TALLINN - Within the last year, the number of people in Estonia who adopted Russian citizenship is double that of those who chose an Estonian passport.
According to the official statistics, only 1,608 people became new citizens of Estonia, while the numbers of the Russian Embassy suggest there were as many as 3,700 new Russian citizens.
A spokesman of the Russian Embassy, Maxim Kozlov, confirmed the figures: "Estonia is one of the leading places in the world in terms of adoption of Russian citizenship."
The language proficiency test was previously considered the main obstacle keeping non-citizens from completing the naturalization process, but recent statistics suggest that most of those living in Estonia are able to pass the examination with their current language skills.
According to a survey by the Open Society Institute, most of the country's non-citizens do not feel safe in Estonia and dislike the way the country is run. Meanwhile, respondents said they think Russia is developing in the right direction.
Estonian politicians are very worried about the way things are developing. After the conflict in Georgia, the Estonian government considers the growing number of Russian citizens residing in Estonia as a threat to national security.
Many international human-rights organizations 's including the European Union, NATO and United Nations 's have heavily criticized the Estonian government for its rigid policies regarding citizenship. Regardless of that, the Estonian government said it was not going to change its citizenship granting policies, and decided that the root of the problem lies in inadequate information.
This week in Estonia launched a campaign titled "Different people, one nation," the main purpose of which is to encourage non-citizen residents to obtain an Estonian passport. As the Ministry of Population explained, the campaign is aimed at a "strengthening of the mutual understanding and patience among native Estonians and non-native residents; and rapprochement of the nations inhabiting in Estonia."
The campaign has been initiated by the government as an extra measure to convince non-citizens of the benefits and advantages of an Estonian passport. These benefits include the possibility to freely move within the European Union and, recently, the United States.
However, many new Russian citizens claim that worsening relations with the country have caused longer waiting periods for Russian visas. This could be an important aspect to consider, residents say, especially when trying to persuade native Russian-speakers who often travel to Russia to complete the naturalization process.
"I adopted Russian citizenship a long time ago and am not regretting it at all. I have relatives there, so I go to Russia all the time; it would be quite problematic visa wise with an Estonian passport now" said sales person Vladimir Ivanov.
"Russia is a huge country with great possibilities for business, I want to be able to vote and take part in its life, that's why I am taking Russian citizenship," agrees businessman Mikhail Poddorozhnyj.
The Estonian government has said that despite its recent attempts to increase the number of citizens, it will stand by the decision not to automatically grant citizenship to all children born to permanent residents of the country, as was proposed by the opposition Centrist party.
A representative of the opposition said that the proposed amendment would finally fulfill the commitment under the U.N. Convention on Children's Rights and "place children's interests above other political considerations that could be related to parents' action or inaction."
At the moment, out of 1.35 million Estonian residents about 160,000 have no citizenship at all. Most of them prefer alien passports and long-term residence permits to any kind of citizenship, which strangely enough has the most privileges for travelers 's the holders of so-called "grey passports" can freely travel within the EU as well as Russia.