Tallinn city government opposes Isamaa Russian high school name change idea

Linnamäe Russian Lyceum.
Linnamäe Russian Lyceum. Source: Tallinn Lasnamäe district government

Isamaa's Tallinn city councilors have proposed removing the word "Russian" from the names of five high schools across Tallinn. The Center Party-dominated city government opposes the idea.

Vadim Belobrovtsev (Center), Deputy Mayor of Tallinn with the responsibility for education, says the Isamaa initiative would knowingly stoke ethnic tensions in the capital, between the Estonian-speaking majority and the Russian-speaking minority.

He said:  "This is another example of an attempt to create ethnic tensions. We can see how anything related to the word 'Russian' leads to negative emotions, in this political party."

 "This whole idea of ​​renaming schools seems crazy to me from the outset. There is a city council ordinance which states the name of an institution can be changed when its functions or services provided change. In the case of these schools, their functions and services will remain the same, however," he went on.

Isamaa is in opposition at the Tallinn city council chambers, while Center is in office, with the Social Democrats (SDE).

Isamaa deputies tabled the bill ahead of Thursday's council meeting, though the concept of the name change arose last year, when the government made a decision to switch to Estonian-only education, the party says.

Karl Sander Kase, Tallinn city council Isamaa party group leader, told ERR's news in Russian that: "Five schools in Tallinn have 'Russian' in their name, which ostensibly refers to the provision of education in the Russian language."

"The name change is intended to support the transition to Estonian-language education," he went on, adding that the move was unconnected with the actions of the current regime in Russia.

Deputy Mayor Belobrovtsev said the matter could be discussed if the schools themselves wanted to change their names, adding that while the switch to Estonian-language education from kindergarten age on is due to be installed from 2024, in practice it will remain the language of instruction in some cases, for several more years' transitional period.

"Therefore, their current names do not conflict with the services and functions that these schools provide. Things like this are not to be done hastily and by order," Belobrovtsev added.

Center Party city council deputy Andrey Kante called the proposal "incomprehensible".

Andrey Kante, a member of the Central faction of the Tallinn city council and the director of the Russian high school in Lasnamäe, considered Isamaa's proposal incomprehensible.

Kante, who is also director of one of the Tallinn schools in focus in Isamaa's proposed bill, said: "Recently, we had a [city council] education committee meeting, at which we could not understand at all what the purpose of this initiative was.

"The project developer believes that it will contribute to the transition to the Estonian language of instruction, but does not say how exactly. If the initiators believe that changing the sign somehow helps, then it devalues ​​everything, including the aforementioned reforms," he went on.

Karl Sander Kase said were the initiative to pass, schools could start changing their names from the start of the next academic year, in September.

The schools would also be granted a good deal of autonomy in making their decision on any potential name change, he added.

There are five high schools in Tallinn with the term "Russian" (Estonian: Vene) as an integral part of their names, in various locations in the capital, namely:  Haabersti vene gümnaasium, Tallinna Linnamäe vene lütseum (pictured), Lasnamäe vene gümnaasium, Tallinna Õismäe vene gümnaasium and Tallinna Kesklinna vene gümnaasium.

Isamaa's bill would establish a school renaming committee, consisting of representatives of the city government and its agencies, school trustee boards and the Ministry of Education.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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