Newly-appointed ambassador to Ukraine Lauri Lepik has called Estonia’s integration policy a success that can serve as a model for other countries.
Lepik, who presented his credentials to President Viktor Yanukovich on November 16, conveyed his views on integration in an interview with the Kiev daily Den.
“I can confidently say that our experience with integration of the population of Estonia – Estonians, Russians, Ukrainians, Jews – is a large success,” he said.
“The conditions we have created allow everyone who works and lives in Estonia to obtain citizenship and participate in local life. Non-citizens may vote in local elections and work in their fields in any organization.”
Lepik’s statements fly in the face of several minority rights groups and international organizations that have noted Estonia’s lack of progress on integrating its large ethnic Russian community with its majority Estonian population.
In an assessment of the integration policies of 31 European and North American nations published this summer by the Brussels-based non-profit Migration Policy Group, Estonia placed 19th for creating equal opportunities for its residents.
In July, Estonia’s Praxis think tank called the government’s integration policies “superficial,” saying they were far too focused on Estonian language proficiency, neglecting other areas of integration. Regarding Russian-curriculum upper secondary schools, which were mandated to begin a shift to conducting 60 percent of their instruction in the Estonian language this fall, the government had not communicated enough with the parents and had failed to incorporate them into the transition, the study concluded.
According to Lepik, a significant part of the linguistic minority still supports the language transition in Russian-curriculum schools. “After all, its essence lies in the fact that most people, for whom Russian is the native tongue, send their children to Estonian-language kindergartens. There are critics of this policy, but they are in the minority. Of course, constructive criticism is always helpful, because we can then adjust our policy to improve it,” he said.