Mike Collier, ERR News
Estonia need have no fear of a Latvian-style referendum on the adoption of Russian as an official state language, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said during a visit to Riga on Thursday.
Asked if he feared Russian radicals in Estonia might gain heart from the way they have taken centre stage in Estonia's southern neighbour, Paet said: "No I am not afraid of some sort of political influence [coming] out of your referendum to Estonia [...] In the 1990s we also had these kind of disputes and discussions in Estonia about the role of language in society but at the moment the majority of people in Estonia understand
very well that ours is the one and only country in the world where we can keep and develop Estonian language and culture and at the same time have clear respect for Russian language and culture and all other languages."
Far from being an oppressed minority, Paet argued that on the contrary in some respects Estonia's Russian community enjoys advantages not shared by their ethnic Estonian compatriots.
"My experience is that the majority of Russians and Belarussians living in Estonia know why it is good to speak the Estonian language. The young Russian generation in Estonia has one very clear advantage in the labor market over young Estonians because usually they speak simply one language more: Russian," Paet told journalists.
Latvians will vote in a referendum Saturday on whether to give Russian the same official language status as Latvian as the result of a signature collection drive spearheaded by Russian radical Vladimir Linderman.
However, the chances of success for the initiative are virtually nil and voters are expected to reject the initiative by a large margin.
With language issues in the air it was appropriate that along with Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics, Paet helped announce the winner of the third annual Estonian-Latvian/Latvian-Estonian translation award. The prize was awarded to Kalev Kalkun for translating Nora Ikstena’s novel “The Virgin’s Lesson” into Estonian.
Russian Radicalism Has No Hold in Estonia, says Paet