A joint state upper secondary school for Estonian and Russian children will not lead to the end of Estonianness, at least not if changes in education have been discussed with the community and the preservation and development of the Estonian language ensured. Currently, however, both the city government and the state have some unfinished work left, found Minister of the Interior Katri Raik (SDE).
One in ten Russian children in Estonia attends Estonian-language school. This is especially noticeable in Ida-Viru County, because the number of Estonians in Ida-Viru cities and towns has fallen significantly. Over the past ten years, a total of 1,641 Estonians have left Ida-Viru County's major, majority-Russian speaking cities of Narva, Kohtla-Järve and Sillamäe.
Estonians are a small minority in Ida-Viru County. One in five locals speaks Estonian natively. The overall picture in Estonia is essentially the opposite: three in ten Estonian residents speaks Russian at home.
For years we have worried about our Russians, but now it is time to cheer on the Estonians in the east. It is clear by now that Estonianness and Estonian-language schools will be a decisive issue for local Estonians in the upcoming Riigikogu elections.
The current focus is on Järve Upper Secondary School in Kohtla-Järve, an Estonian-language so-called "pipeline school" serving children from grades 1-12. Next year, upper secondary school students will have to begin attending the state high school, which will also be attended by Russian children. An Estonian-language basic school will understandably remain. The same fate awaits Narva Estonian Upper Secondary School in a couple of years.
Is this a great tragedy, is this the end of Estonianness? No, no it's not. At least not if changes in education have been discussed with the community and the preservation and development of the Estonian language ensured. Right now it appears as though both the city council in Kohtla-Järve and the state, the new owner of the school, have left some of their work undone.
A state upper secondary school in Ida-Viru County demands an especially strong director with a vision, as well as a strong faculty. A high school is measured by the quality of its education.
Unfortunately, the upper secondary schools being established don't to my knowledge have clear concepts, and so local Estonians' concerns are entirely justified. The unknown breeds uncertainty and fear.
Lines already beginning to blur
Regarding local Estonianness, then certainly nobody, not even the local Russian-speaking population, has anything against more Estonians moving to the area, hearing more of the Estonian language, and attending Estonian theatres and concerts. How to achieve this will demand joint discussions followed by consistent action. The promotion of local Estonianness will be supported by all even remotely reasonable politicians. But the ideas will have to be local.
Community boundaries in Ida-Viru County are nonetheless already beginning to blur. The Estonian language skills of native Russian-speaking youth continues to improve, and speaking to young people at the area's first state upper secondary school in Jõhvi has confirmed that the Estonian-Russian problem is moreso a problem for parents than for the children. I could not possibly suspect any of the children with whom I have spoken of a lack of pro-Estonian views.
Editor: Aili Vahtla