AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF ESTONIA
As the girlfriend of a Russian speaking Estonian, I am deeply upset that you have taken my boyfriend for 11 months to waste his time in the Estonian army.
In case you have not noticed yet, the cold war is over. Therefore your system of mandatory military conscription in Estonia cannot be justified. Neither in terms of security policy nor democratically.
What is the purpose of forcing young men in Estonia to do 11 months of national service? Many young Estonians have left the country to go abroad to study and work. Often, they do not want to come back as they see no perspective in Estonia.
However, instead of trying to make Estonia more attractive to them, you actually force young men to return to complete their military service for 11 months. They are financially exploited and have to endure harassment from military officers. Refusal of serving is punished by imprisonment. What kind of democracy is that?! This system is not only ridiculous, it is simply outdated!
After 11 months of national service you are not a modern soldier. Warfare today and war equipment require highly specialized expertise. Therefore it would be more intelligent to have a professional army that consists of experts who voluntarily joined to defend the country in case of war.
You spend 2,21% of your GDP on military defence because you believe that Russia presents a military threat to your country. I believe that your fear of being invaded is stronger than the actual threat of Russia crossing the border. You have become a prisoner of your own fears.
On the one hand, € 40 million of the budget has been set aside for the purchase of ammunition in 2017. Until 2021 Estonia wants to invest an additional €166.5 million in ammunition in order to increase the combat capability of the defence force. On the other hand, you are paying your conscripts only € 100 per month. For most of them this is the money they will need to pay for their transport to go home on weekends. Often money is needed to support their own families at home which they cannot do with such a lousy wage and no other opportunities. Have you ever even considered this? Probably not.
Why would Russia have an interest in attacking a country that is part of the EU and NATO? And if this unlikely case would occur, Estonia would not stand a chance anyways with its 1.3 million citizens. You know that. Therefore you keep spreading fear among your citizens to make them believe that they are under threat. To defend the country, all Estonian men aged 18-27 are conscripted.
So what do Estonians learn in the compulsory military service? First of all, that it is highly confusing. The duration of the compulsory military service is 8 or 11 months, depending on the education. Graduates from university are conscripted for 11 months instead of 8 months. All conscripts are stripped of their identity and have to shave their head. This reminds me of what Nazis did to Jews to humiliate them. After a basic training of three month, the grand finale is a three week battle drill called “Kevadtorm” where soldiers have to show the skills they acquired. They are pushed to the end of their physical and mental capabilities. But for what? To be prepared for a war that seems to become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Dear Mr. Ratas, you came to Germany to hold a speech in the Bundestag on Memorial Day on 19th November 2017 to remember the victims of the two world wars and the Nazi era. It is a day of mourning, reminding and peace. There you talked about the cold war and the importance of peace and human rights. In face of the military preparations you are undertaking in your country, your speech seemed meaningless to me and lost all credibility.
You also talked about that there are no two worlds in which different rules apply to different groups of people. While I was listening to your speech I could not help thinking that ironically this seems to be the case in your country.
Ethnic Russians represent 25 % the population in Estonia. Yet, after Estonian independence in 1991, they were not given citizenship, even if they were born there. With the reawakening of Estonian national consciousness and the societal urge to come to terms with the oppression of the past, the situation of Russian speaking Estonians changed dramatically. Estonians did not know how to integrate the Russian minority because they did not want any Russian influence in their country.
It is clear today, that the integration of Russian speaking Estonians has failed. An indicator for this is the political participation of the Russian minority which is rather limited. They are extremely underrepresented in Parliament and have no access to decision making positions. They often feel that their voices are not heard and being discriminated. Many believe that having a Russian surname will make it difficult for them to find jobs which is why the many of the younger generation have gone abroad.
Many Russian speaking Estonians have so-called grey passports which means that they have no nationality. In order to get an Estonian passport they have to pass a language and history test. However, many of the Russian speaking Estonians have never learnt Estonian properly or forgot it quickly as they live in areas which inhabited by other Russian speakers. As a result, even the younger generation who grew up in parts of Estonia where predominantly Russian speakers live, are struggling with Estonian as their official language.
Most of the Russian speakers live in the east of Estonia. Like in Crimea, the Russian population in Narva is made up of 90%. In Crimea, Russia claimed authority on behalf of ethnic Russians. Now, Estonia fears that Russia could invade their country using the same strategy. A logical solution to this problem would be to simply integrate their Russian minority and give them Estonian passports and thus full rights of Estonian Citizenships, such as the right to vote in all elections. Yet, Estonia’s motto is: If you want peace, then prepare for war.
During national service, Russian speaking Estonians are told not to speak their mother tongue Russian. What you seem to confuse, Mr. Ratas, is that a Russian speaking Estonian does not equal a Russian. They are caught in between. In Estonia they are the Russians and in Russia they are Estonians. Your attitude is a totally unacceptable within the EU. Let me remind you that the European Union stands for democracy, equality, diversity and embracing different cultures and languages.
Russian speaking Estonians could be the bridge between the EU and Russia. Instead, you see your own citizens as a potential danger in your country. This shows that you are stuck in the times of the cold war. You are still obsessed with fighting the ‘old enemy’ and you are unable to make decisions that will actually help to calm down growing tensions with Russia.
Why don’t you embrace both languages instead of trying to wipe one of them out? Why don’t you integrate the Russian speaking minority instead of excluding them? And why don’t you abolish your outdated system of mandatory national service? This would actually help to maintain peace and move Estonia forward.
Carolin von Janowski
Part of Europe’s Youth