TALLINN - Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the Estonian delegation stormed out of a meeting in Russia amid applause from other participants after Konstatin Kosachev, chairman of Russian Parliament foreign committee sharply criticized Estonian treatment of its Russian minorities
The meeting held in Khanty-Mansiysk, was organized to promote the interests of Finno-Ugrians to which Estonians, Finns and minority groups in Russia belong. President Ilves left the meeting, because Kossatsov drew parallels between the Bronze Soldier and the violent beating of a Mari leader. The Mari are a Finno-Ugric group who lives in Russia.
On the evening before themeeting, Kosachev called an extraordinary press conference in which he said Ilves was had politized the issue and was not treating Russia fairly.
"Firstly he was speaking mainly about politics and secondly I felt some calls to think about Finno-Ugric self-determination rights," Kosachev said during the press conference in the evening.
"Freedom and democracy were our choices 150 years ago, when even poets didn't dream of nationhood yet. Lots of Finno-Ugric nations haven't done their choice yet," said Ilves in his speech in English
"As far as we knew the working languages in the congress were English and Russian. We had the speech also in Estonian and Russian, but we couldn't find the translator anymore," explained Toomas Sildam, spokesperson for the president.
Ilves' actions caused anger in the Russian press. Rossiiskaja Gazeta wrote that "Ilves ruined the party."
The newspaper also quoted Kossatsov, who said that the next meeting of Estonian and Russian presidents won't happen for another 14 years.
Dmitri Suslov, expert of foreign politics said that Ilves' speech and his behavior at the congress is another deterioration in Estonian-Russian relations. Suslov said that it would not affect relations radically, because they are already so bad.
Meanwhile the Estonian delegation blamed their hosts. Ivi Eesmaa, MP who spoke just after Kosachev, said that the event was ruined by the Russian politicians' groundless libel.
In another slight to the delegation gifts to the participants of the congress were confiscated by Russian authorities with no explanation on the evening of June 27; one bag was not given back and others were held until June 29.
Press at the meeting describesd an ugly atmosphere.
"I met a Mari and gave him a copy of Mart Laar's book "Metsavennad" [published in English as War in the Wood] and others works by him. He asked me if he would be put in jail if he walks around with these books. That characterizes well the atmosphere of the meeting," said Juku-Kalle Raid, a journalist from Eesti Ekspress.