Probable OSCE closure irritates Moscow

  • 2001-11-29
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - In the light of amendments to Estonia's laws on national and local elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Estonia mission announced its remit has been fulfilled.

The announcement may herald the closure of the mission, something Estonia sees as essential to its bid for recognition as a fully fledged Western democracy.

On Nov. 21 the Parliament abolished a requirement, which entered into force in 1998, that candidates for election both to it and to local councils speak Estonian.

That requirement was seen by a number of international experts, including those at the OSCE, as violating Article 25 of the United Nations Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, which states that every citizen should have the right and the opportunity to vote and to be elected without distinction of any kind, whether on the basis of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or birth.

In an official statement, the OSCE mission commended Estonia on its decision to grant voters the right to decide who they want to vote for, regardless of an individual's command of language.

"The mission sees it as a very positive sign that the Riigikogu (parliament) decided not to have two different categories of citizens and believes that this will certainly have a positive impact on the Estonian integration process, which the mission has been closely following over the last few years," said Doris Hertrampft, head of the mission.

In a written response to the Parliament's decision later the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Yakovenko said Estonia had handled the minorities issue poorly and the mission should not be closed. Moscow does not think the "problem" of ethnic minorities in Estonia has been settled, he wrote.

"Tallinn is trying to use the amendments to the Law on Elections as the main argument for winding up the work of the OSCE mission to Estonia. But the mandate of the mission includes giving general assistance to dialogue between different communities living in the country," he said.

Sabine Machl, deputy head of the mission, pointed out that the amendments to the law have not affected a law recently enacted stating that Estonian is the Parliament's working language. "There are many respected countries in which the state language is the official language of the national Parliament," she said.

Within Estonia, Moscow's comments were echoed by Aleksei Semyonov, director of the non-governmental Legal Information Center for Human Rights, who said the purpose of the OSCE mission was not to wait for a certain law to be approved but to help build democracy by improving the rate of naturalization of non-citizens and by improving provision of Russian-language education.

"In this respect I support the position of the Russian Foreign Office," said Semyonov. "The MPs who passed these amendments were mostly thinking about how to get rid of the mission as soon as possible. But it still has a lot of work to do even if MPs do not see clearly the issues they should consider.

"Few things will change after the mission finally leaves Estonia, but it will certainly be more difficult to carry out common projects with the OSCE as there won't be anybody here."