Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 91

Writing in the May 7 issue of the Tallinn daily “Postimees,” President Lennart Meri proposes turning the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s mission in Estonia into an independent research institute or a chair attached to a Tartu University department which would focus on training young specialists in the prevention of interethnic tension. Acknowledging the “pivotal, sometimes controversial role” of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel in helping align Estonia’s legislation on national minorities to European standards, Meri suggests that that goal can by now be considered achieved.

The president’s article was timed to van der Stoel’s May 7 visit to Tallinn, where the high commissioner pressed his latest controversial set of recommendations regarding Estonian laws on language and on elections. After meeting Meri that day, Van der Stoel implied in a statement that he reserved judgment on the president’s suggestion to wind down the OSCE’s mission.

Van der Stoel had sent that set of recommendations to Tallinn in March, but it was not taken up by the Estonian government. Van der Stoel objected to recent legislation which would require parliamentary deputies, members of elective municipal and district councils, and service-sector personnel to have a functional knowledge of the Estonian language. The high commissioner urged Estonia–as do the local Russian parties–to go back on those requirements.

After van der Stoel’s letter had become known on April 27, Prime Minister Mart Laar remarked that “it is nice that Estonia has such an active adviser who keeps sending letters of various contents which we read with great interest.” The High Commissioner’s recommendations represent “an opinion rather than a demand,” Laar noted, and the Estonian government has not discussed them “because the government has other priorities.” He commented that Estonia’s approach to the task of integrating the nonindigenous population differs from van der Stoel’s approach (Postimees, May 7; BNS, April 27, May 6-7). More than a year ago, in a speech of profuse appreciation to van der Stoel, Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves had suggested that the OSCE’s mission and the high commissioner ought to consider their roles in Estonia as having been successfully completed. At present, van der Stoel is urging Latvia to adopt a set of recommendations similar to those not taken up by Estonia.