neljapäev, mai 22, 2008

doudou's report

The report on Estonia related to the September 2007 visit of Doudou Diene, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, is now available online.

Diene generated media coverage by trying to peddle Estonia down the official state language route. His comments received attention in both the Estonian and Russian media. Even I weighed in. But what of the actual report? Well, you can see why the Russian Federation has decided not to rebroadcast it through its state-owned media channels.

For starters, Diene regurgitates the Western version of Estonian history, whereby the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact allowed Stalin a free hand in occupying the country. Consider, for example, this line from Diene's report:

After the German defeat in 1944, the second Soviet occupation started and Estonia became a Soviet republic. The first decade of the occupation, under Stalin, was particularly repressive, as Moscow attempted to implement a policy of Russification of the Baltic states, directly affecting education and cultural activities, including language.

Throughout the report, Diene references Estonia's challenges of "asymmetrical bilingualism." Diene also concluded that, "the Estonian authorities, in particular the Prime Minister, have shown political will to tackle the problems related to racism and racial discrimination in the country." Finally, he states that Estonia has historically shown itself to be accommodating to multiculturalism, and that it must use this innate social feature to deal with present challenges.

To me, though, the real gem was the segment of the report that dealt with a roundtable on minorities that took place in Jõhvi. It's a gem, because through Diene, I finally get some insight into what Estonian Russians are thinking. Think about it this way -- we exist in an Estonian-language information space. No one we know is stateless. We don't consume Russian media. And my own inability to understand the local Russian media makes them effectively silent. To me, their newspapers are comprised of odd geometrical shapes on a page. I can pick out words, but context? No.

So I found it interesting that the main concerns of the roundtable in Jõhvi were not the "glorification of fascism." Instead they criticized the language inspectorate, expressed concerns about the school reform and what burdens it would place on Russian-speaking pupils as well as teachers, and Diene himself recommended easing citizenship restrictions for the young and old. Finally, they are tired of being seen as disloyal to the state and would like modern historiography to emphasize the support of some of the community for the restoration of independence.

You see, your average Estonian voter probably rarely thinks about the language inspectorate because he or she has never known anyone who was subject to a language inspection. They don't think about old, stateless ladies in Sillamäe because they don't live in Sillamäe and they never encounter those old, stateless ladies. They don't worry about school reform because their schools are already operating in Estonian language.

They have probably encountered asymmetrical bilingualism, though, and they privately detest it. They can't figure out how they could have learned a language so different from their own without reciprocity from the other group. Hence, they support policies to end it. If the state says that school reform and a language inspectorate will help, then they support it. They are not experts, after all. Just people with other priorities. They don't want to turn Russians into Estonians. They just want to be able to go to the hospital in Kohtla-Järve and not have to fumble through their decades-old Russian vocabulary to tell the doc what's wrong.

But, anyway, I found reading the report valuable. Go and read and tell me what you think.

9 kommentaari:

Andres ütles ...

That link basically says "screw you" in an extremely polite manner.


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Sven ütles ...

The French text is much coarser, I think there's something about one's mother.

Giustino ütles ...

Andres, I changed the link. You can now go to the database and try to open the file yourself.

nipi ütles ...

Well, I do not see the way how the recommendations of Diene can be implemented.
1) Can't give the citizenship automatically without person's own willingness
2) Want to be sure, that everywhere in Estonia all services must be available in estonian. No problem if servicing staff understands and speaks more languages, but this is MUST that if i go to, as example, restaurant, i expect to be serviced properly if i do not speak other languages at all. Current situation in Narva is something else. This is valid for service sector AND public administration.
3) If in the region there are more russians, jews or other nationalities, it is matter of local administration if they accept also other languages BESIDES to estonian. However, all documents, applications etc to state - have to be in estonian. If they decide, that application to city government can be written in russian - then the translation has to be provided up to certain level, by local administration. As example, all documents registered electronically, have to have at least headers in estonian so these documents can be subject of queries in databases, document handling. To create bilingual document handling it seems crazy. How do you understand the protection of minority languages?

cfarivar ütles ...

At the risk of sounding dumb, what about his assessment of the "Western view" of Estonian history was wrong?

Puu ütles ...

The UN's a nice place. It's a shame their crediability is being undermined on so many sides, particularly by the US government, because among other things Kofi Annan thinks that the US invasion of Iraq constitutes a war crime. But it does seem that they are doing good if people would listen. They need to send Angelina Jolie:).

Giustino ütles ...

At the risk of sounding dumb, what about his assessment of the "Western view" of Estonian history was wrong?

Nothing. That's why, I think, the Russian federation propaganda networks didn't seize on the report. They would have to refer to things like "the second Soviet occupation of Estonia."

Well, I do not see the way how the recommendations of Diene can be implemented.

I agree. However, I personally don't understand the utility of the language inspectorate. Why is the government the main enforcer of what is in the private sector, essentially, poor service? Shouldn't there be independent, consumer protection organizations to whom I can say "the taxi drivers at this company don't understand me." Therefore, it becomes an issue about service, not language law.

Katrin ütles ...

About the Language Inspectorate. Its tasks are only related to the Law on Language (or the Language Act - direct translation sounds dumb, anyway, it's called "Keeleseadus"). They make sure, that the law is exercised in a proper way. The Inspectorate was established as the Language Board ("Keeleamet"), and afterwards, when the language-related problems were not of primary importance for Estonia anymore, reorganised to an inspectorate. Of primary importance - a matter of language, why? You should understand, that the situation in Estonia and in northern Estonia especially (I'm not talking about North-Eastern Estonia only) was already so bad, that, just like you described, it was often impossible to communicate in Estonian with doctors and nurses in clinics, or with the staff in the local grocery, or with officials like policemen and white collar staff from bureaus and offices... It was a custom, that everybody HAD to speak Russian, and if you couldn't you were called names.. It was a much more wider problem.

Let's not talk about the official policy of russification in the Soviet Union, the last act of which was launched in 1970s. But indeed, declaring Estonia independent also ment declaring the Estonian language the official language of the state. During the first years after re-gaining the indipendence the Language Board had huge tasks, while it was seen not just as some governmental institution, but it was a part of the work the Estonian government had to do, in order to get people to understand and accept Estonia as an independent state with its own constitution. Part of the constitution is a declaration of the Estonian language as the official language of the state.

Times have changed and the Language Board was re-organised, its work was concentrated on more practical things. Some day, and maybe not in a distant future, the inspectorate will be closed down and its tasks will be handed over to some other institutions. It's a normal process, I think. The workers of the inspectorate are not interested in preserving the present situation, they are working for creating a situation, where their services will no longer be needed.

BUT - you'll see, Giustiano, many Estonians still live in the past, and not in the past of free Estonia, but in the "golden era" of the Soviet Union. In these "golden times" everything was for free, and the government took care of everything, so "common people" had no troubles of thinking or taking any actions at all. So, you will soon find, that many Estonians are convinced that there is something called "GOVERNMENT" that should do everything. Many people of Estonia just haven't realised, what it means to live in a free society, where principles of democracy and free market economy rule. Many of them still think that somewhere over the rainbow there's a land.. where all the wise men, wisest of wise, make cleverest of clever desicions. These men are called "the Government". ;(

Yeah, and so if the government and the parliament really will start to reorganise the system again and want to shift duties of the Inspectorate to some other (maybe non-governmental, uh?!) institution(s), there will be a scandal and the government members and parliament members will hear all kind of good things about themselves...

And, as you all have read the Estonian law about citizenship, you all know, that children, born in Estonia since 1992, get the Estonian citizenship just like that. And the elderly and disabled people have favourable conditions for pursuing the citizenship. And, moreover, the only restrictions there are for non-citizens, are: you can't vote for the parliament and you can't work in a governmental institution (in the Ministry of Defence, for example). You can participate in local elections, you can travel, you can work, you can go to school and you have medical care, just like all the citizens. So - if you are 60-65 years old, you have lived most of your life in Estonia and you've never before had any desire for learning to know the local culture and the local language, why should you bother now? And they don't. Of course, if the government ;) would just GIVE the citizenship, they would probably accept it. But actually it will make no difference because they probably will not go voting the parliament anyway, and in the governmental institutions the salary is not good enough, if plotted against the troubles and public hatred you get out of it. And hey, who said they are treated as disloyal? How this treatment is expressed in every-day life? I think, that is something they have figured out about themselves on their own.

nipi ütles ...

Long story, but true. However, previous recommendation was that consumer should take care with his own legs at these services which do not speak the needed language. True but only partially. Have already said, that too often just the owner of as example, restaurant, does not care that estonian language should be able to use. As so few clients actually require it. Locals (from same region) understand and can speak russian even if they aren't russians.
And the medical service, as example. Office manager just says - can't find a doctor here who speaks. Is it better to be without a doctor?
Well, concerning directly state-paid jobs, like police, situation has been improved significantly. I really think that all policemen in Estonia at least understand if client/person speaks in estonian.
I think that language inspection must have much stronger tools. Close the office immediately if no service offered in estonian. Fire the staff immediately.
And btw, same, exactly same, applies to local governments. Narva, Sillamäe, Paldiski. And Maardu.