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Estonian watchdogs getting serious in September

Non-discrimination, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity

Praxis Center for Policy Studies and Institute of Baltic Studies published a survey “Open Forums on Integration: Report on Recommendations by Third-Country Nationals regarding Estonia’s Integration Policy”. The report is the result of a year long project aiming to include third country nationals and people with undetermined citizenship living in Estonia (TCN) in policy making processes in the field of integration policy in Estonia. The publication provides an overview of six open forums and includes proposals formulated at these events for policy making in the field of integration. According to the report the authors have borne two things in mind: firstly, the need to include the opinions of third country nationals living in Estonia in the drafting process of the Strategy of Integration and Social Cohesion in Estonia 2020, and secondly, the desire to introduce the public to the valuable experience of public involvement.

According to one of the authors, Maiu Uus from Praxis, it is difficult to point out a single most important conclusion, instead of that the report demonstrates clearly that integration is a shared responsibility which relies on the cooperation of different ministries and state institutions. Kristina Kallas from IBS mentioned poor availability of information, lack of high-level language courses and a general dismissive mentality towards non-citizens as the main problems, meanwhile adding that conversely to the popular opinion these issues do not exclusively plague the Russian speaking minority but apply equally to the English speaking community.

For the second year in a row Estonian Human Rights Centre organized the Diversity Weeks in Tallinn and in Tartu and this year the theme was “Family”. The goal of the thematic week was to emphasize that there are different forms of family and that the meaning of the “traditional” family is changing in time. The Diversity Weeks took place on September 9th – 13th in Tallinn and on September 16th – 20th in Tartu. The programme included film screenings, online debates and a free closing concert. Diversity Weeks are part of the project Diversity Enriches which is targeted to better implementing the legislation on non-discrimination and fostering the dissemination of information on EU and national policy and legislation in the non-discrimination field.

Non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity

Hate speech is a difficult topic in Estonia. As a society Estonia is quite homogenous and therefore luckily serious conflicts are not very common in practice, on the other hand prejudice and intolerance are anything but rare. To discuss the limits freedom of expression and the essence of hate speech, this year Open Estonia Foundation dedicated the annual Open Society Forum, which took place on 12 September to these issues. The forum involved NGOs, linguists, journalists, specialists on IT and electronic media etc. The problematics of hate speech has never before found as thorough and extensive coverage. Although it may give the impression of a purely declarative statement, unanimous recognition that the complex relation between freedom of speech and hate incitement needs to be directly addressed on both self-regulatory and legislative level is a major step forward for the Estonian society.  For more information, videos and materials, please visit the event’s webpage (available in English).

Environmental protection

Estonian forests – a value in itself or a source of profit?

Estonian Environmental Law Center (EELC) in cooperation with Estonian Fund for Nature composed a legal expert analysis on the Forest Act of Estonia and its amendments in the period of 1998-2013. The analysis found that the legislature treats forest primarily as a source of timber and this approach may endanger the forests as ecosystems.  The results of the analysis show that there has been an increasing trend recently towards more active forest management and reduction of restrictions. However, according to EELC and EFN the need to protect forests as ecosystems should still be considered. The authors stressed the importance of a balanced and multilateral approach to reduction of restrictions and that it is vital to maintain or add legislative measures to prevent significant damage to the forest biota. More information on the analysis in English can be found here.

Equality between men and women

Strip-clubs in the medieval Old Town of Tallinn

Christian-Catholic advocacy organization Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition has launched a relatively vigorous campaign against sex industry in Tallinn Old Town. The campaign involves petition letters to citizens, online petition and a protest meeting on 1 October. Although it in its statement PPFT agrees that prostitution and sex trade are in their very essence degrading to women, the campaign puts more weight on the cultural heritage of Tallinn Old Town and finds seedy business unsuitable to this otherwise so decent district. Furthermore, some of the rooms rented out to strip clubs are owned by the city of Tallinn.

Good administration, fair elections

Tricky question: Advertising a café or a political party?

Transparency Estonia alerted the public over the clever tactics the political parties use to continue advertising after the outdoor campaign period has expired. Namely, even after the prescribed political campaign period, there are plenty of posters inviting Talliners to various events or venues. The latter are clearly related to the upcoming elections and arranged by political parties. Transparency Estonia applies pressure on the police to take such masked campaigns seriously and stresses that unless cases like that get sufficient attention, there will never be relevant case law to rely on in the future.

During the prohibition of outdoors political advertising, the neighborhood associations have taken over the debate. NGO Linnalabor organized a series of manifestations and cooperation workshops, starting from the district of Nõmme.  The manifestations follow the general model of Linnaidee (Urban Idea) and are arranged as open forums, which enable the city officials, politicians and community activists to engage in a meaningful dialogue. As the experts on local life and community problems the neighborhood activists can directly exercise their alerting and expert functions.

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This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

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