I arrive slightly early for my interview with Yana Toom at her constituency office in a fashionable street in central Tallinn, only to find out that she has beaten me to it and is already there. A very tall woman, easily recognisable thanks to her distinctive russet hair, she is wilting in the current heatwave in Tallinn just as much as I am and we go out for a pre-interview cigarette on the office balcony (''I'm just a summer smoker'' I say, not very convincingly).
Since MEPs aren't in Estonia so much, when they are in their office they tend to get descended upon by the media pack, and my Estonian colleagues from ERR are waiting in the wings to get a TV interview too. Nevertheless we have the chance to get down to the pivotal controversies surrounding the concept of statelessness and stateless persons – those who have no citizenship but in practice nearly all Russian speaking – in Estonia, her disagreement with fellow MEP Urmas Paet (Reform) on the issue, and possible solutions for what is after all a hangover of not inconsiderable proportions.
Family background in politics
We start with her mother, Margarita Tšernogorova, who is also a politician. Was having a politician parent more a help or a hindrance?
''It's very helpful in terms of getting good advice – I came back to Estonia in 1994 having lived in Russia for a couple of years and she had just been elected, but at the same time I was keen to get out of her shadow and so I didn't use try to associate her name with myself when I started working as a journalist in the 1990s and that's the way it's been ever since.''
''We have other politicians, Kaja Kallas, who is clearly daughter of the father [former Estonian Prime Minister and European Commissioner Siim Kallas–ed.], or Jüri Ratas, the Centre Party leader and current prime minister, who is clearly the son of the father [former member of the Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, Rein Ratas–ed.] as well, but I felt that I had to be myself.''
The riddle of the spelling of Yana
Another question which has puzzled more than one English-speaking Estonia-watcher is the spelling of her first name – why is it spelt with a 'Y' and not with the more usual 'J' as in 'Jana'. It turns out it was a simple case of bureaucracy and the chaos of moving between Estonia and Russia at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
''In the Soviet era our passports were stamped with our nationality, which if you had parents of two different nationalities as I did – my mother is Estonian and my father is Russian – you had to choose the nationality at age 16, and I chose Estonian. In 1992 we had to go to Russia, since my husband, who is Russian, couldn't get a job in the early days of Estonian independence as he wasn't registered to work there, so we went off there with our three small children, including a new born baby, but during the two years we were away the naturalisation without exams for ethnic Estonians had finished, which meant that to get Estonian citizenship I needed to pass a language exam which, at that time, I wasn't proficient enough to do.''
This is a theme which recurs often in Yana Toom's political career and activity, the necessity for passing a language exam in order to obtain citizenship, one which she feels is unhelpful and unnecessary and responsible for the large number of stateless persons in the country.
''I was told that my name would then be back-transliterated to 'Yana', and could only be changed to its original spelling at a cost, – so I have a reminder of having been a Russian citizen for several years, every time I see my name in print.''
''I still needed a document, however, so I went to the Russian Embassy in Tallinn and got Russian citizenship in just 15 minutes.''
The Russian transliteration of 'Jana' would mean the name began with the Russian 'Я' letter, pronounced 'ya'. Fast forward about 12 years and Yana Toom is granted citizenship by the government of Andrus Ansip under the 'special merit' law for services to the state, not having to pass a language exam this time, though ironically she would have been more than able to do so.
''I was told that my name would then be back-transliterated to 'Yana', and could only be changed to its original spelling at a cost, which I wasn't prepared to do – so I have a reminder of having been a Russian citizen for several years, every time I see my name in print!''
European Parliament career
Notwithstanding these administrative musical chairs, Ms. Toom went on to forge a career in Estonian politics and since 2014 has sat in the European Parliament. She is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) platform, which must be something of a broad church since her arch opponent in the citizenship issue, former Minister of Defence Urmas Paet is also an ALDE member.
''Actually we concur on about 96% of votes in Brussels, on issues such as internet freedoms, the Common Agricultural Policy, fisheries and more. It's just that core of issues regarding international relations, sanctions against Russia and citizenship that we disagree, and those are the issues that get picked up by the Estonian media, which tends to give the impression that we're at loggerheads all the time.''
In fact this magnifying prism in the Estonian media distorts the reality that the citizenship work only makes up a small proportion of Yana Toom's European Parliament work.
''In a typical day I'm working 10-12 hours a day, though only four days a week. I don't live in Brussels and come home every weekend since my youngest (of five) children is 12 so I need to be back because of that, plus I'm head of the Narva district of the Centre Party so I'm over in Ida-Viru County most weeks too.''
''I'm a full member of three committees which I now know is too much; since my Centre Party predecessors (Vilja Savisaar-Toomast and Siiri Oviir ) had already left so there was noone whose advice I could ask, and I didn't know which committee to sit on so ended up being assigned to the Committee on Culture and Education, the Committee on Employment and Socials Affairs and the Committee on Petitions.''
Being the 'grey passport' holders' champion
Being not only a prominent politician, but also a native Russian speaker and perceived, however erroneously, as being more pro-Russian than pro-Estonian, Ms. Toom is often the subject of criticism and personal attacks, particularly online. How does she deal with the trolls, whilst at the same time accepting that this is part of the reality of being a public figure?
''I usually just take time out to go to somewhere peaceful like the seashore, or alternatively drop into Lasnamäe market – when I'm there people often try to cheer me up if I'm looking down, offering me produce like water melon or whatever and refusing to take payment for it, so it's from one extreme to another really. I rarely need to block people on social media, anyway''.
One of the most controversial issues which Ms. Toom is heavily involved in is that of the the so-called 'grey passport' holders of Estonia (named after the colour of the travel document issued to stateless persons in Estonia which functions as a travel document, though it is far from recognised everywhere as we will see) which, whilst noted may not make up the bulk of Yana Toom's work in Brussels, is an area she has certainly not shirked her duties in either.
Two petitions have been handed to the European Parliament, the first containing some 22,000 signatures from both Estonia and Latvia ''Not only signed by grey passport holders, but also by Estonian citizens and Russian citizens,'' in part led to two resolutions in the European Parliament which mentioned Estonian non-citizens, something which had not happened before. The second petition was submitted together with Estonian citizen and writer Kaur Kender.
What is 'statelessness'?
'Statelessness' is defined in international law as someone who ''is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law." Relevant conventions include the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Estonia has not signed either of these conventions, though naturally it was not an independent state at the time of their signing; of the successor states to the Baltic Region of the Soviet Union (including the Russian Federation), Latvia and Lithuania have signed the conventions (Lithuania's approach to the issue is somewhat distinct from that of Estonia and Latvia as we will see).
With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Baltic States' post-independence flourishing, their dealings with their non-citizens have inevitably come under greater scrutiny from the UN. One more recent UN pronouncement on the issue recommends that Latvia review its citizenship law to ''grant citizenship to children born in Latvia who would otherwise be stateless, including children of parents with "non-citizen" status.''1
''My father is a 'grey passport' holder. He came to Estonia in 1956 and worked as an engineer for 47 years ... He will never get to learn Estonian – he's 83 years old and dying of cancer, and will die with this 'grey passport', which I find extremely unfair.''
The EU too, which the Baltic States joined in 2004, has not been silent on the question either. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE – which should not be confused with the European Parliament which comprises only EU Member States, but is part of the much large Council of Europe, a 47-member body aimed at upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe) has stated that ''In order to prevent and eliminate statelessness, the Assembly calls on the member States, if they have not yet done so, to: establish statelessness determination procedures in line with the guidelines of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).''2
In any case, the large number of stateless people living in Estonia and Latvia as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s is a subject on which Yana Toom has a personal story to recount.
''My father is a 'grey passport' holder. He came to Estonia in 1956 and worked as an engineer for 47 years in a factory making components for rocket boosters connected with the Soviet space program, at a plant in Tondi, in Tallinn. He will never get to learn Estonian – he's 83 years old and dying of cancer, and will die with this 'grey passport', which I find extremely unfair''.
But this must be a common story, one which is not unique to Yana Toom but also emphasises the section of society which is hampered the most with the 'grey passport' stigma, namely the elderly and vulnerable.
Indeed one notable case, though not in Estonia, saw a Latvian woman win damages after taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) claimed due to what she saw as a curtailed pension due to the problems of state continuity between Latvia and the former Soviet Union; not unexpectedly the one dissenting voice from the bench of judges came from the Latvian representative, Ineta Ziemele.3
''If you have an Estonian passport, you can travel visa-free to 135 countries, but with a 'grey passport' you can go to just 15 countries – no small difference and limited to the Schengen Zone, Russia, Belarus and a few other former Soviet countries and that's it.''
Surely elderly people don't need to travel much in any case, however, I ask, and if they do, the adjacent countries, whether in a westerly or easterly direction are the most likely destinations, not places further afield?
''Not quite – younger people can get caught up in the issue too,'' Ms. Toom goes on, giving the example of a younger woman, a stateless person, who married a citizen of the South African Republic, which does not recognize the passport and which led to problems of registering their daughter there, as well as a common problem of people going on holiday and experiencing delays of several hours at passport control whilst their identity is established.
Again the UN has something to say relating to this, though again in connection with Latvia and not Estonia; a report from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recommends that Latvia make ''... efforts to ensure that all children have access to a nationality, including by reviewing the Citizenship Law to automatically grant citizenship to children born in Latvia who would otherwise be stateless, including children of parents with 'non-citizen' status" [emphasis added].4
Isn't 'statelessness' an inevitable by-product of the breakup of the Soviet Union?
I ask Ms. Toom whether the problem isn't simply the result of a precedent established, at the latest, with the sovereignty over Alsace-Lorraine being passed between France and Germany twice between the 1870s and World War One, one by which countries which follow the Jus Sanguinis model in their citizenship laws (as European states generally do) are under no obligation to grant citizenship to persons who came to live there when that state was, at the very least, part of a larger entity which no longer exists?
This phenomenon recurred much more recently in Europe in many of the former Soviet republics, now sovereign states, not to mention the former Yugoslavia and the division of what was Czechoslovakia into two states, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
Even the very same PACE Resolution referred to above in connection with the definition of statelessness notes, in a preceding paragraph, that the problem is present across the states of the former Soviet Union, including Russia: ''The Assembly considers that statelessness should be prevented and eliminated as soon as possible, as it prevents individuals from enjoying all their human rights and encroaches on their human dignity. It is particularly concerned about the high number of stateless persons, including children, in some member States, and in particular in Latvia, the Russian Federation, Estonia, as well as in Ukraine."5
''We have a much larger proportion of Russian speakers than Lithuania, 40% or more versus about 8%; in Lithuania, as a Catholic country, they tended to have larger families so there was also a demographic factor ... they never had the situation we have in Estonia and Latvia.''
In short, the Soviet Union broke up, so how can Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania be responsible for people who, by her own admission often looking for a more comfortable existence than in other parts of the Soviet empire, moved there during that time?
''It happened in Lithuania. They got citizenship right away, though not it has to be said because of some generosity on the part of the Lithuanian state so much as the great difference in size between the interwar Lithuanian state [whose capital was at Kaunas – ed.] and the present day Lithuania, with its capital at Vilnius and which is about twice the size of the former state. This disparity meant that had the Lithuanians not granted citizenship to non-Lithuanians they would have had to cede a lot of territory to Belarus, which they were not prepared to do''.
''We have a much larger proportion of Russian speakers than Lithuania, 40% or more versus about 8%; in Lithuania, as a Catholic country, they tended to have larger families so there was also a demographic factor...they never had the situation we have in Estonia and Latvia''.
''In Latvia the situation with stateless persons is even worse than in Estonia, since they don't have so many Russian citizens – about 2.2% of the population in 2017 – but have a much larger proportion of stateless persons, whereas in Estonia there is near parity with about 87,000 stateless persons, plus about 100,000 citizens of the Russian Federation,'' she explains, demonstrating how even within the Baltic region there are marked differences in how the three countries dealt with the demographic legacy of the Soviet era.
The 87,000 stateless persons could take Russian citizenship immediately in most cases it is true, but they choose not to, and indeed have chosen not to right from the beginning of Estonian independence/the restoration of Estonian independence in the early '90s, and this, Ms. Toom avers, demonstrates that those persons have long had a stronger fealty towards Estonia than towards Russia.
Urmas Paet's view
This point is the crux of Ms. Toom's differences with her ALDE colleague Urmas Paet MEP. Mr. Paet, who had previously objected to ERR's use of the English term 'stateless person' in a social media post, said that:
''It should be understood that statelessness in Estonia does not refer to statelessness in its classical form, since all permanent residents can become citizens, with only the passing of a citizenship exam being required. Thus, the Estonian citizenship law does not differ in its essence from other European countries.
The rights of people with undetermined citizenship are very close to those of citizens of Estonia, plus they have visa-free access to Russia, and therefore their motives for applying for citizenship are small. However, this does not mean that the requirement for knowledge of the language and the knowledge of society should be avoided without serious reasons, or just for convenience''.
Yana Toom's answer to these points are primarily that not only is being a 'non-citizen' in Estonia, as Urmas Paet would define it, not in fact on a par with being a citizen when it comes to international travel, with the restrictions described above, but also that the language requirement is a millstone which needs to be removed if there's any chance of internal cohesion with the two communities in Estonia.
''Mr. Paet has another definition for these people, 'undetermined citizenship' ('Määratlemata kodakondsus' in Estonian) but the thing is we have had a huge amount of recommendations from various European bodies, the UN, non-citizens networks and more, that clearly state that these people in Estonia are indeed stateless people ... anything less than this is a pretence.''
The Estonian term moreover sounds like a person who has been thinking for 27 years about which citizenship to choose, and still can't decide, Ms. Toom argues.
Mr. Paet for his part had said that it would be unfair on those who had obtained citizenship via the language exam, some 161,000 people, to change the law regarding citizenship at this stage.
''A person applying for Estonian citizenship should, at an elementary level, know the language of the country where he or she lives. Estonia regained its independence 27 years ago, and it is enough time to learn any language,'' Mr. Paet stated in his email to ERR.
Language barrier too high?
The language requirement for citizenship, which requires passing an Estonian exam to B1 level in the Common European Framework (CEF) of languages,6 simply sets too high a bar in Ms. Toom's view.
''If you want to study European Law at Maastricht University you need to have Dutch to A2 level. So that's how irrational it is – to get Estonian citizenship to work as a taxi driver for instance, you need to have a higher level of Estonian than a person who wishes to study European Law in a Dutch University would need to have in the Dutch language.''
''I spoke with an Armenian taxi driver, 67 years old with an Estonian wife; he speaks Estonian and tried the exam but gave up after 13 of the 18 questions in the 45 minute test, not because his Estonian wasn't up to it but because the test is online and he found using an online procedure for something like this to be farcical, and he decided to go after Armenian citizenship instead''.
''If you're old and don't work with the internet or computers in every day life it's not that easy,'' she says, echoing the earlier statements about older people being the main victims of the Estonian citizenship laws.
''If you want to study European Law at Maastricht University, for instance, you need to have Dutch to A2 level [which is lower than B1-ed.]. So that's how irrational it is – to get Estonian citizenship to work as a taxi driver, who is hardly going to be writing me essays and doesn't even need to speak much, you need to have a higher level of Estonian than a person who wishes to study European Law in a Dutch University would need to have in the Dutch language''.
If Estonia wants to be more like Finland, why doesn't it do so?
I use an example closer to home, that of Finland, whose language is the one official European language which is in the same bracket as Estonian, certainly in terms of linguistic grouping and arguably in terms of difficulty, yet people who move there from other countries round the world seem to have no real problems in meeting a sufficient language requirement to work in various customer facing jobs in retail and hospitality, most visibly, and no doubt in other areas too. Why is this not the case in Estonia so much?
''The standard of teaching in Estonia isn't good for one thing,'' she explains.
''You don't even need to be registered to teach courses of less than 120 hours here, and these courses cost money, whereas in Finland – I know several doctors who went to work in Finland and they were paid, not vice versa, to learn Finnish for six months before taking up their post ... and every year in Finland, teachers are paid to go and take IT courses for one month while their teaching is covered by a supply teacher.''
As to the likelihood of such a situation emerging in Estonia any time soon, this is only quite small, she thinks.
''I hope this will be so, but this is about money and about political will, and I would suggest there has never been the political will to resolve the issue; even my son who's 12 now, he's studied Estonian for eight years now and still can't speak Estonian fluently. I can get a private teacher for him to get him up to speed, but other people aren't going to be able to do that''.
No (stateless) person, no problem?
Going back to Urmas Paet's stance on the issue, Ms. Toom hints at what might be a motivating factor in avoiding the term 'statelessness' when I mention the pledge from the UNCHR to end statelessness within 10 years [that was in 2014 so in fact they only have six years left-ed.].
''If there is no statelessness in Estonia, there is no issue to be resolved,'' she explains.
There have been murmurings to this effect from Europe too. The PACE Resolution 1989 from 2014 quoted above goes on to say that states should ''avoid refusing to recognise a person as stateless when his or her situation meets the definition of a stateless person as set out in Article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, in particular through the introduction of 'alternative' definitions of statelessness at the national level,'' [emphasis added].7
One European Parliament study also found that ''States sometimes deliberately do not classify a person as 'stateless', but assign the person involved a different label. This occurred in Latvia and Estonia with the introduction of the special status of 'permanent resident non-citizen' in Latvia or a 'person of undefined nationality' in Estonia."8
Russophobia is a word which gets bandied around quite a lot, most recently with the entry block to the Russian Federation of various prominent Estonian individuals including the former president, Toomas-Hendrik Ilves. Nonetheless, Russophobia certainly exists, Ms. Toom believes when I ask her to define the term, but is something of a neutral appellation which puts it alongside other phobias such as arachnophobia, vertigo etc.
''In East-Viru County, people are above the average age for the country as a whole, they're old, they're poor, and I don't believe they would hit the barricades.''
I bring up the example of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, which later descended into violence in Derry/Londonderry and across the whole province. Is the Russian population in Narva, a border town with a majority of potentially disenfranchised people (97% of people there are Russian speaking and many of them stateless citizens) in a similar position to Catholics in Derry/Londonderry in the 1960s, who, although they could vote, were under-represented due to gerrymandering, saw discrimination in the jobs and housing market etc., and if so, why do Narva citizens likewise not build barricades and throw petrol bombs at the police too?
''Well we did have a similar situation in 2007,'' she says, referring to the 'bronze soldier' riots, ''but the way the Estonian government dealt with this was quite strange. Whereas in other places where riots – take Brussels for instance, where Congolese people rioted after elections in that country – the authorities simply come and clean up afterwards and that's that. Compare that with the 2007 riots in Tallinn where people were arrested and it got parlayed up to a 'threat to the Estonian state' and 'outside influence' and even 'Putin is coming', which was simply not the case – I saw it with my own eyes since I was a journalist at the time, and it was simply a protest. I believe that people are just afraid, that's all.''
''Also, in Ida-Viru County, people are above the average age for the country as a whole, they're old, they're poor, and I don't believe they would hit the barricades, and Russian people are very tolerant of oppressive power in any case''.
Furthermore, when I ask her if that conversely, there is such a thing as 'Estophobia', she replies: ''Absolutely there is – there are just these two groups of 'bad' Estonians and 'bad' Russians who are so used to fighting each other they wouldn't know what to do if, for instance, all of the Russian speakers were to leave the country. Who would there be left to fight next?''.
The new immigrants versus the old
I point out that one possible bogeyman candidate would be migrants from third countries, be they part of the national migrant quota (1,315 per year for 2018), the EU resettlement quota, IT specialists now exempt from the migrant quota, or illegals such as those who have been attempting to cross the border into Estonia from Russia using World Cup finals passes, as well as Ukrainian citizens, not just from the strife-torn Donbass region but all over Ukraine, (since the visa-free agreement between the EU and Ukraine came into being in 2017) reportedly working illegally on construction sites in Estonia.
''There are illegal immigrants working even in Brussels, for instance cleaning ladies from Ukraine are quite common … but people coming from other places as part of the migrant resettlement programs don't want to stay here in Estonia; they want to move on to places like Germany.''
The language requirement which Ms. Toom already feels is ridiculous when applied to Russian speakers who have lived here for years, is only the more so when applied to people from places like Syria (in fact the even higher level of B2 is required for most customer-facing jobs in Estonia, something which in practise can't always happen).
This can lead to cases such as that Ms. Toom observed at the Vao refugee cetnre two years ago where a trained Syrian architect was having to work in a laundry due to having insufficient Estonian language skills, she said.
''You [ie. the interviewer-ed.] have been living in Estonia for eight or more years and still don't have B1 level exactly, so how can we expect newcomers from other places to do same. This is absolutely a failed policy.''
Keeping 'statelessness' in the international spotlight
Of hopeful signs for the future, Yana Toom feels that the best thing she can do is keep the issue on the international agenda, principally through her post as an MEP.
''I was the first native Russian speaker to be elected to the European Parliament from Estonia, so that was important, but it also indicates that stateless people in Estonia are prepared to look to Brussels for the answers to their grievances, and not Moscow.''
I mention the ECHR which as we have seen worked in favour of a 'stateless person' in Latvia so is hardly an untested option. The ECHR is not an EU body, but a pan-European court which even individuals, like in the Andrejeva case, can apply to; I ask if that is a suitable alternative avenue to go down.
''We're working on it – we'll definitely do it eventually, it will take time, but we need some other Estonian parties on board to get a mandate, not just the Social Democratic Party (SDE) who aren't in the best health at the moment, but a third party too we hope.''
''My colleagues in the European Parliament knew nothing about that issue until we kept raising it, and now everyone in the parliament is aware of the statelessness issue, so it's crucial we keep it in the spotlight in the future too''.
''If we simply state that you have one year to apply for citizenship, without any language requirement, then those people have the chance to do it – people who want to do so can take the citizenship and that's that''.
Aren't 'stateless' persons simply potential voters?
Whilst Yana Toom certainly has no fear in acting, even effectively acting as guarantor for a family from Lugansk/Luhansk in eastern Ukraine which meant putting them up in her home for a while (where they are still registered) and guaranteeing support of €1,600 per person per month if needed, surely the main motivation is to win votes?
''Of course people are going to vote for us, and of course I'm thinking of my next mandate, like any politician does – but I'm speaking from personal experience, and I have made promises to my supporters that I will fight for them.''
Even by Yana Toom's own admission, granting citizenship to most or all of the stateless persons in Estonia would radically alter the makeup of the Riigikogu and a lot of the established parties don't want that; since it would probably work in the Centre Party's favour, is that not the driving force behind championing their cause?
''Of course people are going to vote for us, and of course I'm thinking of my next mandate, like any politician does – but I'm speaking from personal experience, and I have made promises to my supporters that I will fight for them; we have somebody with a 'grey passport' in each and every family,'' she adds, presumably referring to her constituency in Narva.
2019: A year of elections in both Estonia and Europe
Looking ahead to 2019 and the elections to the Riigikogu, Yana Toom does not want to stick her neck out and make a clear prediction, but she does feel that this time will not belong to Kaja Kallas, the Reform Party leader and someone who has been tipped by many to be the next Estonian Prime Minister.
''EKRE is the rising star party unfortunately, but you know – vox populi,'' she says, speaking about the only party which she would rule out as going into coalition with.
''I don't think there are too many political parties in Estonia at present, since the Greens probably won't get a seat yet again, despite having one of the most important global issues at their core. The [newly formed think tank-come-potential party-ed.] Estonia 200 movement has ideas, but I want to know how they are going to accomplish things, not just a list of ideals – this isn't a bad thing but it isn't a party.''
And whither Yana Toom herself? Will she stay in Europe (where there are also parliamentary elections in 2019) or come back to Estonia as the Reform Party's Kaja Kallas has done.
''Russia is not my country. I knew that after two years of living there. Not my country...''
''I would stay here only if I had a governmental role, I wouldn't return just to be in the Riigikogu ... It takes time to figure out how things work in Europe and I've finally got to do that, how to get reports to parliament, to lobby etc. Kaja Kallas has to come back since she was elected leader of the her party. I don't have that responsibility [Ms. Toom has already indicated that she will not run against Jüri Ratas in the Centre Party leadership election in October-ed.].
At the end of the day life is too short to do the same thing year in/year out so I need something challenging''
Certainly it seems that Yana Toom is secure in her identity as an Estonian whose native language is Russian, as she goes off to give the TV interview in Estonian – just yesterday she had been speaking to ERR Russian too – and working in Brussels, where English is, not to make a pun, still the lingua franca Brexit notwthstanding, her English has gone from strength to strength as well.
When asked point blank about where she calls home, the answer comes straight back: ''Russia is not my country. I knew that after two years of living there. Not my country...''
Please note that a previous version of this article had erroneously stated that the migrant quota of over 1,000 people per year was imposed by the EU. In fact the migrant quota is set by the Estonian Government (1,315 people for 2018) and is separate from the EU resettlement program (which saw 206 people relocated and resettled in Estonia in 2015-16 according to the Ministry of the Interior). Please also note that it had been stated that Estonia and Latvia were not signatories to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions on Statelessness at the time of writing. In fact, Latvia is a signatory to both conventions. We apologise for any confusion caused.
We contacted Urmas Paet MEP for his views on the statelessness issue. His emailed response is quoted in the article. We also contacted the Ministry of the Interior who issued a lengthy response which will form the basis of a forthcoming piece.
Footnotes and references:
1. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC); 'Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of Latvia', 14 March 2016, CRC/C/LVA/CO/3-5, para. 35.
2. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Resolution: Resolution 1989 (2014), 9 April 2014, para. 4.
4. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC); 'Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of Latvia', 14 March 2016, CRC/C/LVA/CO/3-5, para. 35.
5. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Resolution: Resolution 1989(2014), 9 April 2014. para. 4.
6. The CEF of languages grades proficiency in languages starting from A1/2 through to C1/2. B1 level is described as ''Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans."
7. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Resolution: Resolution 1989(2014), 9 April 2014, para. 5.2.2
8. 'Practices and approaches to prevent and end statelessness', written by Prof. Gerard-René De Groot (Maastricht University), Katja Swider, LLM (University of Amsterdam), Dr Olivier Vonk (Maastricht University and University of Liège), on the request of the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament, page 10.
Editor: Andrew Whyte