Re: Some questions on Estonian laws and practices

From: MINELRES moderator <>
Date: Sat, 10 Oct 1998 21:06:04 +0300 (EET DST)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Some questions on Estonian laws and practices

From: MINELRES moderator <>

Original sender: Vello Pettai <>

Re: Some questions on Estonian laws and practices

Some responses to Fernand's questions:
> 1. Does anyone know what happened to the 1997 changes tp the 
> Estonian Law on Language requiring knowledge of the state language 
> after the decision of the National Court?
> More precisely, I would like to know whether the sections requiring
> knowledge of Estonian in the case of:
> c) Workers and employees of commercial and nonprofit associations; 
> and
> d) Employees of NGOs
> have subsequently been implemented, and if yes, what are the 
> practical effects?
> This is not quite clear to me at this point.
The Constitutional Review Chamber of Estonia's National Court struck
down the amendments to the language law on February 5 of this year. 
Since then, there have been no attempts to revive the changes or adopt
them in any other form.  [My estimation is that the deputies have been
too busy debating changes to the citizenship law and stateless
children.]  For a report on the language law controversy, see my
contribution to the Constitution Watch section of the East European
Constitutional Review, available on the internet,
> 2. There were fears that after the Law on Public Service entered 
> into force after 1995 that perhaps as many as 3000 non-citizen civil
> servants in Narva alone might be affected and lose their jobs.
> At the time, the government of Estonia insisted if I recall that in
> fact few Russian civil servants would in fact lose their jobs in
> Estonia, even though they were not citizens.
In a number of key sectors, the deadlines set by the Law on Public
Service were extended, since it was clear that many non-citizens would
indeed be dismissed if they did not go through naturalization.  This
concerned in particular areas such as the police in Ida-Virumaa and
some local government officials.  There have generally been few press
reports about the actual outcome of this situation, however.  While
some people did go through naturalization and were retained, others
made no effort to comply with the new rules (even after the deadlines
were extended, for example, through 1998).  As a result, I suspect
these people may have left on their own accord or were ultimately
dismissed.  However, I do not believe it has been on a scale anywhere
near the 3000 people you mention.
> 3. The 1989 Language Law of Estonia and Guidelines identified a 
> Level C fluency in Estonian as a requirement for most retail and 
> service jobs. I would be interested to find out if this is still the 
> case, and whether these have actually been implemented.
These requirements were changed with the introduction of the new
Language Law in April 1995 and a government enabling decree adopted in
January 1996.  The categories were reduced from six (A through F) to
three (A-C). Language certification tests continue to be administered
by the Estonian National Language Board. From 1991 through mid-1996,
the Language Board issued over 84,000 language certificates, including
over 11,000 in the old "E" and "F" level categories. Language
proficiency requirements have also been incorporated into Estonia's
labor legislation, making it an offense to hire people for a whole
range of jobs without proper language credentials.  Fines can range
from approximately $20 for companies to $100 for state institutions.
In the spring of this year, the Language Board generated a fair amount
of controversy in the Russian-language press when it conducted a
number of raids on Russian-language schools in Tallinn, where they
discovered teachers and school directors who either had fake language
certificates or whose language level did not correspond to their
certificates.  A number of teachers claimed they have been deceived by
a language training company, who issued them fake certificates.
If anyone is interested in further information about Estonian language
legislation, see Vello Pettai, "Estonia's Controversial Language
Policies", Transition, 29 November 1996. See also a special issue of
Terminogramme (Quebec), "Les politiques linguistiques des Pays baltes"
(juillet 1998) (Redactrice en chef, Lise Harou,
Vello Pettai, M.Phil.
Department of Political Science
University of Tartu

MINELRES - a forum for discussion on minorities in Central&Eastern

List archive: