TALLINN - Estonia's language and citizenship issues should be debated apolitically and without passion, Thomas Hammarburg, Council of Europe commissioner said in Tallinn on Oct. 2.
His comments came after a week in which accusations and insults were hurled over issues of human rights as several international bodies turned their radars to Estonia's integration problems.
Hammarburg visited Tallinn to speak about his memorandum, released several months ago, which called for an upgrade of inhumane prisons, for unconditional citizenship for elderly stateless residents, and automatic citizenship for newborns.
When asked if he had encountered passionate opposition to issues of language and citizenship, he said simply "yes."
"We have to avoid discussing these matters in a political manner. My attempt is to be very factual and non-emotional. The way we discuss these matters is critical," Hammarburg said.
On the same day, Estonian politicians were exchanging blows with other international bodies over their assessment of the Russian minority situation.
Speaker of the Parliament, Ene Ergma, sent an angry letter to Rene van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who visited the Baltics Sept. 18-22, and called for long-time Russian-speaking residents to be given easier access to citizenship.
Ergma said van der Linden had discredited PACE and himself by stating false information - namely, that permanent residents did not have a right to vote in municipal elections. "This assertion is a lieâ€¦ This leads to our request - give up spreading erroneous information about Estonia," Ergma said.
Van der Linden responded with his own letter blasting Estonian politicians for claiming that the PACE president was a Kremlin puppet with financial interests in Russia. He said some of the politicians had since apologized to him for their statements.
Meanwhile, fresh criticism of Estonia has come from Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Diene visited Estonia on Sept. 28, to research a report he will release next year.
He said he would recommend that Estonia become a multilingual society with more than one official language.
"A multicultural society must be a multilingual society," Diene said.
His comments drew criticism from President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who told the regional newspaper Valgamaalane that "we need not pay attention to such propagandistic statements."
"If Diene recommended that several official languages should be adopted in Estonia, I will recall that there are 4 million Turks living in Germany. Why doesn't that country have several official languages?" Ilves asked.