If you've been following the Eesti news recently, you'll see that the latest scandal is over the establishment of a branch of Tallinn University called Katariina Kolledž that will offer students bachelor's studies in the Russian language.
According to some members of Isamaa-Res Publica Liit, the establishment of a Russian-language college in Tallinn will undermine the school reform legislation that seeks to increase Estonian language competency in high school graduates. The logic is that students that get a degree in a Russian-language college will be at a greater disadvantage in the labor market.
My opinion is, so what? If they already take their high school Estonian-language classes and are able to enroll in Tallinn University and choose freely to do a Russian-language bachelor's, then that's their decision, and they can reap what the market has to offer them upon graduation.
The reality though is that the market could offer them something good. A lot of foreign businesses like doing business in Estonia because they can operate in mostly clean, manageable, EU-approved, NATO-protected business environment while at the same time serving sectors of the northwestern Russian market.
I know that parts of the business class in Russia absolutely adore the strong hand of Vladimir Putin, but Russia is a corrupt country. Boyscout Finns and Swedes and Germans might prefer to do their business in Estonia even if their main market is next door in St. Petersburg. The multilingualism of Tallinn's residents makes it a more attractive hub.
Also, as great as your second language skills may be, there are simply some students that might find higher education in Russian more attractive, even if the Estonian-language universities -- and English-language ones too, I might add -- are technically better. That is in fact the only real legitimate critique here. Isamaa calls Katariina an institute that will create a more segregated society.
When I think of segregation, I think of Plessy vs. Ferguson. I think of the lovely phrase, 'separate but equal.' And I have to wonder, is it possible to achieve such a thing? Will the queenly Katariina Kolledž really become 'crappy, second-rate kolledž'? I'd be lying to you if I wrote that it wasn't possible.
Beyond that though I think that the idea that bottling up a Russian-language college is going to hurt Eesti more than help it is misguided. It's rooted in the Estonian experience with Russification -- that creating enough obstacles will force people to integrate, like it or not.
One of the chief criticisms of Estonia -- though poorly researched -- is that it doesn't offer enough Russian-language higher education. It does offer it, but this addition could dispel that criticism. Moreover, it could act as a social safety valve for people that wish to pursue higher education in their native language -- and Russian is the native language of about 40 percent of Tallinn.
I personally think that the best way to integrate people is establish institutions that reinforce the dominant culture, but at the same time give people the freedom to choose and to preserve their culture too. That way you invite people into the majority culture without creating negative or reactionary feelings by demanding that they enter it.
Anyway, the icing on the cake is that the college's name reflects indirectly Estonia's tsarist past. I wrote earlier how Estonia could use its tsarist past as a tool for integration. That is, rather than have Russian Estonians imagined as 'Soviet remnants' set adrift on the seas of Estonian nationalism, they see themselves simply as a national minority that maintains links to their Russian, not Soviet, past.
The irony here of course is that Catherine the Great didn't speak Russian as a native language. She spoke German. Catherine I was the daughter of a Livonian serf and also spoke German. She was also illiterate. Perhaps they want to name the college after another Russian monarch? May I suggest Nicholas II?