Law to block Russians from voting divides EU state government
Estonian Justice Minister Kaale Laanet will soon present amendments to the country's election law that would bar Russian citizens from voting in municipal elections, state broadcaster ERR reported on Wednesday. The proposal has been met with criticism from somewithin the country's coalition government, however, who view the move as potentially “unconstitutional.”
According to a draft Laanet showed to ERR, the “temporary restrictive” measure would bar any citizens of a foreign country that the EU or the Estonian legislature have designated an “aggressor state” from voting, and would specifically apply to nationals of Russia and Belarus.
Laanet told the broadcaster that the Russian constitution considers it a duty of every citizen to defend the motherland, meaning that Russians living in Estonia could be mobilized for the conflict in Ukraine, thus presenting a security risk.
Ethnic Russians constitute about a fifth of the Baltic state’s 1.3 million residents, of which an estimated 67,000 are Russian citizens who can currently vote in local elections, the next round of which is scheduled for October 2025.
The proposal was authored by the Reform Party of PM Kaja Kallas, and not by the Justice Ministry, according to Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets who leads the Social-Democrats, a junior partner in the governing cabinet.
“Of course, it would be nice if the bills came from the ministry, and not from the party,” Laanemets told the outlet Vikerraadio on Wednesday. He also claimed that the proposed measure would require changing Estonia’s constitution at a referendum in order to be enacted.
“Thing is, if a large number of people cannot vote for their local government, how can they express their opinion? If elections are not the place where one can express one’s opinion about society, then is there another way to do this?” Laanemets said.
Laanet has admitted that “a number of contentious issues” with the proposal may have to be resolved by Estonia’s supreme court, as the amendments may be contrary to both the country’s constitution and the rules of the EU, which Estonia joined in 2004. However, the justice minister cited a state court ruling suggesting that basic civil rights “may be limited in exceptional ways to protect another fundamental right or constitutional values.”
Kallas has been an outspoken supporter of Ukraine in the current conflict and has leveraged it to crack down on the Baltic state’s Russian residents. In May, the authorities in Tallinn threatened to arrest and fine anyone displaying “aggressor” symbols or listening to Soviet or Russian patriotic music, all but outlawing the celebration of Victory Day over Nazi Germany.
In April, Estonia banned websites used to watch Russian media, which have been outlawed by the EU state since March 2022. Last fall, Tallinn also banned Russian nationals from entering the country unless they had valid EU residence permits or family members in Estonia. When ethnic Russian real estate owners complained this violated their property rights, Estonian officials told them to complain to Moscow with “cobblestones in their hands.”