MPs question reports of citizenship bribery
TALLINN - The first symptoms of autumn's election fever surfaced this week when the Russian weekly business paper Delovyie Vedomosti wrote that Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo had proposed granting citizenship to two Russian-speaking businessmen.
The case is not entirely abnormal, as Estonian law grants 10 worthy persons citizenship every year. However, in this situation Sergey Sergeyenkov and Alexander Frolov, the two residents up for a blue passport, had announced plans to join the Reform Party, with which Rummo is affiliated, the paper wrote.
Both Sergeyenkov, manager of Maardu Coal Terminal, and Frolov, a businessman, refused to comments on the subject.
Others were no less taciturn. Maardu Mayor Georgy Bystrov and Johvi Mayor Aavo Keerme were more specific, with Bystrov claiming that Sergeyenkov craved the deputy mandate, and Reformist Keerme speculating that Frolov might join the Reform Party before the 2005 municipal elections.
The Regnum news agency, managing to track down Rummo during his holiday, reported that the minister had firmly denied all media speculation, saying that there was no connection between his citizenship nominations and the businessmen's will to join the Reform Party.
Party affiliation is a matter of one's own free will, he stressed.
The Delovyie Vedomosti, on the other hand, went so far as to write that the minister had recommended giving Sergeyenkov citizenship for his "special services," including his "essential contribution to the national transit development and organization of housing associations in Maardu."
Rummo distinguished the second candidate for his successful furniture-production business, the paper said.
Reform Party members, for the part, backed up their colleague's actions. Spokesman Peep Lillemagi and MP Sergei Ivanov were quoted as saying that citizenship and party membership were two different matters.
MP Tatjana Muravjova, who is one of the Reform Party's Russian-speaking leaders, was indignant over the media accusations. "Newspapers may write whatever they want," she told The Baltic Times. "But these charges are nonsense. No one is bartering with citizenship and never will. Besides, following state legislation, you need to be a citizen before joining a party."
"There are 5,000 members in the Reform Party at the moment and non-Estonians make up nearly 15 percent of them," Lillemagi said. "The population minister's terms of reference provide granting citizenship for services."
He added that usually such matters lie under the competence of the Economy, Population and Culture ministries. "Naturally, worthy persons who bind their lives with Estonia deserve citizenship," Lillemagi stressed.
He also said that media reports were "carried out" by people who wanted to fuel ethnic tension in Estonia. These same people, he added, lean on such accusations when participating in the elections. Some of the ill wishers could be affiliated with the Interrind movement of 1990, the spokesman said.
According to available information, there are currently 13 people waiting to receive Estonian citizenship based on merit. This includes five entrepreneurs, four leaders in ethnic minority culture associations, two athletes, an artist and a clergyman.
The government is considering the applications of three other businessmen: transit company BLTR Group executives Anatoly Gruba, Alexander Zaborsky and Fyodor Kvishch. According to Gruba, none of them are interested in politics.
In previous years, Estonia has awarded citizenships for many deserving non-citizens, regardless of their wealth: Russian Drama Theater actors Vladimir Antipp, Jevgeny Gaitshuk and Vadim Stepanov, Lasnamae gymnasium teacher Nelli Filippova, the head of Tatar elementary school Favzia Haidullina, and Apostolic Christian Church metropolitan Stefanus.
While there are also examples to the contrary, such as Lukeoil President Vagit Alekperov, one of the richest men in Russia, and Italian real estate baron Ernesto Preatoni, the former's passport was evoked while the latter only lived in Estonia for a short time.