Estonian ombudsman condemns Russian language use in Tallinn city Parliament

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Feb 26 15:49:12 UTC 2005

Estonian ombudsman condemns Russian language use in Tallinn city
Alexander Shegedin, Tallinn 2/23/2005

Allar Joks, the Estonian Chancellor of Justice and who acts as ombudsman
on Tallins city parliament, published an opinion on February 18th on
member Dimitri Klenski, for addressing the parliament in Russian.
Publishing an opinion may lead to conviction. Mr. Joks considers that the
MP has violated the Estonian Constitution because, according to Estonian
legislation, the language of all official work in state institutions is
Estonian only.

In the Chancellors opinion the Constitution also states that in regions
where non-Estonians are the majority, local authorities have a right to
use, in the office, the language of this majority. However, this usage is
limited, depending on certain legal procedures, and is intended only to
supplement Estonian language usage.

The Chancellor's decision was sparked by the inquiry of Maret Maripuu,
speaker of Tallinn's parliament, who has been waging a language war with
MP Klenski for a long time. She also wants the Chancellors appraisal of
Language Inspectorate activities. Last year Ms. Maripuu appealed twice to
the Language Inspectorate (LI) demanding sanctions against Klenski, but LI
found no grounds. Maripuu has stated that the LI has given contradictory
explanations over its own inactivity.

In October LI informed Maripuu that LI had a right to check-up on language
usage in local government work only, and that the city parliament does not
come under the definition of local government. According LIs official
position, it has no right to control language usage by city MPs because it
is the competence of the city parliaments governing body. Moreover, LI
claims that a verbal address at a meeting, or a verbal remark, can not be
considered as office work.

Speaker Maripuu does not agree with LIs position and has demanded the
application of punitive sanctions against Klenski. A fine for the
violation of office work language rules may be up to 12, 000 EEK (766
euro). Maripuu has pointed out that Klenski has repeatedly taken the floor
and spoken Russian, and that once she had to interrupt a parliamentary
session because of it.

Why I can not speak Russian? I speak, first of all, for my voters, said
Klenski to Eurolang.We are in Europe now, and must respect rights of
ethnic minorities.

Tallinn MP Klenski was elected mostly by votes from Russian-speakers. He
is bilingual, speaking Estonian and Russian equally. (Eurolang  2005)

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