Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Estonia: Update to Responses to Information Requests EST20775.E of 24 May 1995 and EST27518.E of 13 August 1997 on the treatment of ethnic Russians and Armenians (January 1998 - January 1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Citation / Document Symbol EST30841.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Estonia: Update to Responses to Information Requests EST20775.E of 24 May 1995 and EST27518.E of 13 August 1997 on the treatment of ethnic Russians and Armenians (January 1998 - January 1999), 1 January 1999, EST30841.E, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


In an April 1998 Transitions article, Kestutis Girnius, "director of the Lithuanian Service Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague," states:

The parliaments of both countries passed restrictive citizenship laws (Estonia in November 1991, Latvia in July 1994) in effect granting citizenship to those who were citizens of the interwar republics and to their descendants. As a result, the majority of Russians and members of other minorities(almost 40 percent of the population(were disenfranchised politically....The Russian government has consistently accused both Latvia and Estonia of violating national minorities' human rights, while members of the Duma have even leveled accusations of "ethnic cleansing." Russia has made the signing of border treaties conditional on improving the lot of ethnic Russians. Because of the exaggerated nature and political motivation of the Russian accusations, the international community has tended to dismiss Russian claims. There is no doubt that civil rights are respected in both countries. However, the right to fully participate in the political process is denied those who are not granted citizenship (51).

A 20 April 1998 Boston Globe article states:

But minority issues still cause tension in northeastern Estonia, where ethnic Russians outnumber Estonians by 9 to 1, but cannot hold public office unless they show a working knowledge of Estonian. Russian speakers there complain they have no way to pick up the language.

A 3 August 1998 Interfax News Agency article states:

Archbishop Korniliy, the head of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church attached to the Moscow Patriarchate, has expressed serious fears about the future of his church in Estonia. An appeal to believers, read out in all of Estonia's Apostolic Orthodox churches on Sunday [2nd August], says that talks with the Estonian authorities on the registration of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church are proceeding slowly. The authorities are proposing that the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church change its name, get registered as a new organization and rent church buildings for 50 years. "Even during the grim Soviet years, the atheist authorities passed the church buildings which then belonged to the state to the Orthodox Church for free and indefinite use," the document says.

Archbishop Korniliy also writes that the Estonian Interior Ministry has violated the law "On churches and religious communities" by registering a community which is under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate and was set up in Stockholm after the war as the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. As a result, the "Orthodox Church which has remained under the care of the Russian Orthodox Church is going through enormous problems of survival", he writes. "Our enemies' programme is clear: to weaken the Orthodox religion and to doom it to gradual extinction through some sort of integration or assimilation," Archbishop  Korniliy states. He also writes that many Apostolic Orthodox parishes in Estonia "have no premises either for services, for learning the law of God, or for charitable or publishing activity".

A 6 August 1998 ITAR-TASS article states:

Chairman of the Russian Citizens' Union in Estonia Yuri Mishin faces one year in prison for organizing unauthorized meetings of pensioners on October 20, 1997 in Tallinn, city authorities said on Thursday. The trial is to take place in September. Mishin, 51, is also accused of organizing meetings in the largely Russian-speaking northeastern part of the country in the towns of Narva, Kohtla-Jaerve, Sillamae and Johvi. He will stand trial together with activists of the Pensioners' Union Helve Truuza, an Estonian citizen, Lidiya Kashnova, a Russian, and Esya Shur, a Jew. Two more Tallinn residents( Eduar Shaumyan and Oleg Morozov will also be tried for "fanning nationalist, racial and religious differences." If convicted, these people will face a fine and imprisonment up to one-year.

A 17 August 1998 ITAR-TASS article states:

Estonia's civil unity will turn up only after its Russian-speaking community is allowed into an active political life, an ethnic Russian member of the Estonian parliament said on Monday. Russians in Estonia are de-facto withdrawn from law-making, Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with local media. Estonia's Russian speakers, which constitute about one-third of the population, have only six representatives in parliament, according to him. Tallinn's tough policy depriving the Russian language from any rights in Estonia greatly decreases the chance of real integration and has become an obstacle to achieving civil unity in Estonia, he said. The only concession made by Estonian politicians is recognition of a certain language autonomy in the city of Narva near the Russian border, where ethnic Estonians account for only 5 percent of the population. However, no legal recognition has been made for fear of language expansion, he said.

A 26 September 1998 BNS News Agency article states:

Russia's new foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, addressing the UN General Assembly, accused Estonia of brutal repression of its Russian-speaking minority, Estonia's 'Postimees' daily reports. Ivanov said Russia cannot remain indifferent to the fate of hundreds of thousands of Russians subjected to brutal repressive measures by the Estonian and Latvian authorities. The Russian foreign minister cited no concrete examples of oppression, but demanded that the international community impose sanctions on those countries which abuse universal human rights on different pretexts, 'Postimees' said. The Estonian Foreign Ministry chancellor, Indrek Tarand, who on Friday [25th September] spoke at the assembly, observed that, unfortunately, violations of human rights still occur throughout the world. He noted that the United Nations last year ended the monitoring of Estonia's human rights situation because the problem was no longer current.

A 8 December 1998 AP article states:

The parliament [of Estonia] on Tuesday passed a bill granting citizenship to thousands of stateless children, a move the government hopes will take the edge off a dispute with Russia and improve Estonia's chances of joining the European Union....Moscow has sharply criticized Estonia's citizenship laws, saying they discriminate against the country's 400,000 ethnic Russians, most of whom do not have citizenship. Under Soviet rule, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians moved to Estonia. When Estonia became independent in 1991, it granted citizenship only to pre-Soviet residents and their descendants. Children born of non-citizens since independence also have been stateless. The new law provides automatic citizenship for such children, currently an estimated 6,000. The old laws had also been criticized by the European Union, which Estonia ardently wants to join....Estonia's non-citizens are eligible for naturalization but must meet the tough requirement of showing proficiency in Estonian, a language entirely unrelated to Russian. Most of the ethnic Russians have little or no grasp of Estonian, having grown up and worked in Russian-speaking communities.

No information on the treatment of ethnic Armenians in Estonia could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


The Associated Press (AP). 8 December 1998. "Estonia Eases Citizenship Rules." (NEXIS)

BNS News Agency [Tallinn, in English]. 26 September 1998. "Foreign Minsiter Ivanov Accuses Estonia of Ethnic Repression." (BBC Summary 28 Sept. 1998/NEXIS)

The Boston Globe. 20 April 1998. City Edition. David Filipov. "Russian is Hard to Forget in Estonia." (NEIXS)

Interfax News Agency [Moscow, in English]. 3 August 1998. "Estonia's Orthodox Archbishop Under Moscow Patriarchate Complain at Discrimination." (BBC Summary 4 Aug. 1998/NEXIS)

ITAR-TASS. 17 August 1998. Albert Maloveryan. "Estonia MP Calls for Protection of Russian Minority Rights." (NEXIS)

_____. 6 August 1998. Albert Maloveryan. "Ethnic Russians' Leader in Estonia Faces One-Year Imprisonment." (NEXIS)

Transitions [Prague]. April l998. Vol. 5, No. 4. Kestutis Girnius. "The Race is On."

Additional Sources Consulted

Electronic sources: IRB databases, Internet, NEXIS/LEXIS, REFWORLD, WNC.

Transitions [Prague]. January 1998 - December 1998.

Resource Centre country file on Estonia. January 1998 - December 1998.

Unsuccessful attempts to contact oral sources.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld