Dear Dr. Taagepera.
You may be surprised to receive this letter from out of the blue – or rather from your office (room 312) at The Institute of Governmental Politics of the University of Tartu. Well, here comes the explanation:
My name is Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, formerly Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland during the tumultuous times, when the Second World War finally came to an end in this part of the world. I am now staying for a few weeks in Tartu as a scholar in residence and guest lecturer at your institute. The course deals with small nations in the international system and is based on a case study approach. Last spring I gave a similar course at Vilnius University. The word spread North, I suppose, that´s the reason why I am here. I have a weekly consultation hours with my students. That´s the reason why I was given access to your office which I hope you don´t mind. I was, of course, aware of your deep involvement in Estonia´s liberation struggle, although I don´t remember having met you in person. And since I am merely an economist – meaning not a political scientist – I was not really familiar with your scholarly work, until now, when I am surrounded by your books and documents.
In the common room, over coffee, the other day, when I asked about your run for the presidency in ’92(?), one of our colleagues said that if the campaign had lasted a bit longer, you would probably have won. This reminded me of an almost forgotten story.
In 1992 there was a CSCE-conference in Helsinki. There I met an old colleague, Lennart Meri, who by then had been sent to Helsinki as Estonia´s ambassador. Lennart and Helle were living in a villa almost devoid of furniture, but with his stacks of books all around. Because the embassy of the newly restored republic across the Gulf of Finland couldn´t afford to pay the bill, the electricity had been cut off. I remember having to knock on the door of the Danish charge d´affairs nearby to borrow candles. Over the candlelight my wife, Bryndis, arranged a fondue with something, and we continued talking about Estonian politics long into the night. The presidential elections were up and coming. Rütel was the favorite to win, since he had strong support in the countryside as a functionary of the old system. Lennart wanted to run but was pessimistic about his chances and complained that he didn´t really know how to go about organizing a campaign and mobilize voters in his support.
I am a third generation of a politician from a small country. So Lennart thought I would know about these things and solicited my advice. When he had explained his take on the political landscape, namely Rütel´s solid support in the countryside and his (Lennart´s) slim chances of coming out on top in the first round, I questioned him thoroughly about the possibility of splitting Rütel´s support. Would there be a potential candidate in sight who could accomplish this? I remember that Lennart mentioned your name (and perhaps one or two others, whose names I have then forgotten).
When we left late in he night, my impression was that Lennart was still uncertain; but if he would run, he would place his bets on a behind the scenes alliance with a third candidate for the purpose of splitting Rütel´s “silent majority”.
Now we know what happened. You became the third candidate. Lennart came out number two in the first round but managed to win in the electoral caucus in the second round. The rest is history. But our colleagues´ comment that if the campaign had lasted a bit longer, you would probably have won,reminded me of this story and raised a question, which only you can answer: Was your candidature based on a tactical alliance between you and Lennart? Or were you in it on your own from the start?
I sometimes say, after this nightly session by candle lights in Helsinki, that I was probably responsible for designing Lennart´s winning strategy, apart from giving him professional and practical advice, from a vily old politician, on how to make his case appealing to a suspicious electorate. Is there any truth in this – or is this just an amusing anectote?
Another question, if I may: Who was George Tumulus, author of a book in you library: “I am an Estonian”, published in 1959?
I am curious to know, because his understanding of the fatal flaws in the Soviet system are cannily prescient and his advocacy of a federation of small states (in Europe) and ultimately of world government, is remarkable at that time, coming from an ardent nationalist.
I am told that you usually arrive in Tartu like to migratory birds, in spring. Unfortunately, I leave before the end of March which makes it unlikely that we have the chance to meet. But perhaps some other time?
With kind regards,
P.s. Please find attached the text of my speech at St. John´s University in Vilnius on June 6th last year, which summarizes my take on the Western response to the restoration of independence of the Baltic Nations.
It’s a pleasure to receive your letter and to welcome you to my office. Unfortunately, I plan to arrive in Estonia on April 1, when you are gone. I enjoyed your Vilnius speech, and may have comments later. Yes, you did release a torrent.
Maybe you can locate in my publication files in my office R. Taagepera, Running for president of Estonia: A political scientist in politics, PS: Political Science and Politics, 26(2), 302-4, 1993. In Hungarian: As észt trónfosztása, 2000, 8-10, October 1995. In Estonian: Kandideerimas Eesti presidendiks: politoloog poliitikas. In Rein Toomla, ed., Presidendiraamat, University of Tartu Press, 2002.
If you can’t, I’ll try to scan it for you. Briefly:
Meri could have obtained the support of Savisaar’s Center Party (at the time, it carried a different name), on top of the other parties that nominated Meri, but he bungled it by allowing Isamaa to nominate him hurriedly, without coordinating first with the Center Party. Thereafter, the Center Party could not say “Me too” and looked for a separate candidate. They approached me, and I urged them to support Meri. They showed me their correspondence with Meri, and I saw that Meri had made co-sponsorship impossible. I received a call from Meri, urging me to run. Yes, the vote-splitting goal was obvious. But Meri voiced another concern: He supposedly had a “health problem” and needed a back-up.
I knew what the real problem was. Rüütel’s group was considering a slur against Meri’s father. My candidacy would be an insurance: If they played it so dirty as to force Meri to withdraw, Rüütel still would not be home free, because Meri’s votes would shift to me. So I had multiple incentives. I warned Meri that if I did run, I would run to win, and he said this was OK.
Yes, I was catching up but fell short by one week or so. During the campaign, after radio debates among the 4 candidates, we would sit down with Meri for a post mortem, but during the debate we would try to trip up each other, too. Both of us were jockeying for the second place, so as to face Rüütel in the second run (in the parliament). He came in second , and I immediately endorsed him. I think 2/3 of my votes came from potential supporters of Meri. But 1/3 came from potential supporters of Rüütel — and this sufficed to make him fall short of the 50 % he needed.
Was your candidature based on a tactical alliance between you and Lennart?
Partly yes. Without his phone call, I might possibly have said NO to Savisaar’s proposal.
Or were you in it on your own from the start?
But once I decided to run I went for the whole bank, trying to beat Lennart, too..
George Tumulus visibly was a pseudonym, and I don’t know his real name. At the time, his book did not impress me, but I kept it.
For what it’s worth, I attach my memoirs from Soviet occupation 1940-41.