Interview with Rene van der Linden

Rene van der Linden, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has started his official tour of the Baltic States beginning in Estonia.

The position of Russian minorities in the country and the government's integration policy are high on his agenda.

Most Russians, who make up a third of Estonia's population, do not have national citizenship. The head of Europe's leading human rights body said the country was being too slow in granting citizenship to them.

The relations between ethnic Russians and Estonian authorities have worsened after Estonia removed a Soviet war memorial from the centre of its capital, sparking two nights of riots.
RT correspondent, Anissa Naouai, met with Rene van der Linden in Tallinn to discuss the minorities' status in Estonia.

Russia Today: I would like to start by referencing what you said on your last trip to Russia. Which is that: some of the Baltic states are not treating the Russian minorities the way they should be treated. After your meetings today, do you feel like the situation is getting better? And if so, what remains a major concern for you?

Rene van der Linden: It is true that the Estonian government is aware that they have to take care about the integration of the minorities, including the Russian minority, and to my mind, it is one of the main tasks of the government to ensure for their own future and the country, that all minorities are integrated and feel at home in the country. I had a discussion with non-government organizations, especially on the position of minorities with the Prime Minister, and the President, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is clear that they are aware that there is also a tremendous push from abroad to continue the improvement of the treatment of minorities. There is no problem on the local level, they have the full  right to take part in the elections at the local level. But as long as they are not citizens, they have to abstain of the voting rights on the national level.

RT: You have been seriously criticized by some as upholding Kremlin propaganda against Estonia. At the press-conference the journalists asked you  flat out whether after your term as a president of PACE you were going to work for Gazprom. Where are these kind of statements coming from?

R.L.: If you, apparently, have a lack of good arguments, you try to use this kind of argument. I have invested a lot of energy into my relations with Russia and Russian politicians. It is also my deepest conviction, and I expressed it also here in Estonia, that the relationship between the EU and Russia and the membership of Russia in the Council of Europe, is one of the most important issues for the coming 15-20 years.

RT: Do you feel like your position on the U.S. plans to install a missile defence system in Eastern Europe, or de-facto independence for Kosovo, has anything to do with, or is fueling these kinds of implications against you?

R.L.: If we promote co-operation, if we take into account that we all are members of the same international organization – the Council of Europe, which is promoting dialogue, which is promoting negotiations, then it is unacceptable. Unacceptable that from one side they say “we take this decision” – and it is creating new confrontation, rather than reconciliation. And it is the Council of Europe that has to take a stand on this.

RT: Sept. 22 it is the anniversary of the day when the Red Army came into Tallinn. For many veterans and the Russian minorities here in Tallinn is a very important holiday. For them it has always been known as the Day of Overcoming Fascism. Now that holiday has been renamed to the Day of Resistance, and this offends many Russian nationals living here. Do you feel like this is a sort of attempt to provoke the Russian minority in Estonia?

R.L.: It is always very difficult, I must tell you frankly. On the one hand, Russia has a tremendous contribution, enormous contribution, to the victory over fascism and they suffered so much, millions of people. On the other hand, we have to recognize that also people in Estonia suffered much not only of nazism but also from Stalinism. And I believe it is important that we try to find a way to master our past in a way that we can build our common future.

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