(The following is a translated summary of a live interview given by Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves on December 8th to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvõ via Estonia's Kuku Raadio. The synchronously translated broadcast was moderated by Echo Moskvõ's editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov. Echo Moskvõ broadcasts to approximately a million listeners in Moscow, St. Petersburg and 30 other regions in Russia.)
Echo Moskvõ stated that Russians living in Estonia are upset about possible legislation making public displays of Nazi and communist symbols illegal.
Both political symbols hold the same meaning for Estonians. “Estonia lost nearly one third of its people during the second World War. “Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are to blame,” Ilves answered. “Estonians don’t differentiate between the two totalitarian systems.” The consequences for Estonia were the same.
When asked who originated the idea of removing the Soviet memorial at Tõnismäe, Ilves said that nothing has been decided, but it’s not necessary to view things from Moscow’s perspective. Estonia is independent and arrives at decisions irrespective of Moscow’s reaction. “I personally am interested in normal relations between Estonia and Russia, similar to the ones we enjoy with Finland or Latvia.”
Ilves considers the Soviet memorial to be a symbol, which troubles many. “We have a strong parliamentary system and nobody dictates to us how to vote.” Any parliamentary decision will reflect the will of the people and any association with Moscow is not right. Estonia needs to memorialize all victims, not to do battle with the dead. Arguments regarding events from 60 years ago are hindering the development of rational and pragmatic relations.
However, Ilves noted that these are his personal opinions and he will proclaim parliamentary legislation no matter what the decision may be.
“I don’t think you realize how terrible it is to lose a family, to be deported to Siberia /…/, how offensive the hammer and sickle are.”
According to Venediktov, organizations such as Amnesty International and the Council of Europe are critical of Estonia’s treatment of minorities. It is alleged that there are 130,000 individuals in Estonia who can’t get citizenship and who don’t want to leave for Russia.
Ilves stressed that he certainly doesn’t want his countrymen to leave. And they are not leaving in spite of the insistent invitation of Russia’s president. The vilifying propaganda campaign about how bad things are in Estonia does not hold water, he said. People want to leave Russia for Estonia. Estonia wouldn’t be in the European Union if conditions were so bad. In fact, conditions in Estonia are more favourable for aliens than elsewhere in the EU. Minorities find it difficult to find employment there. Estonia allowed aliens to vote in municipal elections starting in 1994. The EU followed suit only two years ago.
Ilves views Estonian citizenship requirements to be minimal – five years residency and a necessary level of the language. The president compared local Russians with Belarus students who have been studying at Tartu University for three months and already speak acceptable Estonian. “If one can master the language in three months, why cannot stateless people learn it in 15 years,” he asked.
In reference to border crossing issues, Ilves stated that Estonian technology is first class and can handle a very high rate of cross border traffic. He said that bottlenecks at borders are frequently caused by political considerations. But Finland, whose enjoys normal relations with Russia, also suffers from delays at border crossings.
Ilves stated that it is in Estonia’s interest to have a democratic and liberal Russia as a neighbour, where human rights are honoured, where the Mari minority can learn in their language beyond the third grade. Estonia teaches minority languages up to grade 12.
(The interview summary was published in Estonian by Eesti Päevaleht Online. The interview can be heard at http://www.kuku.ee/kuku/uus/16... )
Ilves: nobody dictates to Estonia how it should vote (2)