Eesti Elu
Bilingualism and the Estonian parliamentary elections (1)
Arvamus 11 Feb 2011  Eesti Elu
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Prof. D.M. Helmeste states that “official state bilingualism…would serve to hasten the extinction of the Estonian language”. he added that, “When the Estonian language declines, so does Estonian culture.”

Helmeste points out in his academic discourse that with Estonia’s membership in the EU, NATO and its necessary collaborations worldwide, Estonians in reality have to be bilingual, even trilingual, but this is different from official state bilingualism.

Counter to this position is the UN’s Committee on the Eliminations of Racial Discrimination proposal of last fall that Estonia should offer all public services in Russian and eradicate fines for language policy violations.

The Committee ignored the observations of foreigners that the enforcement of language policy is done with extreme solicitude and the occasional fines levied are minimal, often just symbolic.
Estonian language proponents have pointed out that German chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted that people of Turkish heritage as well as other backgrounds should be able to speak German. Germany has allowed non-Germans to immigrate into the country. It has had total control over the movement of millions.

Estonia on the other hand has had entirely different experience. A foreign power, occupying Estonia, forced the massive immigration of non-Estonians into Estonia in blatant contravention of international conventions prohibiting demographic changes to lands of indigenous people. Developments in Estonia have differed drastically from those of multi-ethnic western European countries. Official bilingualism in Estonia is not a viable option.

Critics of Estonia’s language policy point to the example of Finland, which has Finnish and Sweden as official state languages, while only 6% of the Finnish population has Swedish as their mother tongue. In Estonia, 25% of the population has Russian as their mother tongue. Finland’s bilingual policy has evolved from a historic and political context. Finland wants the identity of a Northern European country like Sweden. Estonians have no desire to be part of the Russian cultural landscape. The survival of the Swedish language in Finland is not guaranteed. The rapid influx of new immigrants (massive numbers of Russians have moved in, forcing Finland into establishing some Russian-speaking schools in certain localities) are a cultural threat. By protecting Swedish through its bilingual policy, Finland is confirming its position as a Northern European country.

While not a prime issue in the election campaign, Estonian language primacy has still been an enduring topic of public discourse, heightened during Moscow’s systematic provocations on the topic. The current government, consisting of the Pro Patria and Respublica Union and the Reform Party have presented a firm schedule for all Russian speaking schools to eventually adopt Estonian as the base language of instruction. The two parties` insist that compromises have slackened the pace of moving toward Estonian based education. State bilingualism is, according to the current coalition, a non-starter. Electors can take this for their consideration.
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