“The Brussels Diary with Yana Toom”: Life Belt for National Minorities


In the spring of 2018, the Russian School of Estonia and MEP Yana Toom collected signatures to support an ongoing European Citizens’ Initiative called Minority SafePack, the organisers of which are fighting for minority rights in the EU. The initiative has obtained more than one million one hundred thousand signatures. A week ago, the first working meeting with the organisers took place at the European Commission.

The initiative includes a lot of points, something that is also relevant for Estonia. Minority SafePack offers to protect the languages of national minorities in the field of public services and education. If the draft act is adopted, the EU Council shall officially recommend “to ensure the right of education to the national minority in its language” and “the opportunity to study in this language at all levels from kindergartens to universities.” And also, to provide public services at state and local levels in the minority language.

This does not mean that Estonia will fully comply with the recommendation. But the transition of all education into Estonian – a dream of some of our parties – will be impeded. Moreover, we will be recommended to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have not joined. Why, it’s understandable: the Charter imposes obligations that hinder the assimilation of minorities. And here, it is a sensitive issue. Moreover, it is sensitive both at the level of the head, and at the level of the preamble of the Constitution.

Another draft act from the Minority SafePack addresses the rights of non-citizens. The organisers acknowledge that the EU cannot give citizenship; this is the country’s prerogative. However, there is a directive on the status of third-country nationals who have been residing in the EU for a long time. And for Europe, our grey passport holders are precisely “third-country nationals”.

At present, if you are a non-citizen with a permanent residence permit and are going to work, say, in Finland, you may be prevented from going to take another job for a whole year. Minority SafePack proposes to exclude this restriction. Yes, it is not much. However, if the directive is opened for change, we will try to solve the problems of non-citizens with freedom of movement within the EU, so that they are not denied work under the pretext that the country has its own employees in this speciality.

Education in Russian and the rights of non-citizens are two scourges in Estonia. By the way, the Minority SafePack is driven by the Federal Union of European Nationalities, abbreviated FUEN. It was FUEN that one and a half years ago, at the suggestion of the NGO “Russian School of Estonia”, adopted a resolution on the situation of the Russian national minority. The issue of statelessness and the ‘Estonianisation’ of Russian education were noted as well. The resolution was criticised by journalist Oleg Samorodni, after which volunteers from the Estonian Defence League, anonymous propaganda fighters from the PropaStop website, condemned its “propaganda message” and referred to FUEN as a mercenary of the Kremlin that was smearing Estonia. Business as usual.

But FUEN and its Initiative reached the European Commission. What will PropaStop write now? Although, it doesn’t matter. As the saying goes, the caravan moves on. Soon, the Petition Committee will organise hearings on the initiative in the European Parliament. We, with like-minded people and me personally, as the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, will do everything to obtain the support of the European deputies. The European Commission shall deliver its answer within six months. But even after this, the struggle for the rights of national minorities will continue.

See you next week!