Amnesty Int’l: Scrap the Language Inspectorate

UPDATE: I have decided that what sort of stinks, for lack of better words, about these Amnesty Reports is the use of anecdotal evidence to make a point. I personally feel that it’s easy for AI to pick and choose its argument based on what responses fall in line with its bias.

To that end, I offer the following solution: Tell Amnesty your stories. Give them anecdotal evidence from your perspective. Write to them and tell them about the language environment you have dealt with in Estonia. Here’s the link to write to their International Secretariat. And if you are feeling really ballsy, write them in Estonian.

Recently, Amnesty International, an international human rights watchdog, took an interest in Estonia, mainly via a scathing report released at the end of 2006 that criticized Estonia’s language laws.

Today, Amnesty took aim again at Estonia’s language laws, sending Prime Minister Andrus Ansip a letter deploring the recent strengthening of the language inspectorate’s ability to penalize Estonian residents that fail to meet language requirements.

Amnesty International urges the Estonian government to re-consider the latest amendments to the Law on Language and consider more constructive approaches to linguistic integration, such as free or fully reimbursable Estonian language classes for all, rather than the repressive, punitive, and ultimately alienating measures used by the Language Inspectorate.

There are some flipsides to Amnesty International’s argument that the government should not interfere at the level it does via the language inspectorate. For example, if I, as a person capable of conversing in Estonian, am unable to receive service from a company in Estonian, the language of the majority of the population, then haven’t I been denied some fundamental right?

In some cases, you have the option of choosing another service — going to a different grocery, for example. But in other cases, say taking public transport, there really are no other options for an Estonian speaker. If I ask the bus driver something, and I cannot get a reply in Estonian, what do I do? Walk?

But still, I don’t think this is the job of the state. This is the job of the individual employers. It’s up to consumers to complain to employers about poor service, such as the inability to converse in the majority language in basic service situations. Also, can anyone point out how the language inspectorate is worthy of its funding?

Scrapping the language inspectorate in favor of more funding for education in Estonian might actually be a good idea. Because of all of Estonia’s language laws, this is really the only one that international organizations like Amnesty International can take issue with without opening up a whole can of worms.

For example, is Estonian unilingual language policy so controversial when weighed against language policy in France, where public schools in Breton-speaking regions are denied funding for teaching in Breton? Like Estonia, France’s constitution states that the “language of France is French.”

Can Estonian language tests for citizenship really be contested by Amnesty when Finland has the same provision for acquiring citizenship – that the applicants know Finnish or Swedish? Germany requires adequate knowledge of German language as well. It’s the norm.

Amnesty knows that it cannot criticize Estonian language policy outside the language inspectorate because if it did, it would have to open up investigations on many states in Europe. But it has made a point of rallying against the language inspectorate because it, in all honesty, must show some return on its investment in monitoring Estonia. As much as its determinations can be questioned, I have to wonder if the language inspectorate is really worth it.

Will Savisaar be Estonia’s next prime minister?

TNS Emor finally dropped another poll on us, less than a week before votes are to be tallied in the world’s first-ever parliamentary election where citizens can cast their votes via Internet.

The Estonian polling outfit also predicted that Keskerakond will win 35 seats in the next Riigikogu, four more seats than Reformierakond. Emor predicts that Isamaa-Res Publica Liit will earn 15 seats, Eestimaa Rahvaliit 8 seats, Rohelised 7 seats, and the Sotsid 6 seats.

This polling data tells us a few things. The first is that Res Publica has failed to hang onto the voters it earned during the last parliamentary elections in 2003. Those voters have likely gone elsewhere, probably to the Greens and to Reform.

The second thing this polling shows us is that Reform has built its electoral base over the last few years. They currently have 19 seats. If they win 31 seats they will have increased their representation in the Riigikogu by over 60 percent. This shows us that Reform is gathering strength, even if Savisaar wins the most votes on Sunday.

Several factors that I believe this poll fails to take into account are the solidity of IRL’s support, the solidity of the Green’s support, and the extent to which Internet voting will favor certain portions of the electorate — younger, educated, urban — over others — less well off, rural, no laptop.

In the first case, since I am surrounded by Isamaa voters, even here in Tartu, I have to say that their base is loyal and will vote. When I see teenage girls wearing IRL sallid and nearly every person I ask is voting IRL, then I’d have to say that, using my own compass, their base will turn out. I expect them to get more seats than TNS Emor has pegged using its numbers.

The second case is that these polls — and the spectre of Savisaar’s victory and appointment as prime minister — may discourage some of those leaning Rohelised to bite the bullet and vote for Reform or IRL, parties that have certainly lost support to Mr. Strandberg’s party. I expect that Rohelised will get five or six seats in the end, not seven.

Finally, what kind of people are favored by Internet elections? Those with access to the Internet. That means that Kesk’s older, rural supporters will have a harder time voting than, say, Reform’s supporters. All of this doesn’t mean that Savisaar won’t still come out on top on Sunday, but it doesn’t make me believe that his appointment as prime minister is inevitable.

Who, by the way, will form a coalition with Keskerakond?

Eesti Vabaks

On Saturday, I enjoyed my first real Estonian Independence Day. I have been here twice before for Feb. 24, but this time it was the real deal. Although it was so cold that the military parade in Tallinn was cancelled, the flag raising ceremony at Tähe Torn in Tartu went on.

And it was cold, so cold my legs were numb and my face hurt when I tried to adjust my grimmace to a smile. Eventually, after the ceremony, I had to go take refuge in a kohvik near raekoja plats just so my nose wouldn’t fall off. But there we were, old ladies, little kids, and lots of students, celebrating the 89th anniversary of the founding of the Estonian republic.

I know as well as you do that there was a 50-year-long interlude, but the way it felt all day, you wouldn’t have known it happened. Instead, the young people of Estonia wore their society hats and unfurled their Estonian flags, and the feeling created was forward-thinking and good. This is something of which to be proud. 1918 was indeed a long time ago. To put it in context, when Estonian independence was proclaimed, my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t even conceived. My grandfather, who would be 91 this year, was just starting to put his sentences together. And here we are, writing in our blogs, nearly a century later in Eesti Vabariik. Impressive.

In the evening I watched Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ first big speech. I remember Arnold Rüütel’s speeches, and I have to say that Ilves’ was slightly more coherent, even though I understood about 20 percent of what he said. The parts that stuck out to me concerned some fairly controversial issues of the day. I like that he referenced Estonia’s kindred Finno-Ugric peoples, like the Inkari Finns, Veps, Votes, and Karelians, whose fate might have been shared by Estonia if it wasn’t for the foundation of the republic.

But most of all, I was happy to see Ilves take on the monument controversy, by pointing out that the Soviets had been more than happy to dismantle the monuments Estonians had raised to the victory of 1918. Instead of doing as the Soviets did and dismantling the Red Army memorial in Tallinn, I think Ilves challenged us to let it remain, but to think about it in a historical perspective. My opinion on this matter has changed back and forth, which is why I should never be in politics and will stay in media world. But today, I’d have to say that I agree. Which is to say that it is perhaps more important to confront the sufferings of the past and to digest them and learn from them, then to try and erase all memory of a painful national experience.

After browsing YouTube looking for nifty footage of Estonian past events, I found that someone had posted footage of the Estonian 20th Waffen SS in action and another world battle had erupted between the grandchildren of Legionnaires and the grandchildren of Red Armymen. It was pathetic to see teenagers fight back and forth over who was worse, Hitler or Stalin.

I wish I could tell both the Estonian and Russian nationalist groups something.

For the Russian nationalists, I would have to explain that, while World War II started for Russia in 1941 when the “German invaders” attacked the USSR, for Estonia it started in 1940, when the Soviet army occupied Estonia. While World War II ended for Russia in 1945, on that very special day in May, for Estonia, it didn’t really end until Stalin died in 1953. From what I read, that was a day that signalled the end of the Red Terror in Estonia. Within a few years, those deported in 1948 started coming home, and people began to put their lives back together again.

They should know that Estonia is unique. The Estonian people are unique. Estonian history is unique. The Russian nationalists must understand that Estonia is and was a state, just as its sister Ireland is, just as Iceland is, just as Finland is. I am not sure if they’ll ever listen, but for their own sake, they should.

For the Estonian rightwing nationalists, I’d have to say this: Look around on Independence Day. Estonia is a success. The 18-year-olds of today feel it just as much as those born in 1900 did. There’s no need to proclaim new national holidays or to legislate heroism or to tear down old war monuments. Estonia knows who its heroes are, and it already has the perfect day to celebrate them: Feb. 24.

That’s what the restoration of independence was about, it was about taking the hidden flags out of the attic, and singing the national anthem in public, and putting together again that which was so cruelly destroyed. Looking around on Saturday, it felt like the business of restoring the republic was finished some time ago.

Söörimöö – Minu Mõtled Malev-ist

Nii, eile õhtul ma vaatasin esimest korda filmi Malev, mis on eesti film eesti elust kolmeteistkumnendal sajandil saksa ordu jooksul. See film on mõlemad naljakas ja tõsine, ja palju palju verd loomalikult oli filmis. Mina olen kuulnud et Malev oli tehtnud Monty Pythoni moodi. Aga Malev on tegelikult teist moodi.

Kõige tähtsam inimene Malev-is on Uru, tavaline eesti poiss kes kardab saksa ordu rüütlid, ja kes tahab kaitsta oma kodumaa. Ainult probleem on see, et eestlased ei ole tõelised võitlejad. Nad ainult tahavad laulda ja töötada kogu aeg. Näiteks, et kui Uru kohtub eesti kangelase Lembituga, ja ta räägib kõik saksa ordust, siis Lembitu vastus:

“Ma hakkan … ma hakkan … ma hakkan … ma hakkan laulma!” Ja siis kõik Lembitu külas hakkavad tantisma ja laulma. Ongi päris naljakas. Ja kindlasti mu lemmik asi Malev-is on, et saarlased ja hiidlased räägivad liialdatud murrediga. On niimoodi, et kõige saarlastel kõige lemmik vokaal on “ö”. Siis, saarlased Malev-is räägivad nagu see: “Me ei söö röögidö normöölselt, me ölömö pörit söörimöölt.”

Hööd Isösöösepöövöks!

For the Pronks Crowd

Stop the presses! Some nationalistic-feeling Estonians tried to lay a wreath in rememberance at the foot of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn, and someone pushed someone, and, even though no arrests were made, it still made the International Herald Tribune the same day it happened.

Postimees also promised that there would be footage of the scuffle on TV tonight, because real violence is preferable to the fake violence they usually show on television.

The big question is, of course, who will this benefit in the election? The answer is no one. Supporters of Ansip will say, “See, I told you we should moce the monument” and supporters of Savisaar will say, “See, we should let sleeping dogs lie.”

I am begining to see these ‘gangs of bandits’ – the Estonian National Movement and Night Watch, as rival gangs, like the Bloods and the Crips. Which means that this isn’t a state issue — it’s a law enforcement issue. It looks like the law did ok and nobody got hurt. If they want to keep things that way, they’ll enforce a ban on demonstrations at the controversial grave site.

Fortunately, for those of us that know that time existed before 1940 — which I guess excludes the Russian foreign ministry in some cases — ETV will be treating us to two historical films centered around Estonia, and neither of them is Viimne Reliikvia.

The first, Malev, is one I have only seen clips of before. Malev (see above photo) is a comedic — if you find Eesti humor funny — take on the Northern crusades, and the subjugation of the Estonians by the Teutonic knights in the 12th and 13th centuries. I am looking very much forward to seeing it for the very first time.

The second film, Nimed Marmortahvlil, is the real gem. It should be shown every Feb. 24, the way they show The Sound of Music at Thanksgiving every year in the US. It concerns the removal of Russian and German troops from the Baltic province of Estonia by poorly trained Estonian school boys with meager weaponry, and the resulting foundation of the Republic of Estonia. Peter Franzen is also there to play the “older brother” Finland that helps hapless Estonia achieve its victory. It’s a good film, and I’ll be watching it, A. Le Coq in hand.

Tere Tulemast Soome!

See on väga huvitav asi, et elu siin eestis on päris normaalne. Ma käin kaubamajas. Ma käin postkontoris. Ma kirjutan blogi. Ma vaatan telekat. Kõik elu on tavaline lääne-moodi elu. Aga kui soomlased mõtlevad ‘virost’ nad ei mõtle Skype-st, või Riigikogu valimistest, või midagi muud head.

Juhtus, et kui Phil, Finland for Thought-i blogija, tegi intervuu minuga, palju küsimused oli soome negatiivne vaade eestist. Aga ma saan aru miks see oli juhtnud:

The number of foreign prisoners in Finnish prisons has quadrupled in ten years, according to the Friday edition of provincial daily Kaleva.

A total of 312 foreign nationals were held in Finnish prisons at the beginning of February, which meant that foreigners comprised 9 per cent of the total prison population. Most had been convicted for narcotics offences.

Kaleva reports that one in three foreign prisoners came from Estonia, with Russians constituting the second largest national group.

Nii, võibolla on õige öelda et kõik narkomüüjad eestist käib soomes tööl. Ja kui soomlased räägivad eestist, nad muidugi räägivad eestlastest kes on nende vanglades. See on ju väga kurb.

[ENG] It’s pretty interesting that life in Estonia is very normal and Western, but even Estonia’s closest neighbors, like Finland, can have a negative perspective of this country, which isn’t that different from Finland. For example, when Phil from Finland for thought interviewed me, many questions revolved around this Finnish perspective of Estonia, which is pretty funny. However, when you see statistics, that one in every three persons in prison in Finland are Estonians, you can see why they have this outlook. It appears that all the drug dealers in Estonia go to Finland for work. This is a very sad thing.

Noh, hüva, teeme nii …

Kui ma käisin Tallinna keeltekoolis kolm aastat tagasi, ma proovisin räägida eesti keeles nagu mu naine räägib kui ta helistab kellegile. Iga dialoog lõpetab sama moodi, “Noh, hüva, teeme nii.”

Aga, kui ma ütlesin “hüva,” nagu minu naine, siis meie keeleõpetaja vastas, “Mis on see ‘hüva’ jama?! – Hüva on tegelikult soome sõna, see ei ole tavaline eesti sõna.”

Mina olin väga segaduses. Ma tahtsin teada miks mu naine ütles kogu aeg “hüva” aga minu õpetaja arvas et see oli mingi asi soome televisioonist. Siis, ma maletasin et minu naine on pärit mulgimaalt, aga õpetaja oli tallinnlane. Ja mu naine ütles minule, et “hüva” on tavaline lõuna eesti sõna mis põhja eestlased ei ütle.

Kas te teate veel sõnad mis on ainult põhja-eestist või lõuna eestist? Kas saarlastel on ka teised sõnad mis ei ole rahvakeeles? Mul on suur huvi.


Nii, nüüd ma hakkan kirjutama eesti keeles. Iga päev ma õpin veel, ja üks väga huvitav sõna mina olen õpinud on tegelikult “vunts” või “vuntsid.” Inglise keeles, “vuntsid” on ainult ainsus, “mustache” mitte “mustaches.”

Kui te tahaks vuntsi maha ajada Ameerikas, mõlemad vuntsid tulevad ikka ära. Aga sellepärast, et eestlased on targem kui ameeriklased, on võimalik ajada maha ühe vuntsi ja teise vuntsi. See on päris hea uudis meie sõber Pulleritsi-le!

The Next Riigikogu

The Estonian parliamentary elections are in 12 days and I have no idea what the next Riigikogu is going to look like. Our only clue is a TNS Emor poll from Feb. 12 that shows Keskerakond leading Reformierakond by 2 percentage points. That poll was conducted in mid January, and no margin of error was provided.

Still, despite this virtual tie, I believe that many Estonians think that Edgar Savisaar’s Keskid will triumph on March 4. I chalk this up to two things: 1) Estonian pessimism; 2) Savikas’ performance in the 2005 municipal elections.

However, there are some major changes afoot. One of them is that Eesti Rahvaliit is, by all accounts, not going to be in the next Riigikogu. The second is that the Rohelised are polling pretty high for a new party. We’ll see how much their support erodes on election day. Personally, I don’t think they’re getting 11 percent of the vote.

I detect among acquaintances some disappointment with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. Nobody is that enthused about him. But just because they don’t like Andrus, it doesn’t mean that they don’t equally despise Edgar. That leads me to think that Reform’s discontents will vote for other center-right parties, like Isamaa-Res Publica Liit or the Sotsid.

I also think that if Reform can tie the Keskid, the next coalition government will actually be Reformierakond, IRL, and Rohelised. I don’t know if Ansip will survive as PM, but expect to see Strandberg as minister of the environment, and perhaps Mart Laar as foreign minister. That’s my prediction for now, although it could change with further information. I have a hard time envisioning a Savisaar-led government, but it would probably include Reform as well, because they want to keep his hands tied, even if they’re not running the show.

How to Hate Estonians (by Pravda)

Kudos to Pravda for allowing us this great insight into Estophobia as practiced by pundits in Moscow. Here are some basic ways that Pravda shows us how it’s possible to hate Estonians:

Lesson #1: Mart Laar isn’t an award-winning Estonian leader that put his country back on the map, he’s the equivalent of Salman Rushdie, preaching divisiveness:

It is understood that the former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar, an author of scandalous history books, voted the bill into law.

Lesson #2: Estonians really just have issues with their fathers, that whole occupation thing is just cover for unresolved issues at home:

Mikhail Lotman, a son of the renowned philologist Yuri Lotman, voted for the bill too. Well, it stands to reason since Mikhail Lotman reportedly sold his father’s archives along with all the books of a library for $80,000 two years ago.

Incidentally, Yuri Lotman served as a gunner in the Soviet Army during the WWII. The media reported that Mikhail had literally cleared out the contents of his father’s study. He sold everything including diplomas and personal correspondence. He even took away an old draft board card of his father…

Lesson #3: Estonian politicians aren’t real Estonians, anyway:

No wonder Trivimi Velliste was one the deputies who had supported the new law. Velliste has always been known for his extremely radical views. However, everyone in Estonia is aware of the deputy’s true name, which is Trofim Velichkin. The deputy strongly denies all allegations as to his real name (in fact, he prefers to use English while speaking with Russians – ed. note).

Lesson #4: Estonia’s Russians that aren’t on Moscow’s side are pussies:

Deputy Tatyana Muravyeva was reportedly present in Parliament during the vote but never pressed the button to register her vote. Deputy Sergei Ivanov was missing during the vote. Rumor has it that Ivanov had gone to a cafeteria shortly before the vote took place.

Lesson #5: Estonians are unworthy of being properly referenced in Pravda:

Some time ago Estonian Prime Minister Abdrus Ansip slapped a ban on the erection of a monument to Peter the Great in the city of Narva.