Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Law Fails to Calm Fears of Non-Estonians

TALLINN, Estonia - The amended version of Estonia's Law on Aliens involves several technical changes that do more to assuage international criticism than alter the basis of the legislation, and offers little to comfort non-citizens nervous about losing residency, Estonian legislators have said.

The amended law, passed by parliament Thursday, "will reduce tension but not remove it because the law created the tension in the first place", said Alexei Semynov, a moderate leader of the Representative Assembly, an umbrella group representing non-Estonians.

The law requires non-Estonian citizens living in Estonia to register for residency within two years or leave. This affects about half a million Soviet-era immigrants who have not applied for Estonian citizenship and have become legally stateless since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Vardo Rumessen, a member of the rightist Estonian national Independence Party, said that the Baltic country could not survive with Russian-speakers making up 40 percent of its population.

"There must be peaceful repatriation", he said, expressing hope that a time would come when the Russian president would "call these people back to their Motherland".

Tiit Made, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that people related to the Russian military must leave.

"It's absolutely impossible to organize society with them here", Made said.

Juri Toomepuu, president of the Estonian Citizens League, who voted against the law, said it endangers the very existence of Estonia because it allows too many Russians to stay.

"If they all remain here it is quite possible that Estonians will become a minority in their own country and the Russians will take over", he said.

In contrast, Rein Viedemann, a member of the moderate faction, expressed concern about the impact of the law. "We need a law that makes the foreigner's situation stable", he said. "We do not have such a law now".

The law also states that those who retired in Estonia after serving in the Soviet military and their dependents must leave within two years.

According to Peet Kask, adviser to the central faction, this affects about 10, 000 people. Kask, who described the original version of the law as "ethnic cleansing", said he was pleased with the changes although he added the government must make additional compromises to defuse the situation.

The law also requires that non-citizens register as residents to be able to vote in upcoming local elections. Non-citizens can vote but not run in races scheduled for Oct. 17.

Despite the amendments, which were added to win approval from the Council of Europe and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe the political situation is not likely to improve in northeast Estonia.

Planned referendums on establishing autonomy in the Russian-dominated towns of Narva and Sillamae in northeast Estonia are expected to go ahead on July 17.

Vladimir Chuikin, leader of the Narva City Council, has not specified what autonomy would mean although he has said it would allow his town to decide for itself which Estonian laws would be followed.