There are times in everyone’s life that could be characterized with a wonderful Finnish word from religious theory, “etsikkoaika." It signifies a period when a person is particularly alert and sensitive to a certain subject and this opens new opportunities - that can be seized (and life significantly changed). But it is also possible to miss them.
In addition to individuals, nations and states also experience these moments. It seems to me that it is exactly this period.
Among us, in our little state, there are 324,000 ethnically Russian people. Let’s be honest, even though many of us, Estonians, are aware that the local Russians are not a homogenous entity with a comprehensive set of ideas, many of us have formed attitudes towards our Russian-speaking compatriots that have not always been exactly positive.
In the last quarter of a century, Estonian Russians have been the butt of displeasure over the injustice of the Soviet period, fear of the disappearance of Estonia’s native people and their language, an intuitive opposition to a different temperament and way of life. Some of us have called Estonia’s Russian residents occupiers, the fifth column, the Kremlin’s henchmen and some milder, but not particularly friendlier names.
Some Estonian Russians have, in turn, responded by taking offense. Some of them have worried about the decline in education in their language, the narrowing of their future and career prospects, their low position in society. Hidden tensions and the failure of integration, combined with the participation of provocateurs exploded almost exactly seven years ago in the form of the Bronze Soldier riots.
Sharp remarks have been exchanged in the last decades on a level that transcends the opinion gutter, that is to say, the anonymous commentators. The Center Party has added a different color to the interactions between Estonians and Russians, with their main ideologues building their political rhetoric on setting their Russian-speaking voters and the Estonian state on opposing sides.
Today, however, is the time to dispense with all that. Now is not the time to deal with irrelevant issues or smaller details.
In light of what is happening in Ukraine, the Russian-speaking community in Estonia has a wonderful opportunity of making it clear once and for all with which country their loyalties lie and how they see their future. If being called the fifth column or accusations of being against the state really bother them, now is the time to dispel all the doubts of Estonians at once. Nothing more than expressing clear and unconditional support to Estonian statehood and the current state order.
There are already positive signs in the air - a petition against separatism and interfering in Estonia’s internal affairs has been signed by people that have not agreed with all of the political steps taken by Estonian governments. The demonstrations of provocateurs Juri Žuravljov (rendered incorrectly as Zhuravlyov in a previous article on ERR News; he is an Estonian citizen - Ed.] and Dmitri Linter, acting on the instigation of Russia, have been largely ignored by the local Russian community; they are even despised by the Estonian Russian politicians in the Center Party, who are usually relatively critical of the government.
The window is open right now and it is during these tense days that the Russian-speaking residents of Estonia have the best opportunity to declare their loyalty. After they do, then we can think about how to let them know we consider them equal citizens of this country.
Rain Kooli is the opinion editor for uudised.err.ee. His piece was translated from the original.