TALLINN - Government officials have forbidden municipal authorities in the predominantly ethnic Russian city of Narva from using Russian as the working language during civic administration meetings and sessions.
The announcement comes two months after authorities in the border town asked for permission to use the language during municipal meetings and City Council session.
"Legitimization of language official business in the Russian language without a guarantee of official business being conducted in Estonian would lead to Estonian forced out from official business of the city and reduce motivation of municipal employees, employees of municipal institutions, including headmasters and teachers to learn Estonian," the Education and Science Ministry wrote in its response.
A ministry spokesman told the Baltic News Service that ethnic minorities felt they had the right to use their language in public as well as private life was irrelevant.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the ministry explained, it was permitted to use languages other than Estonian in communication with state and local government institutions. "This ensures communication for persons with no command of Estonian in a language suitable to them," ministry officials wrote in their response to the Narva municipal council.
But Narva city officials wanted to amend the Local Government Organization Act so it would be possible for the council to conduct meetings in Russian.
The Local Government Organization Act, which went into force in 2002, declares that the language of sessions of both the council and the government must be Estonian.
At the same time the Education and Science Ministry found that a decision concerning the use of spoken language at sessions of a council where the majority of the members speak a minority language could be left to the council. However, the council is obliged to ensure that legal acts, minutes of the meetings and decisions, as well as reports and speeches made at the session in other languages, are available to the public in Estonian.
To bypass regulations, the Narva City Council reportedly holds double sessions - the first unofficial one in Russian, where the main decisions are discussed, and then one in Estonia during which decisions are officially worded.