Specter of ethnic conflict appears in Estonia

  • 2001-10-04
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Five people were arrested when police dispersed about 100 teenagers, all of Russian origin, who gathered to fight students at an Estonian-language school in a Tallinn suburb on the evening of Sept. 29.

Some sections of the Estonian media see the incident, in which some suffered minor injuries, as the stirrings of ethnic violence.

Trouble appears to have been brewing for some time before the incident outside Jarveotsa secondary school in Tallinn's Oismae district. A minor skirmish between ethnic Russian and ethnic Estonian teenagers occurred in the area the previous week and plans had been laid for the Sept. 29 showdown well in advance, reported the popular newspaper SL Ohtuleht on Oct. 1.

Police spokesman Indrek Raudjalg denied the conflict was ethnically based, claiming it was primarily a matter of rivalry between schools and neighborhoods. The crowd consisted of teenagers from various Tallinn districts, many of whom came to see but not take part in the fight, he said.

Population Affairs Minister Katrin Saks, pointed to the infrequency of such incidents, saying ethnic hatred was not a characteristic of Tallinn's neighborhoods. "Of course somebody may hate someone due to reasons of nationality, but drawing conclusions about the whole population from individual cases is wrong," said Saks.

She added that when she visited the district at 8 p.m. on the evening of the incident the Russian youths she saw did not appear to be looking for trouble.

Her bureau would check all the facts in order to be able to confirm or disprove rumors of ethnic tension, she said. "Some may like to capitalize on rumors of ethnic tension in Oismae," she said.

The Estonian media reported that the trouble started after a teenage girl named Kadi, from the Oismae neighborhood, jilted her ethnically Estonian boyfriend in favor of an ethnic Russian. Tension between the two young men and their friends turned into what looked like becoming a mass clash between the two groups. SL Ohtuleht's view of the events in Oismae was rejected by the Russian-language press, including Estoniya Daily, which wrote on Oct. 2 that young people did not attack others on the basis of their passports.

Estonia's statistics department reported in January 2000 that of 1.44 million residents of Estonia, 404,925 were ethnic Russians.