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Estonia: Integration Of Russian Speakers Proceeds Successfully

Vienna, 14 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Estonian foreign minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves says he believes the integration of the Russian-speaking population is proceeding successfully.

Ilves told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna last week that he believed the OSCE mission in Estonia would soon be able to withdraw after a successful completion of its work.The mission was sent to Estonia in February 1993 with a mandate to promote integration and better understanding between the communities in Estonia -- in practice this meant between the Estonians and the Russian-speaking communities.

Ilves told the OSCE: "All the practical groundwork for the successful integration of a large population of foreign origin -- such as the provision of residency permits and travel documents etc. -- is in its final stages.

"The integration process has been a challenging undertaking. It is not the only undertaking which Estonia has been dealing with in the past five years -- the primary focus has been on integration with Europe. Integrating the non-Estonian population into society has been one part of the huge changes affecting all Estonians. As a result, the non-Estonian population is now integrating with Europe through Estonia."

The Estonian foreign minister had performed a "highly-praiseworthy role" by offering advice, monitoring the integration process and publicizing Estonia's adherence to that advice to the member-States of the OSCE. An impartial analysis shows that in future it will be possible to conclude that the mission's mandated assignments have been successfully accomplished."

Ilves suggested that withdrawal of the OSCE mission would serve a political purpose. He noted that there are now OSCE missions in several other countries and said: "We do not yet have a way of demonstrating that an OSCE mission has been successful as a diplomatic instrument. Only the successful closing of a mission will be clear proof that the mission has been well-employed of its objectives. I am personally striving to ensure that Estonia, as one of the original hosts of a OSCE mission, will be among the first countries where the effectiveness and appropriateness of the OSCE mission will be demonstrated."

RFE/RL correspondent says that in fact Estonia has been suggesting for some time that the OSCE should review whether its Mission in Estonia is necessary. It told an OSCE conference in Budapest in October 1994 that OSCE's resources were limited and it might be more appropriate to use them in other regions.

In his speech last week he said Estonia had also suffered negative consequences from the presence of an OSCE mission on its territory. He said the public sometimes failed to distinguish between a mission to a country like Estonia and a territory in crisis, such as Bosnia.

"It is impossible to measure how much foreign investment Estonia has foregone due to news magazines which print maps which place little symbols indicating a crisis on both the Balkans and the Baltics simply because of the presence of OSCE missions," he said.

The Estonian foreign minister also commended the work of the OSCE's High commissioner for national minorities, Max van der Stoel. He has visited Estonia several times to discuss complaints by the Russian-speaking minority and suggested revisions in Estonian regulations.

"We would like to commend and recommend to others the work of the High Commissioner," he said. "Over the course of several years, Mr. Max van der Stoel's judicious suggestions have been of great use to us in making Estonia a successful European country in handling minority affairs.

"By following those suggestions we have strengthened the institution of the High Commissioner on National Minorities by helping to create a new diplomatic instrument and promote its credibility and authority. The cooperation between the High Commissioner and Estonia has strengthened the OSCE as a whole and this is something of which we should be proud."

Ilves denied reports which circulated from time to time saying that Estonia refused to follow the suggestions of the High Commissioner. He said a document would be circulated showing Estonia's implementation of van der Stoel's recommendations. He said that one of van der Stoel's suggestions, the creation of the post of ombudsman, was "well on its way."