• Ranked 14th best by Transparency International in terms of perceived level of public sector corruption, Estonia is less dodgy than the UK, France or Japan. This may seem bewildering to Estonians themselves.

    Take Kohtla-Järve, the fifth-largest city. At the end of last year, nine of the 25 members of the city council and the governing coalition were declared suspects in a bribery and influence peddling case.

    This was followed by the council’s attempt to put together a “rainbow coalition of the uncorrupt”. In the end, only nine of the “uncorrupt” 16 council members voted in favour of it, leaving the city with a minority government. How do Kohtla-Järve’s citizens perceive corruption? Probably as something right before their eyes.

    “To leave now would mean to betray Estonian football,” said the president of the Estonian football association, Aivar Pohlak, who appeared to be dying on the country’s national TV station.

    The Macbeth-inspired monologue was not performed by Pohlak himself, but a comedian from the group Kinoteater, who fill in time between World Cup matches.

    On the first day of the championship, the group criticized human rights’ violations and workers’ poor conditions in Qatar, which Pohlak claimed was against the facts. That is when Kinoteater decided to respond during a special broadcast, and it set Estonian social media ablaze.

    Pohlak’s decades-long iron grip on Estonian football is still strong, despite FIFA ranking the men’s team outside the top 100 and the women’s in the 96th place. The president has a history of controversy.

    The latest will probably blow over, but his tenure may go into extra time.

    “You are a part of our population growth problem,” Martin Helme, the current leader of the far-right Estonian party EKRE, told a 27-year-old female journalist in 2016.

    She had asked him if it was wrong that she was not planning to have children at that time. He also called her a “socially harmful element”. This quote has since become infamous in Estonia’s ongoing baby debate.

    Although this statement was condemned by liberals, it did not damage EKRE’s popularity. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Estonia has experienced a rapid decline in its birth rate.

    However, Tallinn University demographer Mark Gortfelder has pointed out that the existential fear of demographic “survival” has existed longer than the 104-year-old-republic.

    Estonia experiences the issue of survival more literally than in most other parts of Europe. Every regional power has at some point in history controlled the Baltic nation of today or a large chunk of it. Most of these periods have involved a massive loss of Estonian lives.

    Estonia’s first period of de facto independence (1918 to 1940) was ended by World War II, and accompanied by mass killings and deportations. Between 1945 and 1989, migration increased the proportion of the non-Estonian population within the Soviet-controlled republic from 3% to 38%. It was feared that Estonians would soon be “a minority on their own land”.

    For all these reasons, the “baby-making” narrative falls on fertile ground in Estonian politics.

    For prime minister Kaja Kallas, this meant ditching her coalition partners who, together with EKRE, introduced a bill for a massive increase in family subsidies behind her back. Many experts say that these will not significantly increase the birth rate.

    The price for Kallas to keep her job was high. Her new coalition partners demanded lavish subsidies for families. It was exactly because of those that the previous government was ousted.

    On Sunday, many Estonians gathered on Tallinn’s Freedom square to join the right-wing populist EKRE party in a protest against high energy costs. The event was attended by many who were in genuine distress.

    At 25%, Estonia has the highest inflation in the EU. A great deal of that comes from the electricity bills that keep growing at a seemingly endless rate. The same is happening to the popularity of EKRE and it’s not even winter yet.

    The media is ablaze with ads featuring party leader Martin Helme’s promises of electricity at a fraction of the current cost. On March 5, with the suffering likely at its peak, Estonians will vote in a general election.

    Many believe that what’s happening is the result of Putin’s attack on Ukraine. This is what Estonia’s liberal prime minister, Kaja Kallas, keeps pointing out. She has been popular, but is now on the defensive and might soon lose her lead to Helme, who says that Kallas and Ursula von der Leyen, not Putin, are responsible for rising prices.

    Speaking to European Focus, Kaja Kallas said that Estonia, bordering Russia, would be politically lonely in the West were it to be led by the far right. “With a neighbour this aggressive, we would be extremely vulnerable.”

    Her party can’t blame all of what is happening in the polls on deceitful and manipulative messages from Helme and his allies. The Reform Party has been in government for all but five years since 1999.

    Many experts have complained that Estonia has had an aimless energy policy throughout this time. The result is a poor energy mix with too few renewables and too much dependence on other countries.

    The consequence may be Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gaining one more ally at Europe’s decision-making table.

    Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania need at least another 1,000 days to become independent of Russian electricity under a €1.6bn plan to decouple the Baltic states from the Russian grid by 2025.

    It may be possible to connect to the “Continental Europe grid” even earlier, but the risk of outages and higher power bills will remain given the current infrastructure is not yet ready for an orderly transition.

    The stakes are high: the Baltic states are determined to stop Russia weaponising energy; last week, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas warned of black-outs if Putin decides to cut the countries off.