Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas and Eesti 200 leader Lauri Hussar debated the switch to all-Estonian education on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show on Thursday. While Hussar suggested the Center Party has delayed the switch, Ratas said the transition cannot be made overnight.
"The Center Party's position is reflected in what we did in the government. We want Russian youths to really speak better Estonian. What did it mean? We sent teachers to kindergartens and basic schools, allocated more funds for language immersion. Putting the law on paper, simply stating that we're having a transition is no kind of solution in a situation where we know we're short on teachers. Teachers who speak Estonian leaving Viljandi, Tallinn or Paide for Ida-Viru County because the pay is better there is also not a solution," Ratas said.
Lauri Hussar said that the law currently in Riigikogu proceedings only goes half-way. "Replacing Russian workbooks with Estonian ones in Russian schools in Estonia will not solve the problem. It is a half-solution. In the end, the solution needs to see Russian and Estonian children attend the same school. Of course, there would be regional transitional periods, for example, in Tallinn and Ida-Viru County. However, I see no reason today to have a Russian school in Tartu, and rather the city should have a common Estonian school. As concerns whether anything is standing in the way of the reform, I believe the answer is no," the Eesti 200 chair said.
Hussar said he nevertheless hopes that the current law will be passed in the near future. "After the war in Ukraine, we have to have Russian speaking youths clearly facing Europe. We need to give them pro-Estonian and pro-Western education, and we must do it in common Estonian schools," he added.
Ratas countered by describing Hussar's approach as hurried. "If Eesti 200 think that we can just put young people speaking Estonian as their first language and those speaking Russian together in the same school tomorrow, I believe it is obvious this would not work."
The Center leader said that a school's study language has nothing to do with students' mentality and suggested all schools in Estonia are pro-Estonian.
"Of course, Estonian training needs to be improved, ramped up. But making the transition happen overnight just by throwing around headlines is not how the education system works," Ratas remarked.
Hussar said that Eesti 200 are ready to work with Center on all-Estonian education. "I am willing to work with Center on the language transition if Center agrees that it needs to happen quickly and in accordance with the [current] law," Hussar offered.
"I definitely do not see it happening as you did in those tram stops four years ago," the Center politician stabbed.
Hussar said that should Eesti 200 make the parliament, the party wants to pursue education topics above all.
He said that Eesti 200 put in a solid result as a very young party four years ago, taking 4.4 percent of the vote.
"The fact that Eesti 200 managed to prove itself active as a young party is the reason why no one doubts we will make the Riigikogu now. The only question is how many seats will Eesti 200 manage to land."
The party leader said that Eesti 200 is willing to form a coalition with all democratic and liberal forces that share its values and principles. "I have clearly said that Eesti 200 finds it very difficult to form a government with EKRE because EKRE's worldview and values are in no way compatible with what Eesti 200 believes. Additionally, we have heard a lot of pro-Kremlin rhetoric from EKRE leaders," Hussar said.
Host Mirko Ojakivi asked Ratas whether his heart is gravitating towards [EKRE leader] Martin Helme or [Reform chair] Kaja Kallas?
"It gravitates toward Estonia," Ratas said. "However, it is a valid question because, looking at the tax system, they are in the same boat. Neither EKRE nor Reform want to hear anything about progressive income tax. The Center Party would see it done. It is not sensible to rule out potential partners. At least the Center Party does not want to do it," he added.
"I am convinced that coping will be the central axis of these elections. The coping of Estonian people and companies. Both are highly interconnected, and Center and Reform have taken very different approaches to managing crises," Ratas suggested.
"I still believe the main choice of this election will be Reform versus Center. And this is reflected in [election] promises," he added.
The Reform Party has defined EKRE as their main adversary at the 2023 elections.
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski