Centrist speaks out for bilingualism

  • 2005-08-10
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLINN - One-third of the politicians in the Tallinn City Council do not speak satisfactory Estonian, and this hinders the council's efficiency, former Centrist faction member Dmitri Klenski said last week.

Klenski, known for his impudent behavior and numerous attempts to use Russian during council meetings, published an article in the SL Ohtuleht daily proposing that the City Council adopt bilingual sessions. He said that anti-Russian attitudes in government have retarded the country's development some three 's five years, since insufficient knowledge of Estonian deterred many from voicing their opinions and propositions.

The statement was made without Center Party approval and appeared to put Klenski at odds with Centrist leadership, which is renowned for demanding loyalty from its ranks.

The most effective solution, Klenski argued, would be to adopt a more flexible attitude toward the Russian language since nearly half of Tallinn's residents speak it as their native tongue. The free use of English violates the Language Act, he added, so the problem is not within the foreign language itself, but with its speakers.

The politician said the country's stance toward its own local Russian population was dangerously xenophobic.

"The fact that many Estonians display anger over this minority's mentality and habits could be partly explained by clear ethnic and cultural differences," he said, adding that Russians would not disappear. "The root of evil can be found in a nationalistic arrogance that is continuously cultivated."

"This year Estonian sociologists dared to promote the belief that only non-Estonians should integrate into the community," Klenski wrote. "But Estonians should also do the same. There is no place for mono-ethnic thoughts while coalescing into the European Union."

The proposal, according to the politician, would have a temporary effect and broach mostly elderly members of the City Council. However, the state must be in earnest about the professional acquisition of language in Russian schools.

Chairman of the City Council's Res Publica faction, Kaupo Reede, argued that there was indeed a functioning Language Act in Estonia.

"If we enable more intense use of Russian, we would decrease the Russian people's competitive ability," he told The Baltic Times. "Those who want to compete on the labor market have learned Estonian. Klenski, in fact, bears ill will to Russian-speakers."

City Council member Igor Sedashev said Klenski's behavior was populist. Klenski simply wants to draw attention to himself before the autumn elections, he said.

Klenski must know that the best way to support Russians is to speak Estonian, Sedashev concluded.

Klenski's fellow Centrists were quick to respond. On the same day that the opinion was published, Centrist Chairman Elmar Sepp disassociate the party from Klenski's comments, saying the latter did not belong to any party when joining the faction. Sepp expressed surprise over the fact that, when signing on as a member, the former underlined his affiliation to the faction.

He stressed that Klenski had not expressed the Centrists' official position.

Klenski was elected to the City Council on the Center Party list in 2002. According to Sepp, the Centrist sent a note saying he would draw up his own ticket.

Klenski confirmed to The Baltic Times that he was putting together his own "Klenski list." By law, the list must be formed and registered as of Aug. 17.

Political individuals have grouped together to solve the ethnic Russian community's problems. Introducing Estonian-Russian bilingualism in Tallinn is one of several propositions.

Klenski's bloc consists of representatives from the Estonian United People's Party, the Russian Party in Estonia, the Left Party and other public organizations. Klenski highlighted the main task as inviting local government institutions to join.

"Ideally we could have 10 seats altogether," he said.