Tallinn mayor: Centre/EKRE deal only Russian language education safeguard

Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre).
Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre) said recently that his party's entering into office in a coalition with the nationalist Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), as well as the centre-right Isamaa, had been a tough choice but in his view the only way to safeguard Russian-language education in Estonia.

In an interview on the Baltnews portal, identified by the Internal Security Service (ISS) as a Kremlin-influenced media channel, Kõlvart said that: "The most important factor was the clear understanding that this was the only way to preserve Russian-language education in Estonia. I must emphasize - the only way. Entering into a coalition with the Reform Party, or worse than that, being in opposition, would have amounted to nothing in preserving Russian in schools," ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Centre has been in office since November 2016 under Jüri Ratas, but following the March 3 general election, where it lost seats, the party entered into coalition talks with EKRE and Isamaa. The latter had also been in the last coalition, but with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDE), which found itself in opposition once the three parties reached an agreement, giving them a majority at the Riigikogu.

Kõlvart opined that one of the first things Reform would have done had it entered into office would have been to introduce legislation to make secondary education Estonian-only.

"I have always stepped up to the plate in support of the maintenance of Russian-language education," Kõlvart said, adding that it must be understood that a government coalition could never be a match made in heaven.

Kõlvart was born in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era but later relocated to Estonia.

"When it comes to EKRE rhetoric today, even as it has toned itself down somewhat, I still have the impression that they do not grasp the fact that a government has to work for all the people in the country, regardless of their nationality or political preferences, and not in order to increase revenue for the owners of 'yellow' journalists who are happy to use populist remarks as quotes," Kõlvart said.

Last November, an EKRE Riigikogu candidate, Mart Saarso, referred to Kõlvart as an "asian" who was unsuited to his previous role as city council chair. The incident was sparked by Kõlvart's rejection of proposal from the council's Reform Party grouping to install permanently a larger Estonian flag in the city hall chamber than had been previously used.

"That is spitting in the face of the Estonian people," Saarso added.

"The capital city is in the hands of migrants. That is certainly not how these things go," he added.

Kõlvart's explanation was the proposed flag was too large to be accommodated in the chamber.

After previous mayor Taavi Aas moved to the Riigikogu, Kõlvart was elected replacement by the city council chamber. According to ERR's online news in Estonian, this has been viewed in some quarters as a move intended to reassure Russian voters, a traditional support base for Centre, both in the aftermath of the Centre-EKRE deal, and ahead of the next local elections in 2021. A low turnout among this demographic, particularly in Ida-Viru County, has been blamed for Centre's relatively mediocre showing at the March general election.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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