Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) has submitted for a public round of approval a bill of amendments introducing the opportunity for the state to step in and supersede local governments in renaming places, including streets, named after people who have fought against the Republic of Estonia or which are otherwise clearly inappropriately named.
Solman submitted the bill of amendments to the Place Names Act and Spatial Data Act to the Estonian government's Information System of Draft Acts (EIS) on Monday, the Ministry of Finance said in a press release.
According to the ministry, current legislation doesn't stipulate further actions in cases where a local government itself hasn't changed a place name unsuitable in the context of Estonian history and culture regarding which the state has already submitted a corresponding proposal. The proposed amendments would introduce the opportunity for the state to step in and take over a local government's right as naming authority to rename a place.
"The state could change a name in a case where, following a proposal by the minister, a local government has not changed a name commemorating an individual who has fought against the statehood, preservation of the constitutional order of and restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia or other place names that are clearly inappropriate in the context of Estonian history and culture," Solman said, noting that examples include controversial street or road names.
"The atrocities of the war in Ukraine are helping us put symbols of occupation that had been forgotten in the meantime back in the right context," the minister said. "The Estonian state deserves our common spaces being filled with symbols and street names that are respectful of Estonian statehood. The commemoration and immortalization of Red murderers, after whom a number of streets in Estonian local governments are named, is a painful wound and an embarrassment to the majority of Estonians."
Under the current Place Names Act, it is a local government's responsibility to ensure that a commemorative name isn't the name of someone who has acted against the establishment of the Republic of Estonia, the preservation of its constitutional order or the restoration of Estonian independence, Solman explained.
"Upon receiving a corresponding proposal by the minister, the local government must immediately specify a new place name to replace an illegal place name," she continued. "Current legislation also provides that should the unsuitability of a place name in the context of Estonian history and culture become apparent, the local government is required to initiate a place name change procedure within 30 days of being informed of a place name's illegality."
The law does not, however, provide for the consequences in case a local government has failed to specify a new place name despite the minister's proposal.
Aimed at eliminating the legislative gap created when a local government fails to resolve the situation on its own, the proposed amendments would allow the minister to supersede the local government as naming authority in instances where the Place Names Board has found in an opinion previously submitted to the minister that a current commemorative name is in conflict with the law, or that a designated place name is inappropriate in the context of Estonian history and culture, and the local government has not designated a new, lawful place name within two months of receiving the relevant proposal by the minister.
According to the proposed amendments, prior to the minister designating a new place name, the local government's opinion would be sought and the bill for designating a new place name published, regarding which municipal residents can submit their own proposals.
Upon the adoption of a new place name, the local government will be obliged to replace all signs and links referencing the previous name, the expenses of which will be covered from the state budget.
According to EIS, the bill of amendments is available for approval and public feedback through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, November 7.
Editor: Aili Vahtla