his point of view, it should not be equated with a threat to national security. Objectively, the threat to national security should be more than just expressing one’s opinion,” said Sadekov.

Journalist Jan Levchenko concludes in his opinion piece that a self-confident country thinks about security, but does not persecute those who, out of habit or stubbornness, hide in the cracks of the enemy’s propaganda. “The Soviet Union, which turned out to be a colossus with feet of clay, did not disdain such noise. The current revival in Russia will fundamentally change nothing. Because the European approach consists in working with one’s fears, not turning fear into a cult,” writes the author.