U.S. English Foundation Research

Language Research

1. Legislation: Legislation dealing with the use of languages
Constitution adopted on June 28, 1992

Law of the Republic of Estonia on Language adopted on February 21, 1995

Law of the Republic of Estonia on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities adopted on October 26, 1993

This law defines national minorities as citizens of Estonia who reside on the territory of Estonia, maintain long standing, firm and lasting ties with Estonia, are distinct from Estonians on the basis of their ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics. These same citizens must be motivated by a concern to preserve their cultural traditions, their religion or their language, which constitute the basis of their common identity. The law also gives national minorities extensive opportunities for organization and work in educational and cultural fields.

According to Article 2, cultural autonomy of the national minority may be established by persons belonging to German, Russian, Swedish and Jewish minorities. Such autonomy may also be established by persons belonging to national minorities with a membership of more than 3000.

Updated (April 2001)

The Riigikogu (Parliament) passed a set of amendments to the educational system concerning languages in schools. Although teaching in minority languages remains an option for primary schools all secondary schools must use the Estonian language by the 2007/2008 academic year and 60% of a school’s curriculum must be in Estonian.

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Updated (November 2001)

On November 21 the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu), with 55 votes against 21, finally amended the Laws on National and Local Elections. The amendments reside in removing the language requirements for the candidates running for political office. The international institutions such as the OSCE or the Council of Europe criticized both laws because one had to sign a paper saying that he/she is able to understand, communicate and write in Estonian when he/she wanted to be a member of the local or national government. This is clearly against Article 25 of the United Nations Covenant on Political and Civil Rights as well as the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities where is clearly stated that every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to vote and to be elected without distinction of sex, color, religion or language.

There was a big discussion about these laws in Estonia because the language question is a very sensitive one. Some people supported the change; however, others feared that the Russians would immediately storm into politics.

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Updated (May 2002)

On February 9, 1999 the Parliament adopted amendment (RT I 1999, 16, 275) that substituted previous 6 levels of the State language proficiency with a three-level-system. Additionally, language proficiency certificates received in the framework of the previous system were declared to be invalid since July 1, 2002. That means that the majority of non-Estonian population (those who have not received education in Estonian language) is subject to a second large-scale examination campaign during the last decade.

On June 14, 2000 the Estonian Law on Language was supplied with the provision that the establishment of professional language proficiency requirements should be justified and proportional. The related provisions of the Law were also worded differently. According to the Article 2, the justified public interests are: social safety; public order; public administration; protection of public health; health care; protection of consumer rights and workplace safety.


According to the Law on Language (Section 5 Art.5), the lowest level is limited oral and elementary written proficiency in Estonian. The person understands clear everyday language, the general meaning of uncomplicated texts and can complete simple standard documents and write short texts. Middle level is oral proficiency and limited written proficiency in Estonian. The person can deal with various language situations, understands language at normal speed, understands the contents of texts on everyday topics without difficulty and can write texts relating to his or her area of activity. The highest level is oral and written proficiency in Estonian. The person can express himself freely irrespective of the language situation, understands speech at high speed, understands the contents of more complicated texts without difficulty and can write texts that are different in style and function.

In practice oral and written part of the test is taken on different days. The written part lasts at least 3 hours. An applicant for a middle level certificate should in 90 minutes inter alia write a letter (100 words) and an essay (160 words) and make a grammar exercise (Daily “Molodez Estonii”, May 10, 2001).

Linguistic requirements for state sector and public law institutions (such as state and municipal schools) are stipulated in the Regulation of the Government of August 16, 1999, No.249. Thus for ordinary teachers (including those in Russian basic schools and high schools) the second level is demanded. The new governmental regulation regarding language proficiency requirements in private sector was approved on May 16, 2001 (RT I 2001, 48, 269). It includes the list of jobs where knowledge of the state language is required. The lowest level is required for drivers of means of public transport, for those who take care of other people (e.g. orderly) and for employees involved in sale of goods and services. However, if goods and services are dangerous for one’s life or health, social safety and environment, a person should demonstrate a middle level certificate. The middle level is claimed for management, teaching stuff and employees in private educational institutions. The highest level is necessary for captains of ships and planes.

According to the experts from the Legal Information Center for Human Rights:

1. The definition of “public interests” in Estonia includes some unjustified components which could not be found in any international documents that protect freedom of expression.

2. Factual requirements for applicants at proficiency level exams (especially for middle and highest levels) are not reasonable.

3. Linguistic requirements are not balanced. The interests and needs of minorities are neglected even in the territories where they are present in big numbers.

4. “Protection of consumers” could not justify any State interference into private sector. Requirements established for almost everybody dealing with sale of goods and services are not in conventional public interests. It is worth emphasizing that in Estonia linguistic requirements are too often used as a mean of unfair competition.

5. Linguistic requirements for all doctors (the highest level) and medical auxiliary staff (middle level) even in private sector ignore the factual bilingualism in Estonia where Russian is a mother tongue for 1/3 of the population.

6. Linguistic requirements to some professions do not consider actual working conditions. E.g. captains of aircrafts (the highest level required) use predominantly English, not Estonian.

7. Linguistic requirements to private educational institutions’ management and teaching staff (middle level) are not justified and can cause abolishment of private Russian education in Estonia.

Source: Vadim Poleshchuk, Legal Information Center for Human Rights, vadim@lichr.ee, http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//06022001-09:49:11-7751.html


On May 8, 2002 the Parliament by a vote of 40 to 3 rejected the proposal of the United People’s Party not to require a language test to gain citizenship for pension-age persons who were born in Estonia or lived in the country for at least ten years. The proposal would also have given citizenship to persons who served in foreign armed forces and are married to an Estonian citizen.

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Updated (July 2002)

The most recent amendments to the Law on Language establish restrictions on non-Estonian speakers in the sphere of private employment. The reduction of the Russian language education by 2007 also remains distinctly threatening to Russian speakers.

Amendments of laws governing deportation from June 2001 appear to exert increased pressure on 30,000 – 80,000 “illegal aliens,” mostly Russian speakers who are not in a position to regularize their status in the country. No significant reduction in the numbers of non-citizens is expected in the near future.

Meanwhile, a dispensation allowing certain non-citizens to vote in local elections does not address the discriminatory language requirements prohibiting candidates from standing if they cannot demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of Estonian.


The Law on Citizenship, which entered into force in 1995, required aspirant citizens to demonstrate knowledge of the Constitution and of the Law on Citizenship itself, in addition to the existing requirements of residency and proficiency in Estonian. This appears to contribute to an immediate slowdown in the pace of naturalization, from 22,773 in 1995/96 to 8,124 in 1996/97. In the period 1992/2000, about 114,000 persons were naturalized altogether.


The 1993 Law on Cultural Autonomy of National Minorities allows persons belonging to a recognized national minority to establish cultural self-governments; to promote their constitutional rights in the field of culture; and to establish minority cultural and educational institutions. German, Swedish, Jewish or Russian cultural self-governments may be formed, and other ethnic groups having more than 3,000 members may also apply. Aliens residing in Estonia can participate in the activities of these institutions but may not take part in elections of leaders or stand for election themselves. However, the law specifies no positive commitment of the state to fund, even partially, these institutions.


In many urban areas of Estonia, Russian-speakers constitute a majority of residents, and thus the right to speak Russian in dealings with public and municipal authorities is especially significant. Official communication in Russian is generally tolerated in Estonia, although the right to use minority languages as internal languages in local self-governments has never been officially approved.
Estonian legislation allows “persons not proficient in Estonian” to communicate orally with state authorities in a language both understand. In those localities in which at least 50 percent of permanent residents belong to a certain national minority, members of that minority are constitutionally guaranteed the right to receive responses from officials in the minority language. The Law on Language extends this right to all permanent residents of Estonia. However, neither the Constitution nor the Law on Language stipulates the right of minority individuals to address state agencies or local governments in minority languages.

A minority language may be used alongside Estonian as the internal working language “in local governments where the majority of permanent residents are non-Estonian speakers.” Implementation requires a formal proposal by the local government approved by the central government. Although a number of local governments made such requests, an approval has never been granted. However, the central government rejected twice an appeal by the city council of Sillamäe (95 percent Russian speakers) to use Russian officially as an internal working language.

Nevertheless, in practice Russian is widely used in communications with public administration officials in areas where large numbers of Russian speakers live.

The Law on Language requires use of the Estonian language in consumer information and in all official reporting of agencies, companies, non-profit associations and foundations registered in Estonia. Implementation of the Law has resulted in a lack of consumer information in the Russian language.
Geographical place names must be written in Estonian, using Estonian-Latin letters. Likewise, for official purposes, the names of Estonian citizens must be written using the Estonian-Latin alphabet. In practice, Russian-speaking Estonian citizens cannot use the patronymic form as part of the official name. This practice contravenes Estonia’s obligations under the FCNM.

Public signs, signposts, announcements, notices and advertisements must all be only in Estonian. This article has been interpreted to extend even to the posting of electoral advertisements. Even in the regions where Russian-speakers comprise the majority, it is illegal to post public notices, signs and advertisements in Russian what causes a serious disadvantage for the local non-Estonian population (particularly elderly Russian-speakers, who in general are not fluent in Estonian).

Adherence to the above regulations is monitored by a National Language Inspectorate, under the Ministry of Education. Between 1997/2000, the Inspectorate conducted 6,861 spot-checks (2,667 in 2000 alone) and recognized 4,030 violations of the Law on Language (1,498 in 2000).

During criminal investigation and criminal, administrative and civil trials, the status of minority languages is equal to the status of all other foreign languages. They can be used if other officials or participating parties understand it or with the assistance of an interpreter. All official documents in the process should be translated into Estonian.
There are no special provisions assuring Russian-language media. On the contrary, the Law on Language restricts television broadcasting in “foreign languages” stating that “the volume of the foreign language news programs and live foreign language programs without translation into Estonian shall not exceed 10 percent of the volume of weekly original production.”
Furthermore, even when broadcasting in languages other than Estonian is permitted, all such broadcasting, including transmission by private TV stations and cable networks, must be accompanied by an adequate translation into Estonian.


The 1997 Law on Basic and Secondary Schools established that all secondary schools will become “Estonian language institutions,” and that the “transition to instructions in Estonian shall start in state and municipal upper secondary schools not later than in the academic year 2007/2008.”1 Concerns raised by international and other monitors have modified the severity of this provision. An amendment of April 2000, allowed for schools where 60 percent of the curriculum is taught in the Estonian language to be considered “Estonian language institutions.” Thus in practice, from 2007 all secondary schools will be Estonian language institutions, but some may still offer up to 40 percent instruction in other languages.


Russian language teaching in basic schools is based on the approval from the school board of trustees to the local self-government (in the case of municipal schools) or the central government (for state schools). In private educational institutions of any level, any language of instruction may be used as long as Estonian language training is ensured.


The Law on Pre-school Institutions from 1999, Article 8 specifies that:

(1) Educational and pedagogical work in these institutions is in the Estonian language. Following the decision of the local self-government council, educational and pedagogical work in the institution or in its group can be in other languages.

(2) The local self-government ensures to every Estonian-speaking child the opportunity to attend a children’s institution, which works in the Estonian language or the group where educational and pedagogical work is in the Estonian language.

(3) Educational and pedagogical work of a group in the children’s institution should be in the same language…

By the law, a special Estonian-language group must be established to cater for a single Estonian-speaking child, even in regions and towns where the Russian-speaking population is dominant. No guarantees of minority-language classes exist for the Russian-speaking population or other minorities. Bilingual pre-school groups are prohibited.


According to this law, Estonian is the language of instruction in state universities and university boards can decide on the supplementary use of other languages. The use of Estonian is also guaranteed in state applied higher educational institutions, where exceptions are permitted only by a decision of the Minister of Education.2 In 1999, a total of 40,621 students attended universities, 11 percent of whom studied in the Russian language.

In practice, Russian has diminished from public universities and state institutions of higher education so it is likely that by the year 2007, there will be no Russian language groups in state higher education institutions.


A general prohibition of discrimination in employment is set forth in the Law of the Republic of Estonia on Employment Contracts, 1992. Article 10 states: “It is illegal to allow or give preferences, or to restrict rights on the grounds of sex, nationality, color, race, native language, social origin, social status, previous activities, religion, political or other opinion, or attitude towards the duty to serve in the armed forces of employees or employers.”

For the period 1999/2000 the Labor Inspectorate recorded no violations related to minority rights or discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, and not a single such claim was reviewed by the Commission on Labor Disputes. However, Russian-speakers claim that the imposition of language requirements has restricted their access to public and private employment.

The 1989 Law on Language established professional language requirements, later re-confirmed in the 1995 Law on Language. The Law permitted the imposition of linguistic requirements upon employees and/or entrepreneurs in the private sector under certain conditions.

On May 16, 2001, the Estonian government issued new regulations specifying language proficiency requirements for professions within the private sector. (see Update May 2002)

Source: Minority Protection in Estonia, Open Society Institute 2001, http://www.eumap.org/reports/content/10/233/minority_estonia.pdf, EUMAP (The EU Accession Monitoring Program Report on Minority Protection), http://www.eumap.org/reports/content/10

1 Law on Primary Schools and Secondary Schools, Article 52.2., Amendment to the Law on Basic School and Gymnasium, RT I 1997, 69, 1111.

2 Law on Applied Higher Education Institution, Article17, RT I 1998, 61, 980.

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Updated (October 2002)


The validity of existing language proficiency certificates issued to non-citizens should end on July 1, 2002; however, the Parliament extended it by a vote of 35 to 23 until January 1, 2004.

The mostly Russian-speaking Estonian United People’s Party submitted alternative bills that would have made the certificates permanent or they would have been automatically replaced with certificates of a new type. The Pro Patria Union, arguing that many certificates had been forged or issued unlawfully, actively opposed these bills. The Union pointed out that the certificates can be easily falsified and that it is not possible to identify a holder of a certificate, as there is no register of the certificates issued.

Knowing that the National Examination Center would not be able to test all the people who need to renew their certificates by July 1, 2002 the ruling coalition of the center and reform parties suggested an 18-month extension.

Source: Minelres Archive, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/, RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 6, No. 106, Part II, June 7, 2002


On July 12, 2002 the Estonian Parliament adopted the amendments to the Law on Aliens. The law came into force on October 1, 2002.

The amendments touch upon a question of family reunification in the territory of Estonia and focus mainly on the issue of granting temporary residence permits for a settlement with spouses or close relatives already residing in Estonia. At the same time, the amendments establish the basis for officials’ arbitrary decision-making in this field.

After the amended Law on Aliens came into force a “reasonable application” started to be used as a tool to prevent arrival of undesirable immigrants. This “reasonability” became a requirement for either granting a temporary residence permit or for its refusal.

The new provisions of the law did not elaborate the notion “groundlessness,” but specified differential treatment of host persons based on their citizenship status. A presumption of “groundlessness of the application” will be used towards Estonian non-citizens inviting persons to Estonia. Pursuant to those new provisions, a residence permit shall not be issued to an applicant, if he/she does not prove that their family lacks a possibility to settle in the country of residence (citizenship) of an applicant or in the country of citizenship of both spouses. Spouses of Estonian citizens are not covered in such a presumption.

The restriction of Estonian non-citizens’ rights realizes also in narrowing the circle of persons, who have the right to apply for a temporary residence permit. A host non-citizen should hold a permanent residence permit and should reside in Estonia at least for 5 years. The same rule applies to an applicant, who intends to settle with a close relative. Thus, aliens who stay in Estonia on the basis of temporary residence permits are deprived of the right to family reunification in the territory of Estonia after October 1, 2002.

The amendments have also complicated general procedure for family reunion. They introduced the requirements of residence registration and of living premises. An immigrant is obliged to have a medical insurance that should be valid during the whole period of a temporary residence permit.

Generally, the principle of “primary consideration of a child’s interest” is applicable in cases of issuing a residence permit to minors. However, this principle is hardly respected in the amendments. The consideration of interests of a child is understood as the right to refuse resettlement to Estonia if it “injures child’s rights and interests and can worsen his/her legal, economic or social status.” Such understanding presupposes that a refusal to grant a residence permit to a child may become the rule rather that the exception. The amendments foresee that the right of reunification can be limited strictly in compliance with interests of the child. However, from the child’s interests’ perspective, it is disputable whether narrowing of a child’s legal status can always be regarded as more important than family reunification and should consequently be a reason to refuse a resident permit to such child. Hence the state institutions may limit the right of family reunification under the pretext of child’s protection.

Source: Minelres Archive, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/, Vladimir Vasjura, Volunteer of the Legal Information Center for Human Rights, (centre@lichr.ee)

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Updated (January 2004)


On December 10, 2003, the Estonian Parliament adopted the amendments to the Law on Language, stipulating that the “old” state language certificates will be valid also after January 1, 2004. This achievement is a result of a long-term struggle of local minorities, international organizations, local NGOs and responsible political parties.

Although both new and old certificates will be used in parallel, a special Language Inspectorate still has the right to check the Estonian language proficiency of workers in a private and public domain. A valid certificate (old or new) cannot be used as a legal excuse not to participate in such control.

On the basis of the 1989 Estonian Law on Language a vast majority of Russian-speaking employees was obliged to obtain one of the six different categories of proficiency in the official (Estonian) language. The official certificates were issued to those who had succeeded to pass a special exam.

In 1995, a new Law on Language was adopted. In 1999, the Parliament has introduced a new three-level system of proficiency certificates. Thus all “old” certificates were claimed to be invalid since July 2002 (the deadline was later postponed till January 2004). In practice that meant a new examination for thousands of non-Estonians of almost all age groups working in different professions.

In 2000, the Parliament has introduced a principle of rationality and justification; however, such professions as salesmen, doctors, bus drivers etc are still subject to the official requirements.

The main reason for abolishment of the old certificates’ validity was the necessity to insure more rigid control over Estonian language proficiency through a new test system and to stop the use of falsified certificates.

In 2003, the Inspectorate tested teachers in nine municipal Russian schools in Tallinn, Jõhvi and Kohtla-Järve. Language knowledge of hundreds of them has not reached the necessary standard.

All municipal and state schoolteachers (including teachers of the Russian language in Russian schools) should have a “middle level” proficiency certificate (an advanced level of proficiency). According to the Baltic News Service, ten teachers were punished by the Inspectorate with a fine of EEK 2,500 (€160) in December.1

According to the 2000 national Census, 20 percent of the population cannot speak Estonian. Minorities make up 46 percent of the population in Tallinn, 67 percent in Jõhvi and 83 percent in Kohtla-Järve. Estonian is a mother tongue of 67 percent of all population in Estonia.

Source: Minelres News, Legal Information Center for Human Rights, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-December/003102.html


The Estonian government has adopted a decision according to which Russian-speaking inhabitants of Estonia who successfully passed the state language exam will receive compensation for the language training expenses up to USD 250. Half of the money will be provided from Phare funds and the other half from the state budget.

Source: Integration and Minority Information Service of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, Chas, Vesti Segodnya, January 9, 2004

1 In the third quarter of the year 2003, the average monthly salary of an Estonian resident working in the educational sphere was 4,169 EEK (€267) (Statistical Office of Estonia).

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Updated (February 2004)


The Estonian government has voted against a draft, which would have changed the Law on Citizenship. The opposition Center Party presented this draft at the end of January.

Mihhail Stalnuhhin, one of the initiators of the draft, said that many old people did not have citizenship because of the language requirements. Up until now these requirements had been abolished only for people born in Estonia before January 1, 1930. Centrists proposed to remove them also for those born before January 1, 1939.1

They based their opinion on the results of the studies, according to which for people over fifty it is more difficult to learn another language. In Estonia more than 17,000 persons without any citizenship belong to this “critical” age (the total number of people without any citizenship is about 200,000).

Moreover, the draft proposed 100 percent funding of language courses for those applying for citizenship. However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs was against this proposal, asserting that it could lead to financial impropriety.

The Law on Citizenship, along with the other laws on foreigners and language, is the so-called “sacred cow” of the Estonian legislation. These laws form a basis for Estonian policy on national minorities. All Estonian parties represented in the Riigikogu (Parliament) stated that they were against reforming the basic principles of citizenship policy. However, the Centrists believe that their initiative does not undermine these basic principles.

Source: Eurolang News, Tallinn, Aleksandr Shegedin, February 20, 2004, http://www.eurolang.net/

1 The draft propositions concern persons who were Estonian residents before July 1, 1990.

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Updated (March 2004)


Except Article 45 the Constitution of Estonia, passed by the referendum on June 28, 1992, does not contain any special provisions on broadcasting.

Article 45

Everyone has the right to freely disseminate ideas, opinions, beliefs and other information by word, print, picture or other means. Other laws protecting public order, morals and the rights, freedoms, health, honor and good name of the others may restrict this right.

This right may also be restricted by the laws for state and local government civil servants, to protect state or business secrets or information received in confidence, and the family and private life of others, as well as in the interests of justice.

Article 25 of the 1995 Language Act is directly applicable to broadcasting.1

Translation of a foreign language text of audiovisual works, television and radio programs and advertisements:

(1). In broadcasting (transmission either by television stations or cable networks) of audiovisual works (including programs and advertisements) a foreign language text shall be accompanied by an adequate translation into Estonian.

(2). A translation into Estonian is not required for programs which are immediately retransmitted, for language learning programs or in the case of the newsreader’s text of originally produced foreign language news programs and of originally produced live foreign language programs.

(3). A translation into Estonian is not required in the case of radio programs, which are aimed at a foreign language audience.

(4). The volume of foreign language news programs and live foreign language programs without translations into Estonian specified in subsection (2) of this section shall not exceed 10 percent of the volume of weekly original production.

The Broadcasting Act was passed on May 19, 1994 and amended in July 2002.2 The general principles of broadcasting activities prescribed by the Broadcasting Act apply to all radio and television broadcasters established in Estonia. These include freedom of activity, political balance, protection of sources of information, guarantee of morals and legality, and protection of copyright.

In addition, special rules apply to the public service television and radio broadcasters, “ETV” and “ER”. According to Article 25 of the Broadcasting Act, the functions of ETV and ER are to:

1) advance and promote Estonian national culture, and record, preserve and introduce its greatest achievements;

2) present the greatest achievements of world culture to the public;

3) create and transmit multifaceted and balanced program services at high journalistic, artistic and technical levels;

4) satisfy the information needs of all sections of the population, including minorities;

5) create primarily informational, cultural, educational and entertainment programs.

According to Article 26 (1) of the Act, the programs and program services of ETV and ER shall facilitate:

1) preservation and development of the Estonian nation, language and culture;

2) strengthening of the Estonian statehood;

3) advancement of Estonia’s international reputation.

According to Article 26 (2), the programs and program services of ETV and ER shall encourage respect for human dignity and observance of laws, considering the moral, political and religious beliefs of different sections of the population.

The Act contains no provisions on a minorities’ access to broadcasting in their own language, or any other restrictions on the form of establishment, ownership, editorial control or other factors.

There is no obligation to broadcast in minority languages; however, in practice such obligation can be made part of a broadcasting license.

In the period between 1994 (when the Broadcasting Act came into force) and July 2002, the Ministry of Culture granted 27 local and regional radio broadcasting licenses. Some of those broadcast only in Russian.

Source: Minority-language Related Broadcasting and Legislation in the OSCE, Program in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP), Center for Socio-Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Oxford University & Institute for Information Law (IViR) (http://www.ivir.nl/index-english.html), Universiteit van Amsterdam (Study commissioned by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities), April 2003, edited by T. McGonagle (IViR), B. Davis Noll & M. Price (PCMLP), http://www.ivir.nl/publications/mcgonagle/Minority-language%20broadcasting.pdf


On February 11, 2004 the Parliament overwhelmingly approved in its final reading a bill aimed at reducing the time required for an individual to become a naturalized citizen.

According to this bill, which was proposed by the opposition Center Party, an individual must six months legally reside in the country after applying for citizenship (and not one year as it was before).

The bill; however, does not change the requirement that individuals must legally reside in the country for at least five years to be eligible for citizenship.

The opposition party Pro Patria Union voted against the bill, arguing that shortening of the process would hinder the authorities from screening the applicants adequately.

Source: Minelres Archive, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2004-February/003203.html, RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 8, No. 28, Part II, February 12, 2004

1 Although not clearly stated in the Act, this article is understood as being applicable to broadcasting organizations established in Estonia.

2 This act has been amended several times.

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Updated (April 2004)


According to an MP and a member of the Government Commission of the Southern Estonian languages, Jaak Allik, the Russian language has more rights than other Southern Estonian languages, such as Setu, Voru, Mulgi and Tartu.

The legal status of these languages1 came up for discussion but later it turned to a dispute over the status of Russian, which is a mother tongue of one third of the Estonian population.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was afraid that giving the legal status to any of the Southern Estonian languages could encourage Russians to claim the same for their language. Mr. Allik criticized this position and explained that this fear is not reasonable. With permission of the central government Russian can already be used in documentation of local governments, and in the media.

The status of the Russian language is a permanent and long-term problem in the political relations between Russia and Latvia and Estonia. However, if Estonia signs the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, this tension will be finally reduced because Russian, under the Charter, will become a minority language and thus it clearly loses any opportunity to be the second state language.

Source: Eurolang News, by Aleksandr Shegedin, Tallinn, April 5, 2004, www.eurolang.net

1 many linguists treat them as dialects

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Updated (June 2006)


New language legislation has been proposed and discussed in the Estonian Parliament (the Riigikogu).

According to the draft law, the Language Inspectorate would gain more powers. In comparison to legislation in force, its officials, for instance, would be authorized to revoke questionable certificates qualifying people in the Estonian language and to demand re-examination if needed. General director of the Inspectorate, Ilmar Tomusk, claims that at present about 60 – 70 percent of certificates issued do not reflect the holder’s actual command of the language. Therefore, if the draft law were approved by the Parliament, the Inspectorate would be able to send doubtful cases for re-examination.

Moreover, the law would allow inspectors to take up complaints against administrative officials who cannot communicate in Estonian or who keep non-Estonian records in their office. Concerning teachers, the current Language Act treats those in private schools more liberally: their command of Estonian is optional. However, the proposed legislation stipulates that all schoolteachers must speak the Estonian language. In addition, rescuers and police officers would have to pass state language exams even if they have already passed specialized language courses.

Source: Eurolang News in Brief, June 13, 2006 by Aleksandr Shegedin http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2658&Itemid=1&lang=en

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Updated (June 2007)


The Government has approved an amendment to the national curriculum for basic and upper secondary schools, which requires Russian-medium schools to teach at least one subject in the Estonian language from 1 September this year, beginning with literature studies in 10th Grade.

A survey carried out in 2006 revealed that 95 percent of Russian-minority schools already offer subjects in Estonian. The same proportion of Russian-medium school principals considers the transition to partial studies in Estonian to be either “necessary” or “very much necessary.”

Pursuant to the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, transition to partially Estonian-language subject study in schools with Russian as a language of instruction will start on 1 September 2007. Its objective is to provide pupils whose mother tongue is not Estonian with equal possibilities for acquiring higher education and coping in the labor market, and for practicing the language.

It is the Estonian literature course where non-Estonian language schools are most ready to commence transition to Estonian-language studies. According to the national curriculum, the literature studies at upper secondary level comprise nine courses, of which Estonian literature forms one course of 35 hours. Divided over an academic year, this would mean one lesson per week.

The schools with the language of instruction other than Estonian are well prepared to teach the Estonian Literature in Estonian language: a new textbook and teacher’s book have been issued to this end, with more than 60 teachers receiving in-service training. All 63 Russian-medium schools with upper secondary sections have confirmed that they are ready for the transition.

Moreover, it is permissible for a school to choose another subject in place of Estonian Literature for the required Estonian-language lessons. Permission for Estonian-language studies in any other subject is granted by the Ministry of Education and Research upon application by the school principal, which had to be submitted by 1 July at the latest. The aim of this regulation is to make the start of the transition as flexible as possible, and to give schools the possibility to apply for permission to start transition in any other subject, if necessary.

Estonian-language subject studies are planned in Estonian literature, Civics, Geography, Music and Estonian history. Civics and History have been chosen because those subjects are important in preparing for applying for citizenship.

In addition to the above-mentioned five subjects, a school has to choose two additional subjects. The transition will start with the teaching of one subject in Estonian and one additional subject will be added each following school year.

The Ministry of Education and Research will have completed its long-term action plan for transition by autumn 2007, when it will be submitted to the Government for approval. Prior to this, the content of the plan will be debated with Russian-minor schools’ administration, teachers and students.

Source: The Estonian Government Communication Office, Government News, June 7, 2007 http://www.valitsus.ee/brf/index.php?id=7175 and Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, Education – 2007 Reform in Estonia http://www.hm.ee/index.php?047958