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Interview: Chairman of the Parilament Lembit Öpik
- Mr. Öpik your grandfather Ernst Julius Öpik was an Estonian astronomer who worked at Armagh Observatory in North Ireland and you are now a chairman of the first Space Kingdom. Do you see any connection?
- I see more than a connection. I see a link with destiny. My grandfather Ernst - and my physicist father, Uno - inspired me to study the cosmos since my childhood. I’d spend weekends looking at the thousands of books in my grandfather’s huge astronomical library. In that sense, I suppose my involvement with Asgardia was written in the stars. The chance to combine what I have learned across 35 years in politics with what I have learned in 45 years of astronomical research is a unique opportunity. I hope that my father and Grandfather would both be proud of my service to Asgardia. Perhaps, in the future, Asgardians will even help to answer some of the questions my Grandfather asked about the solar system, and the Oort Cloud which he originally predicted.
- One more interesting fact. On 13 April 1998 you came close to death in a near fatal paragliding accident. You fell 80 feet onto a Welsh mountain, and broke your back in 12 places, as well as his ribs, sternum and jaw. If this near-death experience really affected you?
- Yes, it was life-changing because it was nearly life-ending. Whether I caused the accident through pilot error, or whether the wind changed, that fall had catastrophic consequences. I broke my jaw in four places, plus my ribs, my sternum and ended up with 12 broken vertebrae in my back. I knew even then, as I recovered in hospital, that this accident would have long term effects on me physically and psychologically. And it’s true - both have happened. I’m still undergoing medical treatment, 20 years later. They have been re-constructing my jaw and that work will continue. But even more than that, it reminded me of the precious nature of life. We are only here for a short while, and we tend to forget that. These days, I try to do the things I’m alive to do and leave the rest to others. Asgardia is a natural part of my own journey. Perhaps the fact faced death in 1998 has made it easier for me to commit to the extraordinary and glittering nation of Asgardia now. Sitting on the side-lines is not for me - because life is too short. And serving this Parliament makes me feel right in the middle of something tremendously important. I feel I’m Putting my lucky escape in 1998 to good use in 2018.
- You have many different interests besides astronomy: music, sport, motorcycle and more. What do you think Is there anything that unites them?
- All those interests are united by the sense curiosity they create in me. When I’m not learning I’m not living. I like to understand things and people. That’s how we mature and learn about ourselves. I learn a lot from all these fields. There is some risk in some of these, but - believe it or not - I am not attracted to risk. I simply accept it as unavoidable if you wish to life a life less ordinary. My interest in aviation and space is probably also connected to my wanderlust. I am at my most content in the high atmosphere, en route to anywhere. Traveling with a purpose is my greatest delight.
- Please tell us a little about your experience as a British MP. What of the centuries-old practice could be useful in the work of Asgardia’s Parliament? And what is the speciality of the Asgardia’s parliament and how it will work ?
- Being a British MP has been one of the highest honours of my life. To serve society, and sometimes to make a positive difference to how the world works, has a priceless quality to it - something the psychologist Abraham Maslow called ‘self-actualisation.’ There was also a lot of rubbish in the job. An MP called Frank Dobson once told me ’20% of everything we do in British Parliament is almost pointless. But the other 80% IS pointless.’ I call that Dobson’s Doctrine. Maybe the proportions aren’t right, but much of the time the UK Parliamentary system prefers talking instead of acting, and that can be quite frustrating.
In terms of the old traditions of British Parliament, three things stand out as useful lessons. Firstly, there really is a genuine respect amongst MPs and that is something I hope we reflect in Asgardia’s Parliament too. Second, the Speaker of the House protects the rights and ability to speak for all MPs. I intend to do the same thing in Asgardia’s Parliament. Thirdly, most of the time British Parliament takes time to really study legislation, and to pass things thoughtfully. When they hurry they get it wrong. I intend to ensure that we are careful and clever. For example, I feel the Committee system in Asgardia should ‘measure twice and cut once.’
The speciality of Asgardia’s Parliament is that it possesses the highest level of intelligence of any Parliament in human existence. I see the benefit of this every day - with high level debate and an intellect which give Asgardia a very good chance of solving the giant challenges it faces. If we can keep that quality, at the same time as guarding against party politics which puts parties first instead of the country. If we get this right, our Parliament can truly serve as a political role-model for our home planet.
- Please tell us a little about what you feel about your role as Chairman.
- My role as Chairman of Parliament is to serve the nation by helping the institution of Parliament to perform brilliantly. In the short term there is a massive task to get all the systems working and that is going very well. Medium term, we need to get the policy-making processes fully operational. Again, that’s good work in progress. In the longer term it is the Chairman’s job to ensure that Government and Parliament work for the collective interest of the nation. I’m not here to make policy. I’m here to ensure policy is made. If I do my job well, then Parliament will create the right answers for the great questions facing our new nation.
- In your opinion, what do you think is the most important piece or pieces of legislation that parliament should be deciding on?
- The top priority is to resolve the question of the Citizenship Fee. I do not have the responsibility of proposing a fee. But I do have the duty of making sure everyone knows what everyone else is thinking - so that we resolve the fee question. Note that a functioning economy is essential to Asgardia’s success, so I feel this is where Parliament needs to focus. I believe the Head of Nation regards this as a supremely important matter.
- Asgardia has begun the process of electing its mayors. What do you think about the elections and is there anything that you would like to say to the candidates and future mayors?
- I understand the purpose of the Mayors is to act as representatives around the globe for Asgardia. We are not challenging the existing authority in those cities. We are reaching out to build good relationships and promote Asgardia as a nation and as an attractive country in which to seek citizenship. The elections are a very creative idea and have already caused much debate. I know some regard the Mayoral elections as controversial, but I am attracted to creative ideas. The only thing I’d says to potential candidates and Mayors is: stand if you are willing to give your talents to Asgardia without the expectation of getting more back than you put in. We are all investing our time and goodwill as the nation grows: The Mayors need to think like that too.
- Given time, what do you think that the Asgardian Parliament will do better than existing, established Earthly parliaments?
- Our Parliament is directed at putting our nation, instead of personal political ambitions, first. That is because we don’t have party politics. Parties are largely destructive by dividing Parliaments into groups which compete for power, rather than working together for the common good. Second, the Parliament is the right size. 150is a reasonable number of AMPs - and as Chairman I can work with such an Assembly effectively without being distant. Thirdly, the structure of Parliament and Government is logical and symmetrical. It uses the best practice of existing democracies and, in my view, avoids the worst practice. Over time, I believe we will work together for common goals better than most other Parliaments, and make more of our shared abilities, without the negative influence of party factions. Competition is fine, but factionalism and self-promotion at the cost of the collective good is NOT fine.
- Of Asgardia’s core goals, what do you think is the most important to you personally?
- The single most important core goal of Asgardia is to protect our home planet from cosmic threats, especially the Near-Earth Object threat. We are guaranteed to suffer a life-taking impact sooner or later, and earth nations have failed to work together to prevent it. My grandfather was a pioneer in the field, and I promoted the cause in British Parliament. Now, for the first time in history, we have a Parliament which has the stated goal of averting Armageddon. What could be more important than that? Within that ambition, I believe that the permanent human habitation of space will be a natural part of that great and noble goal.
- How will you handle the balance between the ‘Utopian’ vision of Asgardia and the practical application of the vision?
- I have always felt it is necessary for us to aspire for Utopia and see how close you can get. Humans are not perfect, but we must strive for perfection. That is how we get the best out of ourselves and society. We forgive ourselves when we don’t achieve paradise. But we cannot forgive ourselves if we don’t even try.
- Given the opportunity to live on a space ark or on the planet earth, where would you prefer to live?
- I need to stay on earth for now, to make sure our young nation gets the momentum it needs to grow in a strong and stable way. Once everything is evolving effectively, that’s my time to look at buying a ticket to Asgardia’s space arks. I’m busy planting a rich political harvest of Parliamentary excellence for Asgardia down here. Once that is done, I think it would be nice to retire up there. Perhaps I can even help to grow a different kind of harvest in space. I’ll be happy to water the plants and look down on earth with fond memories.