TALLINN - Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, has recommended that Estonia move toward a multilingual society with more than one official language.
Diene, who is drawing up a report on the Baltic states due to be delivered next year, told reporters Sep. 28 that Estonia should move toward a multicultural and multilingual society.
"The requirement to be able to speak Estonian is normal," said the Senegalese, adding that all Estonian citizens had to be able to speak the language.
At the same time, the special rapporteur added that in his opinion the status of Russian does not correspond to the proportion that Russian-speakers making up the country's population. Diene said that in his view Russian should be one of the official languages and that other languages, too, could lay claim for the status of official language in Estonia.
"A multicultural society must be multilingual society," Diene said.
He then said that the status of languages had to be determined by a society by democratic means.
Diene also said he will recommend that Estonia reviews its concept of national identity. In his opinion, the Estonian state is on the defensive as regards the issues of both language and identity, from which it should proceed by means of dynamic development toward a multicultural society.
Having talked in such specific terms about Estonia, it seems certain that Diene will make similar demands of Latvia and Lithuania, both of which have large Russian-speaking minorities and which he has already visited. Such a move would prove highly controversial, but Diene is no stranger to controversy, having sparked resentment in Denmark previously for criticising the Danish government's response to the infamous Mohammed cartoons affair.
Back in Estonia, Irina Vorontsova, chairwoman of the Union of Russian Citizens' Associations agreed that ethnic Russians must learn to communicate in Estonian.
"If members of the Russian community regard Estonia as their motherland and their home, they must for the sake of normal relations with the Estonian part of the country's population learn their second mother tongue -- Estonian - without forgetting their home language," Vorontsova said.
Comparing the current situation to the years of Soviet occupation, she said, "An Estonian who had extremely poor command of Russian but was an excellent specialist or talented administrator could work in the highest of state offices. There was no Russian language inspectorate."
In Vorontsova's view Russian-speakers' integration into the society would improve if the leaders of the state abandoned manifestations of nationalism and the idea of a multiethnic state.