Nation failing to win over non-citizens

  • 2008-10-29
  • By Matt Withers

SPEARHEAD: Paet is one of the two ministers spearheading the move to convice more people to go through the naturalization process.

TALLINN - In the wake of Estonia's poor progress in naturalizing non-citizens, the Ministers of Foreign and Population Affairs have scheduled the present parliament with a renewed policy for encouraging the adoption of Estonian citizenship.
Urve Palo and Urmas Paet, the population and foreign minister respectively, are due to put the new policy before parliament this November. The policy is expected to focus on attracting more people to apply through the existing citizenship program, as the government has continually expressed its disinterest in changing citizenship law.

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Juri Pihlia, has ratified this approach, stressing that the benefits of Estonian citizenship must be promoted, as many non-citizens 's or 'grey passport' holders 's are adopting Russian citizenship instead. The issue of citizenship adoption has also attracted importance as many Estonians view non-citizens as a threat to national security.
However, parliamentarian and member of the constitutional committee Mart Nutt, one of the authors of the current citizenship law, has said that Estonia's large alien population does not bear a special threat to the state's internal security.

"Citizenship and loyalty are not the same thing. For example, we have enough problems with Estonian citizens not wanting to serve in the army 's it too is quite a sufficient reason for anxiety. We cannot say that a person who lives in Estonia, but is not a citizen, should necessarily be disloyal to the state", said Nutt.
According to political scientist Anu Toots, in order to accelerate integration Estonia must improve relations with the Russian-speaking population. Speaking on Estonian news show Actual Chamber, Toots criticised the government's campaign of negative propaganda, saying that slogans such as 'Don't become citizens of Russia' simply won't work.

"First of all, the state should show that they are important, to make these people feel welcome. Right now the main point worrying politicians is internal security. They want to reduce the quantity of people with grey passports to avoid an internal security threat, not for the reason that those people would be better off," said Toots.
Many of Estonia's Russian-speaking population, the group that comprises the vast majority of non-citizens, feel neglected by the Estonian state and see no need or desire to adopt Estonian citizenship.
Moreover, Amnesty International's 2008 report on Estonia, published in June, highlighted the discriminatory nature of the current citizenship law and criticised the state for its alienation of the Russian-speaking population.

Mihhail Tsarukjan, a grey-passport real estate developer in Estonia, told The Baltic Times why the current citizenship program is proving ineffectual.
"I have no need for Estonian citizenship. The Estonian government does not provide any social guarantee and does not care about its citizens. While the EU protects human rights, as I hold a grey passport I also have my rights protected by the EU. The Russian government also protects its compatriots, thus I am better protected than if I were an Estonian citizen," he said.

Yet the government's stance is not representative of all Estonian politicians; certain circles within the Estonian government do acknowledge the nature of the situation, and have proposed measures to tackle the problem.
Parliamentarian Silver Meikar has proposed that the government creates a Russian-language citizenship hotline, by which Russian-speaking residents could get extensive information about citizenship benefits and requirements.

"The Estonian government must create a governmental Russian-language information hotline and advertise it heavily 's the telephone is more effective and accessible than any internet portal", said Meikar.
"People with grey and red passports also have the right to get the services, provided by the government, even if they don't speak a word [of] Estonian," he said.