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Politicians expect ethnic divide to become issue in election campaign

EKRE chairman Mart Helme thinks ethnicity is an inevitable issue in any campaign, and that the reason is Putin's Russia
EKRE chairman Mart Helme thinks ethnicity is an inevitable issue in any campaign, and that the reason is Putin's Russia Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Estonia's regained independence, not a single election campaign has gone by without at least some political groups playing upon the divide between the country's ethnic Estonians and Russians. Politicians are already convinced that the ongoing campaign for next year's Riigikogu election is headed in the same direction.

Centre Party member and municipality mayor of North Tallinn, Raimond Kaljulaid, is convinced that the issue can't be avoided and will come up before the election on 3 March next year, just like it always has, ERR's Aktuaalne kaamera newscast reported on Sunday.

"Plenty of our party's supporters are Russian speakers," Kaljulaid said. "If for example the other side demands that all these people undergo some sort of special loyalty check on the part of the Republic of Estonia, this affects plenty of Centre Party politicians as well, who will of course have to say that you can't treat people differently because of their ethnicity."

The recent arrest of Maj. Deniss Metsavas of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) along with his father on suspicions of treason has prompted both the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) as well as its youth branch, Sinine Äratus ("Blue Awakening") to call for increased loyalty checks, and even to exclude people of Russian ethnicity from positions where they would have access to state secrets.

Kaljulaid is convinced that this latest incident will affect the debate, and also the political campaigns leading up to next year's general election.

EKRE chairman: Debate about ethnicity already in full swing

EKRE chairman Mart Helme thinks the old debate is already in full swing, and that the scandal around Metsavas and his father has poured more oil into the fire.

"I've raised the issue as well that in the case of citizens of foreign origin, there should be special profiling, and that the checks of their security-related background should be more thorough and done over a longer period of time than this has been done so far," Helme said.

"It all tells us that we can't get past the ethnic question. The main reason why this keeps coming up is our neighbourhood—Putin's Russia," he added. Because of it, parties' playing the "Russia card" in the election campaign is inevitable.

Reform chairwoman: All residents of Estonia want security and a good education for their children

For the Reform Party, the coming general election is the first without the chance to win votes by demonising former Centre Party chairman Edgar Savisaar. While the party could rely on the almost natural support against Centre's grand old man, the coming election is different.

Reform has promised not to make ethnicity a particular campaign issue after the party found itself accused of doing just that when before last year's local elections, it demanded that Estonian-language instruction should be made obligatory starting from the earliest age.

According to party chairwoman Kaja Kallas, all of Estonia's residents want the country to be a safe place for their children, and that the latter get a good education.

"So that we have good jobs and and a good income. That's why we support an equal and Estonian-language education system starting from an early age," Kallas said. "But I don't see that there would be any other special interests."

Concerning the people arrested and convicted for treason, Kallas pointed out that there have been ethnic Estonians as well as Russians. "But they're all men," she added.

Social Democrats: Estonian-language instruction likely campaign issue

Former minister of foreign affairs, Marina Kaljurand, who joined the Social Democratic Party (SDE) earlier this year, thinks that the matter of Estonian-language instruction will certainly become a campaign topic.

How Russian natives can learn Estonian by the time they finish school, that will certainly be an issue, Kaljurand thinks, but: "To call it opposition, or that this shouldn't be discussed, that would be wrong. If an issue matters to the people, then it needs to be discussed, then we need to talk about it without fear, without labelling anyone, calmly and constructively," she said.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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