TALLINN - Estonia is on the verge of having an official Russian culturally autonomous region, with the pending application of a proposal in the Ministry of Culture.
The Union of South Westerners of New Generation (USWNG) has caused waves, however, by asking Estonian residents the question "Do you support the creation of the Russian territorial-administrative autonomy on the territory of Estonia, proposed by several public organizations?"
The question has caused many to suspect that the Kremlin has a plan to instigate a movement calling for the northeastern region around Narva to become a territorially autonomous region with close ties to Russia.
The question was included into questionnaire distributed by the movement Night Vigil, known for its pro-Kremlin views. Night Vigil said that the purpose of the questionnaire was to monitor public opinion prior the Parliamentary election of the European Union and local governing of Estonia.
"We have been asked by USWNG to include the question on the Russian territorial-administrative autonomy in Estonia in our questionnaire. We don't find anything wrong with it, this is just one of the questions, but everyone seems to concentrate only on it," Larissa Neshadimova, press-secretary of Night Vigil, told The Baltic Times.
The chairman of the European affairs committee of the Estonian Parliament, Marko Mihkelson, in his blog commented: "What would the purpose of such step be? Is it to improve the living standard of the people who live here? Or is it to destroy Estonia's internal stability? Or even to create preconditions for Russian action a la South Ossetia?"
Earlier this fall the Russian Cultural Autonomy movement handed in the application to the Ministry of Culture to register the Russian minority as an autonomous culture. On Nov. 8 the Ministry announced that it had started the procedure of the registration.
According to the Estonian legislation on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities, a cultural autonomy can be established by any national minority with a membership of more than 3,000. About 350,000 Russian-speaking people reside in Estonia, giving the group the right of forming their own cultural autonomy.
"Cultural autonomy for national minorities is defined as the right of individuals belonging to a national minority to establish cultural autonomy in order to achieve the cultural rights given to them by the constitution," the legislation states.
According to the president of Russian Cultural Autonomy and the Russian Party of Estonia, Stanislav Cherepanov, "the main goals of the cultural autonomy, corresponding to the legislation, are provision of the native language study and education; the establishment of public cultural institutions of the national minority for holding of national cultural actions; and the establishment and allocation of funds, grants and awards for the national culture and education development."
Backers insist that the establishment of Russian Cultural Autonomy does not violate Estonian laws or pose any kind of threat to the republic's integrity. However, the proposed question by USWNG on territorial autonomy has an absolutely different context.
Territorial autonomy implies compact residing of a national minority on specific territory. This is what USWNG is proposing. In its leaflets it attaches a map with the proposed location of the Russian territorial autonomy, the area of the northeast border with the Russian Federation and the town of Narva, with most of its population Russian-speaking.
It is still unclear how the proposal will develop and if it will find any public support. So far the police are keeping an eye on the activists.
"When the elements of a violation of the law are revealed, sanctions will follow," said Andres Kahar, superintendent of the Security Police.