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Estonian watchdogs in August 2013

Principle of democracy, various topics

Arvamus Festival.The first Estonian festival of opinion culture took place on August 16 and 17 in a small town Paide. The concept was inspired by the annual Almedalen Week in Visby, Sweden. The festival featured 200 speakers and the topics varied from e-elections and administrative reform to ethnic tolerance and poverty. The Opinion Festival was organised by nearly 50 volunteers and the town of Paide, and support came from the Open Estonia Foundation, the Estonian Debating Society, the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO), the Estonian Cooperation Association, Järva County, the town of Türi, several businesses and citizens.

Many leading Estonian watchdogs such as Institute of Baltic Studies, Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Estonian Cultural Chamber participated as experts or moderators. Though not explicitly designed to suit any of the typical watchdog functions, the event proved to be a meeting point for the NGO-s, political parties, opinion leaders and social activists. It succeeded in creating an open and friendly forum for interaction between the different groups of Estonian society, thus allowing the watchdogs to advocate for their interests, act as experts or draw attention to the shortfalls of current practices and apply pressure on the legislator to make improvements. Whether or to what extent they put this opportunity to use was up to each single participating organisation, but today it might be too soon to draw any final conclusions about the festival’s long-term influences. Nevertheless, hopefully the festival of opinion culture will develop into an annual tradition just as its Swedish predecessor.

President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves (left) having a conversation at the festival of opinion culture.

President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves (left) having a conversation at the festival of opinion culture

Non-discrimination, equality of men and women, right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial

In an interview to delfi.ee the North police prefecture’s head of the department of offences against person expressed his views on the causes of rape. According to him most of the incidents are triggered by the victim’s behavior: “In most of the cases, the victims have consumed alcohol and as a result lost their reasonable sense of precaution” He also claimed that the best remedy against rape is not to act in a provocative manner and cut down on drinking. Ms. Kadi Viik, expert of equal treatment at the Estonian Human Rights Centre, however did not agree with him and considered his views to be extremely inappropriate for someone whose professional duties involve working with victims of rape or other crimes against sexual self-determination.

She started a petition on Facebook titled: “Citizens’ plea to the Police and Border Guard Board concerning the interview to Delfi”. During the first hours, the petition gained support from more than 100 people, 20 % being male1. Although, the petition is more of a personal initiative than an action on behalf of the organization, it definitely means exerting pressure on the Police and Border Guard Board to review its attitudes towards rape-victims.

Respect for private and family life, protection of personal data

Estonian Human Rights Centre calls everyone concerned over the present and future of privacy to sign a petition against mass surveillance. The petition was created by a London-based freedom of expression organisation Index on Censorship and is targeted towards EU leaders. The petition demands that the issue of mass surveillance is put on the agenda of the EU Summit in October, and pressures the EU authorities to publicly state their opposition to it. The petition is open and available online in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German, Polish, Bulgarian and Estonian.

Good administration, environmental protection

Professional associations of architecture and planning (including NGO Urban Lab) made a joint appeal to the Ministry of Justice in order to address the shortcomings of the codification of Estonian construction and planning legislation. The professional associations indicated that the Draft Construction and Planning Acts are not consistent and do not attribute sufficient importance to involving the practicing professionals. While working on the drafts the professional associations were mainly viewed as interest groups and not as experts. As a result the draft acts view planning and construction separately and fundamental principles such as sustainable and expedient land use are only included in the Draft Planning Act, the professional associations on the other hand stress that the same principles should be followed throughout the construction process. The associations also point out numerous terminological and material inconsistencies and strongly advise the Ministry to continue the drafting process and this time – more emphasis should be given to the professionals’ opinions2.

For media coverage in Estonian please see for example Eesti Ekspress “Politseijuhi sõnavõtt ärritas naisi” (“Women annoyed by higher police officer’s statements”), available online at: http://www.ekspress.ee/news/paevauudised/eestiuudised/politseijuhi-sonavott-arritas-naisi.d?id=66620201 (last accessed 02.09.2013).
The joint appeal is available online in Estonian at: http://www.linnalabor.ee/tegevus/39 – p266 The topic is thouroughly covered in weekly cultural newspaper Sirp, available online in Estonian at: http://www.sirp.ee/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19110:2013-08-29-12-46-17&catid=20:arhitektuur&Itemid=25&issue=3453 (last accessed 02.09.2013).

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.       

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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