Sa, 4.02.2023
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Ossinovski dreams to lead soc dems from Riigikogu

Tuuli Koch
, reporter
Ossinovski dreams to lead soc dems from Riigikogu
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Photo: Stanislav Mõškov/Õhtuleht

Aspiring Soc Dems chief Jevgeni Ossinovski would not seek governmental job, willing to lead the party as member of parliament. But he does desire to redo the coalition treaty.

You are of the opinion that the current coalition treaty should be reviewed. Meanwhile, there has been no public coverage of your desires at the talks regarding education, language and citizenship policy. For instance, you wanted the medicine package leaflets to be translated into Russian, legal assistance in mother tongue i.e. also in Russian, laws translated into Russia.

At the talks, soc dems stood on their programme including in integration policy. I was not main member of the delegation, but helped along as I could. In principle, our stand is very simple: Estonia has the Estonian language as official language and we need to strive towards all people living here to also speak it. Meanwhile, we need to ensure that even those who do not yet master Estonian might manage, that their right be protected.  

Availability of legal assistance in Russian is what Andres Anvelt pushed as justice minister. Starting this year, the Russian part of has been launched where people can ask for legal advice. Translation of vital laws into Russian has also been advised by Bar Association. At the moment Riigi Teataja (State Gazette) features laws in Estonian as well as translations into English. Once we already have them in English, I think the main laws might also be available in Russian. 

The same with medicine package leaflets. The pharmaceutical companies do have the Russian texts, why not make these available for people so the old lady can know what she takes in.

You also wanted population minister’s post restored, with permanent staff in Ida-Virumaa.

We might have a minister to deal with equal treatment and various minorities. Not just regarding nationality, but issues like gender equality, and now the refugees. The importance of the topic in society is on an upswing.

When up until in 2009 Urve Palo was population minister, very many had the feeling this is «our minister». And that was very good. But we gave that up at the talks.

Regarding citizenship, at talks you stressed «effective reduction of missing citizenship» i.e. citizenship for all?

The opposite is true. At the talks, Reform was fiery fighting for amending Citizenship Act, IRL stood against it till the end. Mainly, it revolved around allowing double citizenship.

This is a large topic, and a matter of principle, which has not been debated with finality in the society nor in our party, and I clearly said – let us not finger the law. The amendments which we did accomplish in the previous government which regarded simplifications of obtaining citizenship for the elderly and the children of non-citizens, this is done. To move onwards, broad-based debate is needed, and the support which is currently lacking.

But I did expressly say, and to this problem all agreed, that we are having an increasing amount of young people growing up who are citizens of Russian Federation. They are born in mixed families where one has the grey passport and the other is Russian citizen, and immediately they become citizens of Russian Federation. We lack the mechanism to bring them into Estonian citizenship, they lack the motivation to become Estonian citizens. We have achieved a situation where basically in ten years our amount of Russian citizens has exceeded non-citizens and this is a rising trend. This is in no way in Estonia’s interests to have 100,000 Russian citizens. While these used to be people aged 60 and above, the young are being added fast and that is not good.

While talking about education, at talks, you pointed out the need to allocate special funding for native Estonian teachers w9orking full or part time in Russian language based schools, and also advanced Russian language studies in Estonian language schools. What would the latter mean?

The problem is that when in 2005 there were 3,000 kids with Russian as mother tongue studying in Estonian language based schools, in 2015 this has dropped to 2,400. Thus the percentage of parents who put their children in Estonian schools is down. A reason may be that parents worry about their children not acquiring Russian – their mother tongue – in Estonian schools.

We do desire that an increasing amount of Russian children might study together with Estonian kids from the start, get a decent command of Estonian language, but the tendency is worryingly opposite. There are no good solutions, but if in the major cities like in Tallinn we could create a situation where kids with Russian as mother tongue could meet a couple of times in Tallinn city centre facilities to study Russian as mother tongue, the parents would increasingly be motivated to put their kids in Estonian schools. There should be something about that in the coalition agreement.

At the talks, you again asked that border properties should be allowed to be sold to all i.e. to non-citizens as well.

The current law is outdated and during two months interior minister Hanno Pevkur promised to offer his suggestions. Security-related limits on real estate are absolutely vital incl. at the borders, but the restrictions need to be prudent and really functioning.

The current limitations only apply to physical persons. Meaning: if a comrade behind the border wishes to buy a lot in a sensitive area, he can’t do it as a private person, but if he registers a Plc NearBorder Properties, he may buy as much as he pleases. So the law does not work.

The agreement is that limits on purchase be object-based. Narva-Jõesuu has been bought up anyhow, largely via cover enterprises. This is not right. Meanwhile, purchases of land are limited in the Toila cottage region, which is not logical.

If rising to be Soc Dems leader, why will you demand the impossible – redoing the coalition treaty?

Why impossible? I believe the current situation is not satisfactory, long term. Everybody admits that. While we are continuing to have discussions in the parties and obvious disagreements regarding the treaty, and every week there is infighting, while ministers are doing their work and do not actually feel the support of the faction, and the faction does not feel support by the fellows at party, we can’t sail long like this. 

A battle is not normal working atmosphere. Yes, the agreements have been made, but for peace to be restored we do need to again face the facts. Not to discuss every detail, but if boards of all three parties get a new mandate, two parties are electing chairmen, we might take a new look at the treaty and reach a new consensus.

It is popular to say let’s leave the government, but I will not do that. That would be rather stupid. To execute one’s policy, one will have to be in the government.

The partners will not swallow that. Or is it good and easy for you to face the chairman elections by confrontation?

There should be more ambition. It’s not only us that have the differences, it is in all the parties. Opening the treaty might seem an unusual process, but it is nothing strange. It cannot be that over a month we agreed everything and we will not touch that for four years neither alter it. Depending on the changes in society and in the parties, openness must be maintained and act accordingly.

In the previous government, the mood for cooperation was significantly better, and the support in the parties was rather unanimous. Now, also, this should be sought after.

Chairman of a party should belong to the government. What minister would you wish to be?

If I am elected, Sven (Mikser – edit) should continue as minister. I hope he will.

As things stand today, we will firstly need to develop inwardly as a party. On the regional level, we have reached rather far, we have members and chairmen of councils, mayors, which we never had before, but party management has not kept pace. After the lacklustre elections, motivation in people is very low. Already, the people are saying they do not know whether to enter local elections in soc dem list or in an election coalition. We need to pull the organisation together and make it work.

In this function, a chairman who is in Riigikogu is much more effective because he has more time to deal with the party. As minister, time sets its limit. A party chairman might be in Riigikogu and also keep the faction together. I definitely agree with what Sven said that a party cannot be led from the luggage compartment. Meanwhile, I’d never want to call Riigikogu the luggage compartment of Estonian governance.