Mihhail Stalnuhhin, Centre Party politician and city council chair in Narva (over 90% Russian heritage population) blames Estonians for fostering the strained relationship that he perceives as existing between the indigenous Estonians and non-indigenous Russians.
He side-tracks the fact that Estonia has not witnessed a single violent confrontation between Estonians and non-Estonians since regaining independence. (The marauding street hooligans and political agitators, who rioted and looted when the “Bronze Soldier” was relocated two years ago, were not evidence of a conflict between two ethnic groups.)
Stalnuhhin recently explained the causes of the rift in Estonian society: in 1990, when Estonia was still part of the USSR, only 36% of Narva’s residents considered the 1940 annexation of Estonia to have been with Estonia’s consent. Forty four percent were convinced that Estonia became captive through armed force. Stalnuhhin said that two thirds of local Russians were loyal to the Republic of Estonia.
Now, he points out, only 8% say that the 1940 annexation was achieved through military aggression. He accuses Estonians and the country’s government of being culpable in the supposed changed attitudes of the Russians.
Stalnuhhin observes that the average Russian income in Estonia is substantially below that enjoyed by Estonians. Russians, he says, are employed in mines, power generating stations, on assembly lines, in transport, service industries and handling waste. He claims that “occupant” is a pejorative aimed at them by Estonians.
Stalnuhhin states that Estonia can’t become a normal country of citizens until Estonians cease to view Russians as former occupiers of the country. He refuses to concede that the problem may also be traced to Moscow’s incessant harangues about recent history.
Pavel Ivanov, editor of the Russian edition of the daily newspaper ‘Postimees’, offers a somewhat different version of inter-ethnic developments. The loyalty of Russians in Estonia is not in doubt, says Ivanov. They mustered no opposition to Estonian independence during the 1991 attempted Russian coup in Moscow and they provided meager support for Russian radical Dmitri Klenski during the recent local elections. It’s not unreasonable to expect, Ivanov adds, that Russians in the future could side with other politicians than Edgar Savisaar, whose current success is dependent on massive Russian electoral support.
Entering the post-municipal election debate, the Russian state Duma’s chair of the foreign relations commission, Konstantin Kossatsov, has once again accused “some neighbouring states” of bad-mouthing Russia. Kossatsov specifically mentions the charges of famine, occupation and genocide foisted on Russia by bordering countries.
When referring to Russians abroad, his interpretation of recent history betrays a barely hidden threat: Russians subjected to a “false portrayal of history” must and will be protected.
The Russian Federation’s and Estonian relational dynamics also include the dozens of Russian TV channels available to Estonian residents constantly. All of these sources of information and opinion adhere to the Kremlin version of past events. It is a powerful tool in molding the attitudes of non-Estonians, one that Moscow controls unopposed and uses unrelentingly. Going up against it is a formidable challenge.
Moscow’s influence is a major factor in Russo/Esto tensions in Estonia