– Do you believe, as the Russian government says, that the Russians who live in Estonia are being subject to segregation and unfair treatment by Estonians?
I am not in the position to comment on the allegations of the Russian government. However, substantiated criticism of the situation of the Russian minority in Estonia can be found in numerous recommendations and observations made by competent bodies of the Council of Europe, OSCE and UN. All they routinely refer to various problems of minority groups in Estonia.
What minority-related issues in Estonia I would personally highlight? First of all, Russians and other Russian-speakers are victims of structural discrimination on the Estonian labor market. Their much higher unemployment rates cannot be explained solely by their poor Estonian. I also believe that minority school reform was badly prepared and it will hardly improve the overall situation of the Russian-speaking youth. I am worried that the problem of mass statelessness among Russian-speakers has not been solved. According to the 2011 census results, Russian-speakers are better educated than Estonians but they suffer more from poverty. Official statistics provide that most of HIV-positives, intravenous drug addicts and prison inmates of Estonia are Russian-speakers. In other words, Russians face more risks of social marginalization.
– How do you evaluate the Estonian government efforts to increase the integration of the Russian community in Estonia?
No real integration is at stake if the problem is worded as in your question, so if we are talking about integration’s subject (Estonian society) and object (Russian community). Any successful integration policies shall be aimed at the society as a whole.
The official policies have always paid too much attention to Estonian language training and mostly ignored numerous issues related to political and social aspects of integration. How could we promote integration in the society where every seventh adult cannot vote in national election because he or she is not a citizen of Estonia?
– Will there ever be a day when the Estonian population won’t be divided in Estonians and Russians? How far is this day? What has to be done to achieve this integration, to people not think in terms of Estonians and Russians, just Estonians?
I hope there will be much less ethnic and linguistic divides in our society in the future. This could happen only if the idea of civic nation will be used as a cornerstone of all official integration policies and nation-building. Regretfully, this is not the case at the moment in spite of promising rhetoric of some public officials. Estonians shall become a civic nation which consists of people who speak different languages and have different cultural and religious traditions. Latent involuntary assimilation of minorities shall not be tolerated. Party of the Center is a main and consistent proponent of the idea of civic nation in Estonia and a true driver of genuine society integration. Unfortunately, other mainstream political forces are obsessed with ethnic nationalism. Idealization of one ethnicity and latent justification of discrimination of other languages and cultural traditions cannot unite our complex society – neither today, nor in the future.
– Do you think Russia will invade Estonia or actively support a separatist movement in Estonia?
I see no reasons why the Russian Federation shall or may invade Estonia. At the moment I see no similarities between Eastern Ukraine and any regions of Estonia. Furthermore, no signs of separatism can be observed in Estonian regions. Recent polls are in evidence that most of Estonians do not believe that Russian invasion is probable in the nearest future. Security concerns were misused by certain nationalistic forces just before the last parliamentary elections (March 1, 2015). It was not the best confidence-building measure for our society. Luckily, Estonia’s people are much wiser than many Estonian politicians.
– During my visit to Estonia, a lot of people told me as a fact that Russia meddles in Estonia life — sending money to politicians, financing organizations etc. (Also, the government has arrested spies and Kaitsepolitseiamet says that “more active Russian nationalists get support from Russian national funds and agencies and earn their living by spreading” Russian messages). Do you agree with these people?
I do not share paranoiac ideas of the ruling coalition. You could find in Estonia many people who are capable to assess rationally the domestic situation. I see no good reason for this alarmism. So-called Russian national funds – in most cases they support Russian culture and language abroad: in a democratic state it should not be regarded as a threat to the Constitution. People who want to preserve their mother tongue and culture – they make use of their human and minority rights. One cannot label them as nationalists or even worse. Unfortunately, Estonian Security policy has previously harassed pro-minority politicians of Estonia. Last year I won a defamation case against the Security police. I would agree, however, that relations between Estonia and Russia are bad and both sides are responsible for this.
– Does Russia finance the Keskerakond?
No. During the last electoral campaign political rivals of the Party of the Center made significant efforts to undermine positive image of the party, to label it as pro-Russia, etc. The party supports Estonian minorities but this is the best way to ensure prosperous future for our country. The intention to normalize relations with neighboring Russian cannot be interpreted as pro-Russian activities. This is in Estonia’s own interests. Russia is a very difficult partner but we should at least try to cooperate with it. Any claims that Russia has financed Party of the Center are defamation and they cannot be proved in the court of law and our rivals know that very well. The leader of the party Mr. Edgar Savisaar is one of the founders of the restored Estonian state and the most popular Estonian politician. Regretfully, dirty political games are still popular in Estonia.