Damien McGuinness, BBC News, April 21, 2014
In October Abdul Turay made political history. By winning a seat on Tallinn city council, he became the first black person to hold political office in predominantly white Estonia.
In next month’s European Parliament elections he wants to make another breakthrough, and become a Social Democrat MEP for Estonia. But this time it’s not his race which would make headlines, but his nationality. Mr Turay is British.
“My aim is to accelerate the process of European integration,” he said.
In the European Parliament elections EU citizens vote in the country where they are living–and for many that is not their native country. But it’s less common for non-citizens to run for political office. Estonia currently has six MEPs.
“I don’t look like everyone else here,” Mr Turay said, “so I’m visible proof that European integration can work”.
He is a journalist whose father moved to Britain as part of the post-World War Two “Windrush Generation”–black people from Britain’s imperial territories drawn to jobs in the UK. Five years ago he moved to Tallinn with his Estonian wife.
He speaks Estonian, but not perfectly, so often uses English in political debates. Being British though has not harmed his chances with voters.
Estonia is an enthusiastic member of the European Union, with the West often viewed as an essential bulwark against the former imperial power Russia, on Estonia’s eastern border. And London is a popular destination for Estonian entrepreneurs.
The issue of race however is more complicated. Estonia is overwhelmingly white and it’s rare to see black people in public life.
Last year the leader of a small far-right party campaigned for Estonia to remain a “white country”, creating controversy with the slogan “if you’re black, go back”. And earlier this year a rival politician hurled a racist insult at Mr Turay.
Mr Turay is reluctant to focus on identity politics, saying that Estonia is not necessarily more racist than other countries. His aim is to tackle the main political issues affecting Estonian society, such as a growing gap between rich and poor.
One of the main concerns for Baltic voters in these European elections is security. Estonians are alarmed by the unrest in nearby Ukraine.
But “security” means different things to different people: to ethnic Estonians it means more support from Nato; to Russian speakers here it means protection against possible violent “retribution” from Estonian extremists angry at the Kremlin’s actions. And to the business community it means ensuring that foreign investors don’t get scared off by fears that Estonia is suddenly no longer safe.