In summer 1991, the Helsinki Commission examined the situation of Russians in Estonia, in the form of a chapter of a larger report on national minorities in the CSCE context. The present report is essentially an update, and was occasioned by the most significant event affecting the status of Russians in Estonia since the country regained its independence in_ September 1991. In February 1992, Estonia passed a law that restored citizenship only to citizens of the interwar Estonian Republic and their descendants. Consequently, the great majority of Estonia’s Russians, most of whom came to Estonia after its forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940, did not automatically becom citizens of Estonia and could not vote in the country’s first: national election after the restoration of its independent, statehood, held on September 20, 1992.
Estonia’s citizenship law and the resultant exclusion of about 40 percent of the resident population from voting elicited from Russians, both inside and outside Estonia, charges of discrimination and human rights violations. Russian government officials and parliamentarians protested Estonia’s treatment of Russians in international forums, in the media, and in Washington and other Western capitals. Considering their allegations of human rights violations, the Helsinki . Commission sent two staffers to Estonia to talk to Russians and Estonians and Study the situation on the ground before the election and on election day. Their primary mission was not to observe the election per se and this is not an election report; in fact, the Commission believed that the Estonian election authorities were quite capable of organizing free and fair elections. Rather, the Commission hoped to examine the reasons for, and possible consequences of, Estonia’s deliberate decision not to giye citizenship and the vote to. some 40 percent of the population.
The following is a report of the Commission staffs investigation. Their research and conclusions are based on interviews and discussions conducted in Tallinn, Kohtla-Jarve, Sillamae and Narva. The last three cities are in northeast Estonia and are mostly populated by Russians.