Sunday, February 24, 2008

Politics of language in Estonia

The BBC regularly publishes small essays under the title From Our Own Correspondent. They tend to be amusing little stories about life in whatever country they cover, like this one about correspondent Tim Whewell's meeting with Estonia's president. Whewell puts a cute spin on it, but at the same time (without realizing it) also shows one of the double standards of the European Union.

President Toomas Ilves it seems refuses to speak Russian, even though one-quarter of Estonia's population is Russian. Ilves believes that his speaking Russian would "mean accepting 50 years of Soviet brutalization"; since most of Estonia's Russian population arrived after the Soviet Union annexed Estonia and its two Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania. All three countries have recently taken steps to reduce the use of Russian in their countries, including banning its use in schools.

And that's where the double standard comes in. The European Union takes great pride in its linguistic diversity (the EU has 27 official languages) and protection of minority groups. The entry of Bulgaria and Romania were nearly halted because the EU felt they were not doing enough to protect the rights of the Roma (the official term for the Gypsies) populations within their countries.

But this concern for minority rights and linguistic diversity stops when it comes to the Russian populations in the Baltic nations. The case that President Ilves makes - that the Russian population was forced upon his country by the Soviets - may be true, but it’s irrelevant. The EU does not take into account how or when minority populations arrived, but it does insist that nations respect their rights - including their right to maintain their own culture and language.

Well, for everyone except the Russians.

The reasons are, of course, likely political - EU/Russian relations have been tense lately, but that makes the European Union look even more petty. If you're going to protect the rights or minority groups, then protect every group; don't ignore those from country's whose governments you have disagreements with.
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