Eesti 200 criticizes justice minister language, Soviet symbols bills

Kristina Kallas.
Kristina Kallas. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Former leader of the Eesti 200 party Kristina Kallas has hit out at two bills proposed by Minister of Justice Lea Danilson-Järgi (Isamaa), calling them "bureaucratic over-regulation".

One of the two draft laws concerns language requirements for candidates at Estonia's local government elections, the other, the removal of Soviet-era symbols from the facades of buildings.

Kallas, a native speaker of Estonian, told ERR that: "If all candidates were to be asked for a document proving their knowledge of the Estonian language, then candidates like me would need to present a high school graduation certificate, which shows that I have graduated from an Estonian-language school."

"This is an over-complex, over-bureaucratized measure, considering that we have had issues with just two councils ... in Narva and Sillamäe, whose work is not being conducted in Estonian. And considering that this problem can be solved in another way, I think that what the Minister of Justice has proposed at the moment simply does not fulfill its purpose. More bureaucracy is added, but there is no result," Kallas said.

The government last week accepted a bill drafted by the justice ministry which would amend legislation dealing with the building code, requiring the removal within three months of symbols, decorations and the like which appear to justify or glorify the Soviet occupation of Estonia, with a committee to be set up to deal with disputes.

Kallas called for input from cultural figures and organizations in this process, a principle Danilson-Järg had pushed back on"

Kallas said: "If there is no artistic value, I think that removing the red symbols is completely reasonable. But whether it has artistic value or not, politicians alone cannot decide."

The language bill would if it passes require local government candidates to present proof of Estonian skills to at least B1 level. The next local government elections are in autumn 2025.

Kallas also expressed support for a statement last week by the party's new leader, Lauri Hussar, that Russian citizens with long-term residence permits should temporarily be barred from voting in local government elections also, given the current security situation.

Kallas said this was official party policy approved by the board, and contrasted with calls from other parties to remove the right from all "third country" (non-EU/EEA/Schengen Zone countries, broadly speaking) nationals.

On the other hand, Kallas said that she did not see how depriving Russian citizens of the vote would present a security threat, as claimed by SDE leader Lauri Läänemets, given that voter turnout among the Russian-speaking populace in local elections was often very low.

Läänemets had argued that stripping Russian citizens of the vote in areas where they are densely concentrated, such as Ida-Viru County, could lead to civil unrest.

The issue affects only local elections, at which all permanent residents of Estonia are at the time of writing permitted to vote in.

Voting in the general election next March is open only to citizens.

As to that election, Kallas said she would most likely be running for the party in Tartu.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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