What awaits Russians in Estonia
After speaking about the fate of the Russians in the “new Europe”, the head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights Information Alexei Semenov (Tallinn, Estonia), an experienced audience of the Baltic Forum burst into applause. The Hour asked a well-known expert in the field of human rights about the similarities and differences between the positions of Russians in Latvia and Estonia, and their political prospects.
Do not be afraid of the court
- How do the Estonian brothers respect the rights of Russian neighbors?
- They have not gone far from the Latvian brothers. Here the worst thing is the fundamental non-recognition of problems in this area, avoiding substantive conversation. Only the Estonian Foreign Ministry allowed some deviations from this attitude. And only because I received serious criticism several times for laudatory reports. The news that there were no human rights problems in Estonia caused nervous laughter among European colleagues. In Denmark, Holland, Great Britain there are more than enough problems, but in Estonia - no.
“And what are your problems?”
- The number one problem is the extremely low level of legal culture of the bulk of the population. What is the arbitrariness of officials or employers! People do not understand that they have rights by virtue of the fact of their existence, and these rights are violated. Most prefer to endure and be silent. Although in recent years there has been a slight shift. Last summer, we opened a hotline on discrimination - there were a lot of calls!
But not everyone is ready to go to court. For example, entrepreneurs who suffer from the terror of a language inspection often turn to us. But they don’t go to court. They prefer to solve the problem in the usual way - to give a bribe to the inspector.
Or here's another case. Two ladies went into a cafe and began to discuss their problems in Russian. An Estonian security guard approached them and demanded to leave. They asked for a reason. To which the law enforcement officer stated the following:
- You speak too loud and in addition in Russian.
To the clarifying question: “Are you driving us out because we are Russians?” he nodded his head and almost pushed them out of a cafe in the center of Tallinn. Women turned to us.
According to the Estonian procedure, the first step is to appeal to the Chancellor of Law (Ombudsman). The further development of events illustrates wonderfully what the ombudsman institution in Estonia is like. The Chancellor of Law sent letters to the owners of the cafe and to the security company. Representatives of the latter replied that they had conducted an internal investigation - the facts were not confirmed. In short, they refused to participate in the conciliation procedure - the only instrument available to the Ombudsman. That is how it ended.
- Did you manage to bring the problems of Russian speakers to court?
- Over the 11 years of the center’s existence, about 9 thousand calls have been recorded, an average of about a thousand per year. Plus about the same on the phone. Appeals of Estonians make up no more than 10%, the rest are from Russian speakers. If it comes to court, we win 85-90 percent of the cases we take.
Europe is already helping
- What is the role of Europe?
- Each of the EU countries is obliged to bring its legislation into line with the provisions of the European Racial Directive. Even if a country like Estonia, for example, has not yet done so, a person can go to court, appealing to the rules of the directive. In this case, the Strasbourg court or the European Commission fixes the inconsistency of domestic legislation with the directive and obliges the country to reconsider the decision. And then the penalty counter turns on. For each day of deferment, the country will pay a fairly sensitive fine of the European Commission.
But really, this directive will begin to work when an official sits down at a desk in one of the Brussels departments, whose career will depend on the success of promoting this directive.
We managed to make sure what Europeans have stringent requirements for environmental standards. When the same standards for discrimination are developed, they will begin to promote them. And on this basis social movements can already arise.
- After Estonia ratifies the Framework Convention on the Rights of National Minorities in places of compact Russian residence, plates in two languages may appear. Has this already happened?
- In Estonia, by law, Russian can be recognized as the official language of applications and answers in the local government. In Maardu, a suburb of Tallinn, Russians make up about 70 percent of the population, and local government has declared it the second official language in which local government meetings can be held. They tried to challenge this decision in court, but nothing came of it.
An attempt was made by the town of Kallaste, which is in the Old Believer Quirk. In a letter to the government, the deputies, referring to the convention, demanded the use of a parallel historical name - Red Mountains. After much deliberation, officials gave a negative answer. Since this is a county center, when an additional name appears, the whole county will acquire a second name, which is unacceptable.
But Narva, where 94% of Russian-speaking, Sillamae (96%), Tallinn (about 50%) did not make such attempts.
Perspective of Estonian Russians
- There are many Russians in Estonia, non-citizens can vote in local elections, but you do not have a powerful Russian movement. Why?
- Estonian non-citizens were admitted to municipal elections back in 1993. Then the Russians of Estonia did not have political parties, material and intellectual resources - they barely gathered candidates. In the first three years in the municipal government (elections in Estonia are held every three years), they have achieved little, so the belief in the political chances of the Russians shook even then.
Political parties already participated in the next elections, but then the competition between Russian political forces began among themselves. Plus, Estonians began working for Russian voters. All this led to disappointment, which resulted in a failure to appear at the polls. Activity decreased so much that in the last elections the Russian parties received practically nothing and did not go anywhere.
- It turns out that nothing shines in Estonian politics?
- Unfortunately, there are too many mistakes made. The main thing - the bet was made on the wrong frames. Semi-criminal Russian business, by hook or by crook, pushed people into the leading party organs. They gave money on the condition that these people lead the list and enter the necessary structures. They entered. But they were engaged there not in protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking, but in business projects - their own and their patrons. For their greater effectiveness, they betrayed, sold, transferred from one party to another ... Which could not but undermine the credibility of the parties on whose platform all this happened.
The second factor is the extremely competent actions of the Estonian authorities, especially the special services. Almost before each election, we had the next Russian party - with loud slogans, often with a very nationalist Russian program. She pulled back part of the electorate, and after the election either disappeared or eked out a strange existence - she entered any coalition in order to eventually join the Estonian party. For all the time you can count six such parties and blocks.
The Russians had two more or less stable parties - the Russian Party in Estonia and the United People's Party. But they could not come to an agreement in any way. Even if they spoke at the polls and went to parliament, then immediately after the formation of a single faction, internal disagreements manifested themselves that immediately got into the press. All this served as a proof of a simple thought: your leaders are good for nothing but lobbying for your own interests. A single-handed information effort yielded results. The most healthy elements of the Russian community distanced themselves from these parties.
- In 2007, you are about to begin the introduction of school reform ...
- The Estonian elite never brings the situation to conflict. She is always ready to take a step to the side, slightly backward. This is their difference from the Latvian elite. The first version of Estonian-style school reform was as terrible as yours. And they realized this - they did not block oxygen to critics, made concessions.
- What are these concessions?
- Firstly, the school reform in 2007 has only just begun, and no one knows how long it will last. Each school has its own transition schedule - at least 20-30 years. Each school, with the approval of local government, selects a list of subjects to which to transfer. A proportion of 60:40 should be reached by the end of the transition period, despite the fact that its term is not defined. During the first 5-10 years, this may not be 60 percent, but much less. For example, singing, the Estonian language, Estonian literature, physical education ... This volume will increase, but neither in 2007 nor in 2010 will nothing terrible happen. Moreover, in each school, in each city, this will take place in its own way. So there will be no single line of resistance.
The situation will change when people begin to realize that perfect possession of Estonian and gaining citizenship do not save from discrimination - they still remain people with disabilities. If there is a stable, shared by many, feeling that nothing will come of individual efforts to improve our position and only together we can achieve something ... And this process has already begun.
According to our sociologist Clara Hallik, the greatest estrangement from the Estonian state is demonstrated by people who, in theory, should be the most loyal. They proved their loyalty by going through all these courses, exams, oaths ... And during this time they have accumulated much more negative feelings than those who have not met with all this. As a result, they begin to understand that they will not be hired for public service anyway, all the same, unemployment among them is twice as high as among Estonians with similar qualifications that nobody needs their Estonian language. Because Russian-speaking Estonians prefer to speak Russian with them, because the Estonian language with an accent sounds unpleasant for them. People with Russian surnames are not invited to consult when looking for work and so on. There is such an experience, it accumulates ... And the larger the supply, the closer the moment of the consolidated Russian community.