President’s speech sparks allegations of discrimination of minorities in Estonian education system

On February 24th, president Kersti Kaljulaid gave a speech celebrating the 103rd anniversary of Estonian independence. Part of the speech addressed the education system in country. Soon after, the pro-Kremlin media started to claim that the president’s speech clearly divides the country, with statements going as far as claiming that the Russian speaking residents are being called inferior part of society.

Pro-Kremlin media regularly finds topics in Estonian local events that they can use to present Estonia as a country violating the right of Russians and that the Russians are severely discriminated. One example is using the education system in Estonia. The latest trigger last month was president Kaljulaid’s speech. There was a paragraph in the speech that touched the issue of education. The president encouraged foreign residents of Estonia to enrol their children to Estonian schools. She stated that when the children study in local language they can also more easily understand the local culture. Unfortunately, the pro-Kremlin media portrayed it as president’s attempt to divide the country into two categories and issued statements like the Russian minorities are treated as inferior residents.

For example, one of the articles claimed that “Alas, in Estonia, all the years of restored independence, the law, according to which the state guarantees any inhabitant a high-quality study of the Estonian language, has been poorly implemented. Rhetorical question: why? Yes, for ethnocrats who are trying in every possible way to get rid of everything Russian and Russians themselves, it is not profitable that Russian and Russian-speaking people find themselves in the structures of governing the country, in the field of finance, science and culture.“ — 01.03.2021 sputnik-meedia.ee

In conjunction with president Kaljulaid’s speech there has been number of claims that Estonian education system purposely provides an education with lower standards in Russian language. However, if you follow the local non-Estonian resident’s opinions, they claim that the whole education system in Estonia leaves lot be desired — regardless of the language it is being taught. Moreover, there are no restrictions for anybody to become involved in local politics, science, and culture.

On February 25th — March 10th, 2021, Debunk EU detected 55 articles that were identified as disinformation related to the President Kaljulaid’s Independence Day speech.

Nevertheless, the application of specific narrative continued to remain reactive, rather than planned in advance, as messages tended to correlate more with sound statements and/or events of national or international significance, but not between themselves.

Dynamics of narrative, DebunkEU data

The narrative ‘Human rights are violated in the country’ and sub-narrative ‘Estonia discriminates Russian minority’ reflect the reaction to the content of the president’s speech.

Pro-Kremlin media outlets baltnews.ee, baltija.eu and an Estonian non-systematic media portal sputnik-meedia.ee stood out as the main distributors of disinformation.

After the analysis of the data, it became clear that pro-Kremlin media outlets baltnews.ee, baltija.eu and an Estonian non-systematic media portal sputnik-meedia.eewere the top three media sources responsible for the spread of content containing disinformation. The disinformation detected in March potentially reached close to 16 million contacts.

The birth of Debunk EU was a direct response to coordinated, mostly Kremlin sponsored, disinformation and propaganda efforts in the Baltic states.