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Reede, 03 Jaanuar 2014 11:58
Laas Leivat - Estonian Life No. 01 2014
The question of the vital importance of Estonian as the native and state language of the country is still being debated. Resistance to Estonian being the primary language of instruction throughout the state funded school system is undoubtedly being supported by Moscow.
Little by those obedient to Russia is mentioned of the fact that Russian language schools can choose most of their own subjects that are to be taught in Estonian and that delays in enforcing the legislation has been postponed numerous times to let the Russian schools be well prepared.
It's worthwhile to look at the history of the legislated status of the Russian language in Soviet-occupied Estonia. In December of 1978 the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party in a secret session passed the following decree "The Future Enhancement of the Teaching and Use of the Russian Language". This was a demand of the Kremlin. The secret decree resulted from an October regulation of the Soviet Council of Ministers. This was to be the introduction as part of a general Russification trend and the demotion of the official status of the Estonian language.
The decision was seen as representing a deliberate socio-political manipulation of Estonian society with direct bearing on all levels of education as well as on teachers, curriculum and students. A special periodical was established, "The Russian Language in Estonian Schools", was intended to improve the efficiency of Russian language learning and boost its importance in relation to Estonian culture. Russian was not treated as a foreign language in the educational system, even though it was not the indigenous language.
In 1979 the building of the sprawling residential district of Lasnamäe, with its huge apartment complexes, began in Tallinn and this became the major symbol of the Russiafication process. Masses of immigrants were situated there causing justified feelings of bitterness amongst Estonians.
The Pedagogical Research Institute was established in 1978 where studies were done using six year old Estonian children as experimental subjects on Russian language education. In 1979 ten Estonian kindergartens were chosen to implement Russian as the language of instruction in preparation for continuing Russian language education.
The all-union Tashkent conference in 1979 was dedicated to the theme 'The Russian Language is the Soviet Language of Friendship and Co-operation' with the emphasis on decreasing the usage of the native language within the respective Soviet republics. Schools were strongly advised that all term papers, presentations, theses, dissertations be in Russian. In most instances post-graduate work had to be submitted in Russian. The party urged that "Russian weeks" and "Russian days" be organized and that public contests such as spelling bees and quizzes be in Russian.
Elsa Gretskina, with a long Communist Party career behind her was appointed as Minister of education in Estonia in 1980, a position she held until August of 1988. She started her new career as a fervent proponent of the policies of Russification, adopting a more moderate stance in her later years. The notorious educational reforms, initiated in 1984, were attributed to her and brought her a bad reputation amongst Estonians. She was the recipient of anonymous threatening letters and phone calls. In her own defence she insisted that she was not a supporter of the Russification program and that her conscience was clear in that regard..
The general Estonian antipathy towards a deliberate, systematic, Moscow-manipulated process of Russification prompted 40 prominent intellectuals – professors, writers, artists, scientists, etc. some of whom were party members - to compose a 'letter of concern' in 1980 which was sent to Pravda, Sovietskaja Estonija and Rahva Hääl, and caused a public sensation. The 40 individuals were widely seen as reminding the powers that be, that there was a danger of losing the Estonian language, the main symbol of Estonian culture.
Many of the authors of the letter were brought in for KGB ''interviews'' to determine if the letter was a precursor to a wider protest or organized conspiracy. The mild protests launched by students were forcefully supressed with many of the youth ejected from university. Subsequently, the main newspapers, interestingly enough, lessened the intensity of promotion of the Russification process. But this was a hypocritical development in that the concept of internationalism' became of primary importance which was directly connected to the teaching of Russian and which became a euphemism in the politics of language. The unrest amongst the youth led to a more intensive control over the educational process and its ideological direction. In 1980 'ideological inspection' of the students was actually carried out within the Estonian schools.
In 1983, the Estonian Ministry of Education adopted a 30-point-plan which emphasized the importance of teaching the Russian language as well as the crucial importance of starting that teaching at the kindergarten level. The plan also required that the Russian language be propagated as an "international" way of communicating. This may have been the result of ex-KGB chief Yuri Andropov becoming first secretary of the party in 1982 and his intention to raise the ideological component of education in general.
In the educational policy reforms of 1984, the ideological aspect of education was emphasized and the role of language instruction given a lower priority. It was still expected that high school graduates be fluent in Russian with final exams being the determinant of this. Many specialities in post-secondary education also required Russian language fluency with entrance exams determining individual qualifications. Kindergartens were also expected to increase activities using Russian language.
For Estonians, the freedom and independence regained in1991 provided them with opportunities to reclaim their own legitimate powers, to re-establish their internationally recognized national identity, to escape a stifling Soviet past. Perhaps, more importantly, it freed them to reverse the foreign controlled policy of cultural submission, a program which would inevitably have choked the life out of Estonian language and culture. Estonians are not about to let that happen again.