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Estonian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-03-20 10:32:37
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Russia talks tough with Estonia as ‘protecting Russian speakers’ excuse
wheeled out again after justifying Crimean takeover

Crimea has fallen. Ukraine is teetering on the brink. Are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the next dominoes to fall? Russian officials last night expressed ‘outrage’ at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority. It’s a familiar move: The Kremlin defended its seizing of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine a month ago with the pretext it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders. It’s by no means the first time this excuse has been heard.

estonia_400Nearly 80 years ago, Germany began its annexation of nearby states with the widely broadcast notion of protecting marginalised German-language speakers. Russia is now adopting the same line towards ex-members of the Soviet Union. A Moscow diplomat told a United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last night that the language policy in the Baltic state of Estonia was comparable to what had caused it to move on Crimea — a move to prevent the use of the Russian tongue. The tactic is as fearful as it is familiar. In the 1930s Adolf Hitler asserted the desire to ‘unite and protect’ all German speaking peoples. For much of the decade, the West turned a blind eye. Then, as now, the problem was not all of these states wanted to be united — or protected. As the Crimea crisis continues to flare, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — which, like Ukraine, were all parts of the old Soviet Union — have expressed growing apprehension over Moscow’s intentions.

Overnight, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva: “Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups … (Russia is) “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine.” This has done nothing to ease Estonia’s anxiety. Nor has unusually strong words from the United States Vice President Joe Biden while visiting Lithuania overnight: “We’re in this with you, together,’’ Biden said…. “Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behaviour.” He went so far as to add: “Under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, we will respond, we will respond to any aggression against a NATO ally.


Estonia's minister for social affairs invited to form a new government

Taavi Rõivas, Estonia's minister for social affairs has begun negotiations to form a new government, to succeed that headed by Andrus Ansip, who submitted his resignation earlier this month. Rõivas, who at 34 is the youngest minister in the current cabinet, has been given two weeks to form a coalition, having been invited to do so by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the country's president, on Friday.

Rõivas, a former adviser to Ansip, was put forward by the Reform Party as its preferred candidate for prime minister after Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for transport, withdrew a week ago. Kallas, who has been prime minister before, had been being lined up by Ansip to replace him, but backed out, blaming a smear campaign against him in national media.

The Reform Party, whose MEPs are members of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, is now negotiating on a coalition with the centre-left Social Democratic Party. A division of ministerial posts or possible inclusion of other parties in any coalition has not yet been settled.  In the meantime, it is expected that Ansip, who is formally in office until the new government is approved by the parliament, will represent Estonia at the European Council meeting of 20-21 March.


Estonian First Lady becomes champion of health

Visiting WHO/Europe on 27 February 2014, Mrs Evelin Ilves, spouse of the President of Estonia, accepted the invitation of Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, to become the Champion of Health for Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) in the WHO European Region. With her training as a doctor, Mrs Ilves has a strong interest in health and a personal commitment to support the fight against NCDs. She has already made her mark in Estonia by advocating food reformulation, healthier school food and the use of local products.

At a meeting with WHO technical experts, discussion focused on how Mrs Ilves could best support WHO/Europe’s work on NCDs within the framework of Health 2020, the European policy for health and well-being, through her commitment to public health. Through her advocacy, the First Lady will specifically support promoting breastfeeding, reducing childhood obesity and strengthening regulation on marketing to children.

These are important issues in Estonia, as well as on the international scene.

Breastfeeding rates are stalling in the WHO European Region, while Estonia sets a good example for others to follow.

The prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing in Estonia, as in the Region as a whole.

Mrs Ilves expressed concern about the effect of marketing to children at WHO/Europe’s ministerial conference on NCDs, held in Turkmenistan in December 2013: “[NCDs] are socially communicable; we create these diseases ourselves and through our behaviour. We can also pass them on to our friends, our children and others around us. Moreover, we must recognize that a role is also played by those who produce and market the products that cause these diseases.”

With Mrs Ilves as Champion of Health, WHO/Europe has gained an advocate who is passionate about making a difference to the future of the Region’s children and highlighting the serious public health concerns facing Europe.


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