Draft law to lift ban on public drinking, nudity

  • 2006-07-12
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - As a rule, Estonians exhibit lax attitudes toward public drinking and nudity, which are officially prohibited. Soon, however, the Justice Ministry may legalize both 's as long as the activities don't disrupt others.

The proposals are part of the Public Order Protection Act, a draft law proposed by Estonia's Justice Ministry. Various government departments are currently considering the legislation, which could go before Parliament this fall.
Vice Chancellor of the Justice Ministry, Martin Hirvoja, said the change was necessary in order to dispel confusion about what activities were deemed legal. While some local governments allowed certain activities in certain areas, there was no national approach, he said.

"Such fragmentation of regulations governing conduct in public places creates legal ambiguity," Hirvoja told the daily Postimees newspaper.
People who wish to enjoy wine while having a picnic in a park should be allowed to do so, Hirvoja said.
He added that it was unnecessary to ban practices that didn't offend others. Besides, most "normal people" won't start walking the streets naked simply because they can, Hirvoja said.
In Tallinn, drinking in public is already practiced widely. Nearly every tram or bus carries at least one passenger with a bottle in hand.

Ivi Papstel, spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry, said the draft law was necessary to replace outdated legislation.
According to present legislation, it is legal to drink alcohol only on the premises where it's sold for consumption, or in areas designated by local governments. The amended draft law would make it legal to drink anywhere, provided this activity does not disturb other citizens.

Public nudity is also commonly practiced and is allowed by some local councils at certain beaches. At Merivalje beach in Tallinn, naked bathers are a common sight, though most tend to sun themselves behind trees and out of public view.
"We worked on the premise that most people behave normally," Hirjova said, "There is no point in restricting by law things that do not disturb anyone and for which there is no need."

Currently, Estonian police function under the Police Act, which was introduced in 1990 before the Constitution, leaving disparities between the two and creating questions about civil rights.
"There was an acute need to create a modern, common and legally just basis for the system of defending public order in Estonia," Papstel said.

"The draft is very substantial, and forms an important cornerstone in the Estonian legal system."
The conditions for public order form only a small part of the draft, and were open to public comment, she said.