In their reports, the international human rights organizations allege that the Republic of Estonia systematically violates national minorities’ fundamental human rights guaranteed by international instruments and rejects or ignores multiple recommendations by the relevant agencies and bodies of the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as the leading international NGOs.
Although Estonia’s Russian-speaking community comprises about 360 thousand persons (i.e. about 27 per cent, nearly one third of the country’s population), Estonian constitution establishes a privileged status of ethnic Estonians and their language and culture, 894 and the country openly pursues the policy of restricting political, social, economic and cultural rights of non-Estonian population.
894 The Preamble of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Estonia stipulates that “the state… must guarantee the preservation of the Estonian people, the Estonian language and the Estonian culture through the ages”.
It is indicative that Tallinn has never acceded to a number of key international treaties governing the rights of national minorities. As for the treaties and instruments it did ratify, such as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, those are implemented incorrectly or are not implemented at all. The public human rights institutes existing in the country address the challenges faced by non-Estonian population ineffectively and rather serve as the instrument of justifying the authorities’ ethnocratic policy.
The persisting phenomenon of massive “non-citizenship” through which the “ethnic purity” of the Estonian passport is ensured, is the most blatant manifestation of discrimination based on language and ethnic origin. The “non-citizens” are persons (mostly ethnic Russians) who failed to obtain Estonian citizenship in 1992 as they had neither been citizens of the Republic of Estonia in 1920–1940, nor the descendants thereof. They are deprived of their rights under the pretext that Russian population was “brought into” the country during the “Soviet occupation”, and cannot claim equal status with the native population. This is a flagrant violation of the norms and principles of the Treaty on Inter-State Relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Estonia concluded in January 1991, in particular, of the provisions of Article 3, which stipulates that “the Parties shall provide opportunity of obtaining the citizenship of their countries to all permanent residents of the relevant territories in accordance with their freely expressed wishes”. Estonia has also failed to properly explain why persons that were born in Estonia after 1991 are also denied their civil rights.
Estonia is one of the world’s top ten countries in terms of the number of “non-citizens”. As of 1 July 2019, there were over 75 thousand thereof (about 6 per cent of the population).
Despite regular criticism on the part of the international organizations, including human rights agencies of the UN, OSCE and the European Parliament, and the human rights NGOs, Estonian authorities have continued, since 1991, to pursue their course towards building a mono-ethnic and mono-national state and deny the mentioned category of the country’s residents full and equal citizenship.
The expansion of “non-citizenship” ceased only on 1 January 2016 after the legal amendments entered into force, granting citizenship to the children of the holders of gray passports, born in the territory of Estonia. In 2019 as an additional “bonus” the “non-citizens” were provided with an opportunity to attend the government-funded courses of the Estonian language in order to subsequently pass the relevant exam and apply for citizenship.
In March 2019, in its Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia on the compliance of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern over great number of persons with undetermined citizenship, which, as of 1 January 2019, reached 5.5 per cent of the country’s population. The vast majority of such persons are citizens of the former USSR who were not able to acquire Estonian citizenship due to their lack of proficiency in the Estonian language after 1991. The Committee criticized the limited nature of the 2015 amendments made to the Citizenship Law, as they did not apply to stateless children aged between 15 and 18 years old as at 1 January 2016, children born to stateless parents who had not been legally resident in Estonia for the preceding five years and stateless children whose parents had Estonian nationality but were unable to transmit their citizenship to their child. 895 Thus, the mentioned amendments in no way contribute to the early and efficient resolution of the issue of “non-citizens”.
895 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia. February 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fEST%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en
It should be noted that prior to that, in January 2017, the Committee on the Rights of Child had already stressed that the amendments to the Citizenship Law did not apply to children with undetermined citizenship in the age category of 15 to 18 years and had urged the State party to fast track the naturalization of such children. 896
896 Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding observations on the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Estonia. January 2017, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC/C/EST/CO/2-4&Lang=en
In April 2019 the Human Rights Committee in its Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Estonia concerning its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressed concern at the limited scope of the amendments insofar as they excluded certain categories of “non-citizen” children; the stringent language requirements that form part of the naturalization tests; and the adverse impact of the “undetermined citizenship” status on the right of long-term residents to political participation and recommended to take measures to address the mentioned gaps. 897
897 Human Rights Committee. Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Estonia. March 2019. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/EST/CO/ 4&Lang=en
In July 2019 the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights issued its final report on the parliamentary elections held in Estonia in March 2019, noting that the Estonian authorities should take steps to further “increase the naturalization rate among persons with «undetermined citizenship», with a view to granting them full suffrage rights”.
Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatovic during her visit to Estonia on 11–15 June 2018 expressed regret that the authorities failed to ease conditions of naturalization for persons above 65. Many of the Russian-speaking older persons are still unable to obtain Estonian citizenship because of their inability to learn the Estonian language. 898
The Estonian side once again disregarded the observations and recommendations.
Severe infringement of the rights of national minorities, primarily of the Russian-speaking one, to education in their mother tongue, remain a pressing issue. Estonian authorities continue to ignore The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, elaborated at the initiative of the High Commissioner on National Minorities Mr. Max van der Stoel in October 1996 and containing references to fundamental international instruments in this sphere: the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Article 4), the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (Article 5), the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (paragraph 34), and the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Article 14).
The Russian language is almost completely banned from Estonian universities. Thus, in Tallinn University, the only opportunity to study in Russian is to major in Russian Philology (Bachelor’s degree) and Slavic Languages and Culture (education in Russian is still available in some private universities, in particular in Mainor Business School and the Estonian Academy of Arts).
Furthermore, there is a growing tendency towards Estonization of upper secondary education (years 10 to 12). According to the country’s laws, in upper secondary schools, no more than 40 per cent of subjects can be taught in Russian.
Estonian authorities abstain from further legislative steps aimed at de-Russification for political motives, but pursue the tactic of merging Russian-language and Estonian-language upper secondary schools under the pretext of “integration and optimization”. As a result, schools come to be solely Estonian-language regardless of the opinion of Russian-speaking students and their parents. The merging of two Russian-language and one Estonian-language upper secondary schools in Kohtla-Järve (where over 75 per cent of population is Russian-speaking) in 2019 into single state upper school where subjects are taught in Estonian is a vivid example of such approach. Since the beginning of the academic year, over 10 per cent of Russian-speaking students have left the school. The Estonian Ministry of Education cited the students’ poor knowledge of the official language as the cause. The new school principal Hendrik Agur’s allegations of the school-leavers’ lack of readiness to adopt “Estonian school culture” evoked broad negative response of the Russian community. Yet when the issue of establishing the new school was discussed in spring of 2019, Mailis Reps, Minister of Education, and Hendrik Agur assured the parents of the Russian-speaking students that they would create the necessary conditions and provide the necessary language support so that Russian-speaking students could study in Estonian. Similar steps are also to be taken in Narva, the population of which is also predominantly Russian-speaking, although the efficiency of such “optimization” has never been proven.
Basic Russian-language schools (years 1 to 9) so far have been let to teach up to 100 per cent of school subjects in Russian. However, the Estonian language component is also steadily enhanced in such schools. There is an increasing number of schools taking part in “language immersion” programmes, which provide for teaching some subjects in Estonian while gradually increasing its use.
In 1990s professional training and development programmes for Russian-speaking teachers were discontinued, which also had an extremely negative effect on education in Russian.
As a result, within recent ten years the number of Russian-language basic schools in Estonia reduced from 96 to 77.
Public activists point out that it not the poor knowledge of Estonian by Russian-speaking students that poses the main obstacle to the integration of such students, but the Estonian authorities’ failure, after all the years since the country’s independence, to ensure quality Estonian language teaching. Both textbooks and Russian-speaking teachers are lacking. As for Estonian teachers, those are unwilling to teach in Russian-language basic and upper secondary schools.
Recently, a campaign has been launched to convince the public that introduction of the “uniform school” and “single education system” is a “necessary and welcome step”. “Single education system” implies that rather than keeping Russian-language, as well as Estonian-language schools and kindergartens, educational institutions with uniform curricula will be established where subjects will be taught in Estonian and non-Estonian-speaking students will be provided with some unspecified optional opportunities to preserve their mother tongue.
In late 2018, Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid was quoted by the media as saying that the country had virtually made a decision to introduce a single education system in Estonian. In July 2019, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Chair of the Isamaa political party, which is part of the governing coalition, stated that Estonia would completely switch to instruction in Estonian and that at that moment, experts were discussing ways to do that as fast and effectively as possible. It should be noted, however, that the Estonian authorities had not discussed this matter with the Russian-speaking community.
The activities of the Language Inspectorate, a special supervisory and punitive body outside parliamentary and public control also serves the strengthening of linguistic discrimination of non-Estonians. Its functions include exclusively identifying insufficient proficiency in and use of the Estonian language and consequently imposing sanctions and fines incommensurate with infringements found. The authorities have ignored observations of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe concerning the repressive nature of the Inspectorate’s activities and the lack of control over it.
Discrimination on grounds of proficiency in official language in Estonia was also noted by international human rights review procedures. In August 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted with concern that while the Equal Treatment Act prohibited discrimination against an employee or potential employee based on criteria such as nationality and ethnic origin, different treatment due to Estonian language proficiency was not considered discrimination if such treatment was permitted by the Public Service Act or the Language Act. In that connection the Committee was concerned at the discrepancies between the employment and income levels between the Estonian and non-Estonian population as a result of language proficiency. It also noted the persistently high number of persons with undetermined citizenship. 899
899 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Concluding observations on the combined tenth and eleventh periodic reports of Estonia. August 2014. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD/C/EST/CO/10-11&Lang=en
In January 2017, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the language policy in secondary education, which often prevented Russian-speaking students from acquiring mastery in core subjects that were taught only in Estonian. It also noted the discrimination faced by children belonging to ethnic minorities and children with disabilities in accessing education. 900
900 Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding observations on the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Estonia. January 2017, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC/C/EST/CO/2-4&Lang=en
In February 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern over the lack of flexibility in the implementation of the 60 per cent quota for teaching in Estonian in the Russian-speaking upper secondary schools. CESCR believed that often made it difficult for Russian-speaking students in Russian-speaking schools to acquire mastery in core subjects that were taught only in Estonian and, in the case of vocational schools, lead to an insufficient number of qualified teachers capable of teaching the specialized subjects so as to adequately reflect this percentage and the school specificity. The situation is further aggravated by Estonian authorities’ punitive approach to enforcing the Language Act, including through the mandate and functions of the Language Inspectorate. 901
901 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia. February 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fEST%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en
In March 2019, Human Rights Committee expressed concern at the impact of the language policies and practices, which continued to frustrate the full enjoyment of rights by the Russian-speaking population on an equal basis with the rest of the population of the country. It also supported the CESCR’s finding about the lack of flexibility in the implementation of the quota of teaching in Estonian. 902
902 Human Rights Committee. Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Estonia. March 2019. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/EST/CO/ 4&Lang=en
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights subjected Estonia’s authorities to criticism for the persistent discrimination in all public spheres experienced by non-Estonian-speaking population due to a lack of proficiency in the Estonian language. This is illustrated by the high unemployment and poverty rates among the non-Estonian-speaking population. 903
903 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia. February 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fEST%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en
Disproportionate representation of Estonian and non-Estonian communities in local authorities, especially in Tallinn, remains a challenge. Under-representation of non-Estonian minorities in public and political spheres in Estonia was, in particular, stressed by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 904 Estonian capital has about 350 thousand voters, and according to the principle of proportional representation, each member of the City Council (comprising 79 members) should be elected for 4,430 voters. However according to the Law on Elections to Local Authorities in reality it takes about six thousand voters to elect a City Council member in a “Russian-speaking” constituency and only two thousand voters to elect such member in an Estonian constituency.
904 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Concluding observations on the combined tenth and eleventh periodic reports of Estonia. August 2014. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD/C/EST/CO/10-11&Lang=en
Although Estonian authorities have formally envisaged a right to the use of a second language in local authorities in areas where the official language is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population, in practice they have limited the enjoyment of this right in the country’s northeast areas inhabited by Russian-speaking minorities. In accordance with the 2011 Language Act (Part 3 Article 5), only citizens of Estonia can be considered members of a national minority (i.e. “non-citizens” and Russian citizens permanently residing in these areas are not taken into account). Thus, in the town of Narva, where Russians account for 90 per cent of the population, only 47 per cent of citizens are non-Estonian, which renders it impossible to use Russian as the language of communication with the local authorities.
This issue is also insistently raised by the UN human rights treaty bodies. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted with concern the high threshold for allowing the use of a minority language in communications with the local authorities in areas where people belonging to a linguistic minority group reside traditionally or in substantial numbers. It also expressed concern at the disproportionately strict conditions for the use of traditional local names, street names and other public topographical indications in a minority language in areas where people belonging to a linguistic minority group reside traditionally or in substantial number. 905
905 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia. February 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fEST%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en.
Estonia, who ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in late 1990s, evades compliance with Article 11 of this Convention obliging its States Parties to recognize national minorities’ patronyms, and refuses to enter those in national identity documents issued to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, Estonian authorities disregard relevant concerns expressed by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In particular, in February 2019, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted that administrative barriers against the use of patronymics in official personal documents, which Estonian authorities put up, restricted certain national minorities from enjoying their right to protect their cultural identity. 906
906 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia. February 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fEST%2fCO%2f3&Lang=en.
In March 2018, the Ministry of the Interior of Estonia denied access to the country till 2023 to Konstantin Zatulin, member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, who planned to meet with voters, Russian citizens residing in the northeast of the Republic of Estonia. [..]
Furthermore, Estonian special agencies use a wide range of ways to put pressure on politicians, public figures, human rights champions and journalists that demonstrate the lack of loyalty or simply fail to share official point of view on domestic and foreign policy of the country, or try to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking community. They resort rather often to criminal prosecution under invented pretexts. The most blatant cases involved members of the Russian community. In August 2019, the court imposed a fine on Andrey Krasnoglazov, head of the non-profit organization Tallinn Pushkin Institute, for document forgery and using forged documents. In July 2019, police detained and subjected to many-hours questioning Mstislav Rusakov, head of human rights non-profit organizations Kitezh and Russian School of Estonia. All his data storage media and means of communication were confiscated and a criminal case was instigated against him for “providing false data to the register of legal entities”.
The content of Estonian mass media is silently subjected to heavy censorship in order to prevent them from criticizing the shortcomings of government policy in the field of inter-ethnic relations [..]
[..] Strong negative attitude is encouraged towards the First Baltic Channel (a franchise of the Channel One Russia), which is accused of inciting Russian-speaking population to “disloyalty” to Estonia and of generating their negative attitude towards the policy of the EU and NATO.
Neo-Nazi ideas and theories continue to spread in Estonia, and in many cases there is evidence suggesting the involvement of Estonian authorities in these activities. This creates conditions for the popularity of radical nationalist political parties.
International human rights agencies have noted an abundance of discriminative practices. In August 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the absence of amendments to the Penal Code that prohibit racist organizations, the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or racial hatred and that made racially motivated hate speech and incitement to hatred a criminal offense punishable by law. In addition, the Committee noted with concern the leniency of the punishment (a fine of 100 euros) imposed in 2011 under section 151 (1) of the Estonian Penal Code for commentaries posted on the Internet whose contents were found to have incited hatred and violence. Besides, it was noted that racial motivation did not in general constitute an aggravating circumstance in proceedings under Estonian criminal law. 908
908 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Concluding observations on the combined tenth and eleventh periodic reports of Estonia. August 2014. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD/C/EST/CO/10-11&Lang=en
In March 2019, the Human Rights Committee noted that the Equal Treatment Act did not afford equal protection against discrimination on all the grounds prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in all spheres of life. The amendments to the Equal Treatment Act intended to expand its scope of protection against discrimination restrict such protection to social welfare, health care and social insurance services and allowances, education and access to and supply of public goods and services, rather than to all spheres of life.
The Committee was most alarmed by the fact that the current legal framework did not provide comprehensive protection against hate speech and hate crimes due to, inter alia, the light penalties and the high threshold for the offense of incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination under article 151 of the Criminal Code, which required “danger to the life, health or property” of the victim. Other acts, such as the public denial, justification or condoning of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or hate propaganda that is racist or otherwise inciting to discrimination, are not prohibited by law. In this context one can hardly be surprised by the numerous reports of hate speech, including by opinion makers and politicians, and hate crimes. 909
909 Human Rights Committee. Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Estonia. March 2019. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/EST/CO/ 4&Lang=en
In addition, Estonian authorities continue to impose misinterpretation of joint Russian-Estonian history based on nationalist ideology and Russophobia. The Soviet period, which was dubbed by Estonian historians as the “occupation of 1940–1991”, and the events of the Great Patriotic War in the territory of the country are most blatantly falsified. On this basis they cultivate the myth of “freedom fighters” who fought in the ranks of Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS and punitive units against “Soviet aggressors”, camouflaging the glorification of Nazi criminals and their accomplices. Alongside with that, the war crimes committed by Estonian collaborators, primarily their involvement in punitive operations against civilian population, extermination and torture of the prisoners of concentration camps and Soviet prisoners of war are hushed up.
2019 saw another wave of glorification of Nazis and their supporters. On 27 July the admirers of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (Estonian Legion) held another of their meetings in the village of Sinimäe, Ida-Viru County. The event was organized by Tarmo Kruusimäe, MP representing the governing Isamaa party and the members of the Society of the Estonian Legion Friends (SELF). This commemoration honoring those who fought for the Hitlerite Gernany, was attended by nearly 200 persons, including MPs representing the governing Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (including Ruuben Kaalep, head of the party’s youth movement Blue Awakening), members and veterans of Estonian Defence Forces, Kaitseliit paramilitary unit, local nationalist associations and their fellows from Latvia and Finland. A wreath sent by the Ministry of Defense of Estonia with the inscription “From Estonian people” was laid to the monument of Waffen-SS members. Some participants openly demonstrated Waffen-SS symbols. On 30 August Raivo Aeg, Minister of Justice of Estonia decorated 36 “fighters for Estonia’s freedom” with oak-leaf wreathes of liberty, a national Estonian award. As he stated during the ceremony, even the harshest words could not describe the horrors that Estonian people had had to go through. Everyone who fought for Estonia’s freedom, Forest Brothers, Finns, war veterans, members of underground groups, dissidents have all deserved awards. It is noteworthy that the list of those awarded included none of those who fought to defend and free Estonia from the Nazi occupation in 1941–1944. The same month, on 2 August, the 20th youth military and patriotic game titled Erna Raid took place. This game basically reproduces the raid of German Abwehr reconnaissance and sabotage group composed of Estonians and Finns and sent to operate deep behind the Soviet Army lines in summer 1941. This “military and patriotic event” is held annually by Estonian scouts’ movement and the Ministry of Defense of Estonia and traditionally features youth activists and members of NATO troops deployed in the country.
The third Estonian edition of Mein Kampf issued by Matrix Publishing attracted significant public attention. The book is sold both on-line and in small bookshops. It appears to be in great demand, which causes our grave concern.
Estonian public met with rejection a fair held in the premises of NATO military base in the town of Valga, where items with Nazi symbols were openly sold (Nazi Germany posters in Estonian, portraits of Adolf Hitler, recordings of Nazi military marches, gear and uniforms bearing Waffen-SS insignia, flags and bands with swastikas), as well as literature on Latvian and Estonian legions.
In addition to the above issues that affect the situation of the Russian-speaking population and national minorities to certain extent, the rights and interests of Russian-speaking residents of the country in social and economic spheres are also infringed. According to statistical data, the share of unemployed is twice as high among the Russian-speaking population as in Estonian one. There is clear disparity in the public service sector, where the share of non-Estonians does not exceed three per cent.
Document data: 07.02.2020 report by Russia’s MFA. Link: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0&_101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0_languageId=en_GB Also available in Russian: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481