Attacks have forced a Ph.D. student in biophysics to leave Tartu and return to his native Cameroon, according to the Federation of Estonian Student Unions.
The motive in the attacks is unknown, but the case is sure to revive concerns about racism in the city, which has had a simmering problem with xenophobic slurs and attacks.
Only one of the attacks was reported to the police. But the student body said the last incident happened just last week and was the third to be experienced by the student in Estonia. "We talked to the prosecutor's office, which claims that they know of only one attack," the head of the student organization, Maris Mälzer, told uudised.err.ee.
The victim has declined to talk to the press; however, his roommate said the student was attacked for the first time on April 8 and most recently on May 28. The victim filed a police report after the first incident. After the second attack, the student underwent an eye examination, but no report was filed.
The student, who was not identified to the press except by the year of his birth, 1975, plans to return to Berlin, where he had been studying, and defend his doctoral thesis there.
The police launched separate criminal proceedings to investigate the case.
There is some confusion about which of the incidents was reported. Prior to the intervention of the student organization following the most recent attack, the Southern Prefecture said they received a report on April 20 about an incident on April 16 in which a man struck the Cameroon native in the face. The attacker was accompanied by two other males. None fit the description of a skinhead. The spokesman for the district prosecutor's office, Kristina Kostina, said the victim did not mention any previous attacks at that point.
Kostina said it was premature to conclude on the basis of the information known to the investigators that it was in fact a racist attack. The fact that the incident was not reported immediately, a police official said, complicated efforts to bring the attacker to justice.
"The police encourages international students studying in Tartu each year to notify the police of any incidents that appear to be racist. It was the right thing to do to report it to the police and initiate criminal proceedings to ascertain the details, but unfortunately the long interval between the attack and the report make this difficult," said Southern Prefecture law enforcement office chief Indrek Koemets.
Mälzer of the student organization said the problem has come up before in Tartu. "I myself have been in a situation where a black student asked me to make like I was in a deep conversation with him in Town Hall Square, because he said if he were talking to a woman, hopefully no one would attack him. He mentioned that it was not the first time and that he was considering leaving Estonia."
She said foreign students' teachers have also mentioned incidents driven by racial hatred. "The problem has lasted decades, but no solution has been found," Mälzer asserted.
The Student Organization said it plans to make proposals to ministries to put together two plans, one aimed at increasing tolerance in Estonia, the other at ensuring the safety of foreign students.