neljapäev, märts 09, 2006

Yay! More Controversy!

Leave it to Interfax to provide us with the following nugget:

Russian schools in Estonia to begin switch to Estonian language in 2007

TALLINN. March 9 (Interfax) - Estonia's Russian-language schools
will start switching to instruction in Estonian language from September
1, 2007, Science and Education Minister Mailis Reps told a news conference.

"Sixty percent of all subjects will be taught in the Estonian language," the minister said.

"First come the subjects that are intended to broaden schoolchildren's language skills: the Estonian language and literature, social sciences, the history of arts, geography and history," she said.

Reps also aid that the switch will be gradual - one subject each year. But the reform could proceed faster depending on the schools'readiness and the availability of additional funding, the minister added.

The language issue is a very interesting one, because, depending on which historical view you take, the solution to Estonia's linguistic dilemma can be found in different approaches.

In one world view, perhaps the view of the Russian government, the Estonian state did exist between 1918 and 1940, but the state that came into existence in 1991 is not the continuation of an occupied country, but a brand new one that didn't exist before. Therefore, no matter if you'd been living in Estonia for 2,000 years or 2 years, you were an "Estonian." Hence the current set-up, where immigrants who came to Estonia following the invasion must pass tests to qualify for citizenship in the republic violates the rights of a "national minority." That is, the 30 percent of the country that arrived during the Soviet period are now indigenous to their country.

The second world view, embraced by the Estonian republic, is that the current republic and the older republic are one in the same, and that the 30 percent of the country that arrived to the Estonian SSR from 1940 to 1991 are not indigenous, or a traditional minority, but are actually immigrants - the equivalent of Somalis in Denmark, Turks in Germany, or Mexicans in the US.

The Estonian government therefore plans to integrate the immigrant population of Estonia via creating 100 percent fluency in the majority tongue, Estonian. The rationale is that Estonian is not so much an ethnic group, as a linguistic group. Indeed, many Estonians have roots in Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, and Poland.
Just look at their names. The hero of the Liberation War was named Jaan Kuperjanov. One of Estonia's most popular writers is named Jaan Kaplinksi. Do these strike you as Finnic-derived surnames?

And if the residents of Estonia are to be treated by the Estonian state as Estonians, and not "Russian compatriots" as they are called in the Kremlin, then the second policy makes sense. There are many Estonians that probably disagree with that policy. But it cannot be argued that the naturalization policies aren't working. In 1991, some 40 percent of the population had no citizenship. Today it's less than 10 percent.

Those are pretty significant numbers. But they aren't enough to assuage the big nextdoor neighbor. Regardless of facts, it's great ammunition for the human rights gun. And it's a nice chip to lay down on the bargaining table in discussions with the EU. Sometimes I wonder if, in about 6 or 7 years when the number of non-citizens has dwindled to 2 or 3 or 4 percent, if it will still be an issue. Chances are, unless there are some far reaching changes in the Russian government (or Estonian government) it will be.

It is today. RIA Novosti put out the following hit piece.

Some key segments:

MOSCOW, March 9 (RIA Novosti) - No progress has been made in improving the rights of ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

Compulsory knowledge of the national language is legally enforced not only by the state, but by the private sector, which amounts to a prohibition to jobs. The system of schooling for children of ethnic minority families is being dismantled, and Russian schools are being closed.

Estonia has held parades involving former Nazi Waffen-SS officers, while the Latvian Cabinet has approved tax law amendments granting bigger tax breaks to surviving members of the Forest Brothers guerilla movement, which collaborated with the Nazi regime during World War II.

Can you believe there are - somewhere in Russia - kids (and it has to be kids) that are paid to type this shit up? I feel sorry for them. The first sentence is demonstrably false. The second part is a no-brainer. If you live in a country where the overwhelming majority of the people speak one language, you are going to need to know that language to work a service job. You wouldn't hire someone right off the boat to be a waiter in New York without some command of the English language would you? No, that person would have to work a low-skills, labor intensive job. That's just how it works. How can reality be seen as discrimination? Do you think I could get a high paying job here in New York if I only spoke Polish or Russian or Portuguese? No. And even from the perspective of the national minority, I was raised speaking only Gaelic in the West Highlands of Scotland and I wanted a job in Edinburgh - do you think I could pass muster with limited knowledge of English. Or even in Russia's home territory, can you get a good paying job in Moscow speaking only Votyak or Chechen? Didn't think so.

The last section is of course great. This shows that they still cling to the Soviet interpretation of history even while they deny being responsible for the crimes of the communists. Basically, they are not sorry that they killed your grandparents, and you should be sorry for celebrating the lives of the people that tried to stop them from doing so. In other words, they did your country a great service by murdering and deporting your relatives. You should be grateful for the kind way in which the NKVD took care of your family. Does that make sense to you? No, I didn't think so.

Other than in China, I don't think you can get things more backward than that. That's why I started this blog. Because somewhere out there needs to know that the hit sheets put out by RIA Novosti and Interfax and Itar Tass are 90 percent jama.

8 kommentaari:

Father of 3 ütles ...

Hi Giustino... I am in NYC too. Would appreciate an e-mail so that I might ask a question. Thank you, John

Pekka ütles ...

No doubt, it's a challenge to live next door to Russia, especially, when you share the common history such as is the case with Estonia.

I feel that, in a longer run, it just might serve Estonia's interests the best to cool down too emotianal rethoric and proceed with some caution and sober thought. I know, this is easy to say when one isn't personaly involved but we should remember that the past wrongs are seldom, if ever, corrected by the new ones.

The key, in my opinion, is to make sure that Russian minority is made to feel included and accepted and thus to show them in what kind of great country they are living in. This to me is the surest, if not fastest, way to bring them into a full citizentry. The hearts and mind business revisited.

Michael Furey ütles ...

@Giustino: The language issue for Estonia has to be a crucial one. With only one million speakers they have always founght hard to keep their culture going. It is amazing what they have achieved considering their geographical location and the temperament of their neighbors.

The Estonian government work really hard to maintain their language as a living one in all fields of life, so I applaud all their efforts

@Pekka: I believe that they have been really sensitive in most of the ways they have tried to conduct this debate and over border disputes. Given who they are arguing with, this hasn't been easy.

Giustino ütles ...

Pekka, I agree. Sometimes I think that it would make sense to allow the regional use of languages - so that Russians in Ida Virumaa county would not have to meet the language guidelines.

But there's another factor, and that's that Russian-speakers are like English-speakers or Spanish-speakers. They have this attitude that everyone should learn their language. I mean I have the attitude too. And that's what the state language laws do, they sort of prop up the backbone of Estonians not to slip into the foreign language and to use the majority language.

Personally, most Estonians that are younger than 35 that I've met in Estonia that are of Russian descent speak pretty good Estonian.

Sometimes I think that the protests of the Russian Federation make life worse for them rather than better. It only makes the Estonian government less likely to follow the RF's suggestions.

romesperi ütles ...

As a Romanian that is somewhat neutral in this whole thing, I actually think what the Estonian government is doing is a step in the right direction. I have been to Estonia multiple times and have noticed that a lot of Russians continue expecting other Estonians to speak Russian to them, etc. Estonian is hard, yes, but tough luck to them. They choose to live in Estonia, and it is only normal that they learn to speak the official language. This is not even about nationalism any more, but about the fact that Estonia is an officially- unilingual country where people need to speak Estonian in order to function in society. For that reason, introducing it as a main language in the school system is a step in the right direction.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Good post and agreed.

Aleksis K.

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