Narva buries bilingual option

  • 2001-09-06
  • Sergei Stepanov
NARVA - The first session of the Narva City Council after its summer break opened on Aug. 29 with a chorus of voices from a picket by the Russian citizens council demanding a bilingual public administration. But City Council members paid little attention. A bill on the use of two official languages in Estonia's eastern city, which is dominated by Russian speakers, was approved by only four of the council's 64 members.

Some 50 pensioners arrived about half an hour before the session began, brandishing posters demanding that Russian be given official status.

When entering the building, Vladislav Ponyatovski of the center-right Moderates, told the crowd they should go and protest in Tallinn in front of the Parliament, where the opposition Center Party is also planning a bilingual bill.

Ponyatovski reminded his colleagues in the council that the left-wing Center Party is at work on drafting changes to the national law on language. He suggested they wait until Parliament decides whether to accept the changes rather than cause any unnecessary controversy. Narva's Centrists supported the idea.

Evgeni Salnikov of the United People's Party of Estonia opened the session with the bill, which was voted down by 14 council members and supported by four. The other council members either abstained or were absent from the voting.

Anatoli Yegorov, secretary general of the UPPE, visited Narva from the capital specially to witness the session. He said he expected more wisdom from the council.

"The bill was in complete accordance with Estonian laws and international conventions signed by Estonia,"he protested.

The bill for two official languages could have eased dialogue between the authorities, which many city residents believe are guided too much by Tallinn, and locals, over 90 percent of whom are ethnic Russians.

Yegorov complained that the City Council behaved like "domestic Russians,"a term used in the Estonian media for describing the nation's loyal Russian residents. "It was a political trick of the Center Party to avoid expressing any direct opinion on the bilingual issue,"he went on.

Nevertheless, the Aug. 29 session also set up a seven-member working group to study the issue further. But the group has no clear goals, and the question of making Russian a second official language in Narva remains doubtful.