The appointee for education minister, Jevgeni Ossinovski, is one of only a handful of ministers since re-independence who have an ethnic Russian background and is perhaps the first to identify himself as ethnically Russian. The rising star of the Social Democrats is seen as a potential consensus-builder but also says he catches flak from both communities.
On Sunday, Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat published an interview with the 28-year-old politician, who represents the Ida-Viru County constituency.
With the exceptions of Artur Kuznetsov, who acted as the minister in charge of national relations in Edgar Savisaar’s transitional government in 1990-1991, and Eldar Efendijev, who was the minister for population affairs in the Siim Kallas government of 2002-2003, no politician with a Russian background has made it this far in Estonian politics as Ossinovski, the paper claimed, although it omitted several senior politicians from mixed-ethnic families.
Commenting on the criticism regarding Estonian language policy made by a Russian diplomat at the UN, Ossinovski said it came as no surprise in Estonia, adding that Russia’s statements are seen as interfering in a state’s internal affairs and are therefore not really helping the local population.
“The same subjects come up in discussions in Estonia. I also find it abnormal that nearly 90,000 people in Estonia have no citizenship whatsoever,” Ossinovski said.
Since independence was regained, 157,000 people have become naturalized Estonian citizens.
The events in Crimea have sparked debates about internal security in Estonia, which most Estonian Russians find offensive, he said, adding that the majority of them are loyal to the Republic of Estonia. Ossinovski said it is a negative trend that the number of Russian citizens in Estonia is increasing.
In Ossinovski’s opinion, integration policies have failed to get results and he also thinks the exam results of Russian students in subjects they are learning in Estonia have taken deteriorated. As an education minister, he plans to commission an independent survey into the matter and if he is proven right, the new government has to come up with ways to turn the trend around.
“I get abuse from Russians for not protecting the interests of Russians enough. I get abuse from Estonians for allegedly being a traitor. The only way forward is finding a consensus. I want to build bridges, not barricades,” he said.
On the Estonian side of the ethnic divide, some see Ossinovski as an advocacy politician for a narrow range of issues, most connected to language and ethnicity. He has also been mentioned by the country's intelligence service for the role that funding from his father, Oleg Ossinovski - the richest person in Estonia and closely connected to the Russian transit business - played in his campaign. He also has a strong camp of ethnic Estonian supporters who see him as an articulate and voter-friendly figure, citing his blog and press appearances.