back to top
World

Estonia's Only Black Politician Is Considering His Options Post-Brexit

Abdul Turay, a British citizen, has used his own story to show how successful the European Union has been. Now he may have to give up his British citizenship to stay in Estonian politics.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Abdul Turay stands out in Estonia's political scene. He's the country's only black politician, and has been the target of hate from the far right ever since he got elected to the capital's city council three years ago.

But Turay is also a British citizen — and now that the U.K. has voted for Brexit, he's not exactly sure what his political future looks like.

Turay's family first came to the U.K. as part of a wave of immigrants from the country's newly independent former colonies after World War II. It was there that he met his wife — who comes from Estonia — while he was working as a political journalist, and the two of them moved to the tiny Baltic country five years ago.

Despite his trade, Turay wasn't exceptionally political in his birth country. He was a member of the Liberal Democrats, he told BuzzFeed News during a Skype phone call, but never ran for office.

Once in Estonia, though, he became increasingly politicized. After the birth of his son, he realised there weren't nearly enough childcare options available in the capital, Tallinn, and wanted to do something about it. And while working for the newspaper Postimees, he gained prominence for debating a right-wing politician over anti-immigrant sentiments. It was in that atmosphere that Turay opted to run for the Tallinn City Council back in 2013. By winning, he made history as the first black person to hold political office in Estonia.

A few months later, his party — the Social Democrats — asked if he would run to be a member of the European Parliament in 2014, specifically campaigning on a need to further integrate the EU's 28 countries. "I don't look like everyone else here," he told the BBC at the time, "so I'm visible proof that European integration can work." He wound up losing the race and eventually left the Social Democrats last month, keeping his seat on the city council as an independent.

Thanks to the EU's freedom of movement for citizens, Turay was able to keep his British citizenship throughout his entire political career. But now, with the U.K. having voted to leave the EU, he's forced to weigh his options — because he can't serve as an elected official in Estonia and remain a Brit once the U.K. officially leaves.

"I'm a pretty good example of how Europe does offer opportunity for people from all over Europe because being black, as I am, I still managed to get elected here and I work here and have a family here," he told BuzzFeed News. "And that — none of this would've happened if the EU didn't exist."

He's been watching the fallout from the Brexit vote with both personal and professional interest. For now his position in Estonian politics is safe: The U.K. will have two years to negotiate its exit from the union once it invokes what's known as Article 50, and Turay's seat is up for re-election next year.

It's after that that he'll be faced with a choice: Renounce his British citizenship and become fully Estonian, or give up his political career. The former is something he says he'd strongly consider in order to take on the far right within his adopted country.

"The far-right party has been campaigning against me since, well, ever," he said with a laugh, "and not just in Estonia but... If you google my name the first thing you find is 'black politician demands white genocide', which is ludicrous. If anything, people are surprised at my position since I'm kind of right myself on many issues."

Nobody has said he should step down from his seat because of the results so far, he said, "because nobody knows what's going to happen."

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.