President of EU Parliament visits Narva, praises language reforms

  • 2007-08-22
  • By Joel Alas and wire reports

WEIGHING IN: Poettering praised Estonia's upcoming school reforms,stating that a common language was the key to better integration.

TALLINN - The President of theEuropean ParliamentHans-Gert Poettering gavetacit support to Estonia's schoolbasedlanguage reforms duringan official visit from Aug. 14 - 17.Poettering, a German conservative,veered off the normal diplomaticpath by visiting the easternborder city of Narva to talk withresidents about language concerns.While he acknowledged theoften-leveled claims of discriminationagainst Russian speaking residents,Poettering said wider studyof the Estonian language was theonly way forward.He praised the government'sschool reforms, which will see oneextra class delivered in Estonian atRussian-speaking schools fromSept. 1. Poettering said the programwas the key to better integration.

"It will then be possible tomove on. It is important that thetwo communities should communicatewith each other," he said,adding that such communicationwas only possible through thebroader study of the Estonian language.He also called for Russia todeal with its own history, and toadopt a better understanding ofEstonia's misery under Soviet rule."Life under the communist dictatorshiphas left a very strongmark on Estonians. It is connectedwith liberty. That understanding, Ithink, is not very widespread inRussia," he said.When meeting with Russiancommunity groups and public figuresin Narva, Poettering said itappeared most residents of the bordercity considered themselvesEstonian, no matter what languagethey spoke.

His working visit also includedmeetings with President ToomasHendrik Ilves, whom he invited toaddress the European Parliament,and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip,who demonstrated Estonia's highlypraised e-government cabinetroom.Poettering, who comes from alegal background, was elected presidentof the European Parliamentin January this year.