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LANGUAGE LAW OF THE ESTONIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC

January 18, 1989

The official language of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic is Estonian. In Estonia, the ancient territory of the Estonians, the State shall accord special attention and protection to the Estonian language. Through the institution of Estonian as the official language, a firm foundation has been laid for the preservation and development of the Estonian people and its culture.

In the Estonian SSR, every individual as well as every infringe upon the civil rights of any person, regardless of his right to use Estonian both in speech and in writing.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee the teaching of and research into the Estonian language in Estonia, as well as promote the teaching of and research into the Estonian lan­guage outside Estonia.

In its treatment of the Russian language, the present Law proceeds from the needs of all-Union communication, as well as from the fact that after Estonian it is the second largest native language spoken in the Estonian SSR.

The status of Estonian as the official language does not infringe upon the civil rights of any person, regardless of his or her native language. Whale according State protection to the Estonian language, the Estonian SSR acknowledges the inalienable right of citizens of all other nationalities to use their native language and develop vernacular culture, as well as the equality of all citizens before the law regardless of their native language.

Article 1.

In accordance with Article 5 of the Constitution of the Estonian SSR, the official language of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic shall be Estonian.

The present law shall establish the regulations for the use of the official language of the Estonian SSR, Russian and other languages.

The Individual

Article 2.

On the territory of the Estonian SSR, the indi­vidual has the right to communicate and conduct his or her affairs in Estonian in all bodies of State authority and govern­ment, as well as in institutions, enterprises, and organizations.

The above shall likewise apply to those bodies of State authority and government as well as institutions, enterprises and organizations that use other languages in conducting their affairs.

Article 3.

The individual shall likewise be guaranteed the possibility of conducting his or her affairs in Russian in the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR, as well as in institutions, enterprises, and organizations of the Estonian SSR.

Affairs with an individual can be conducted in other lan­guages in accordance with existing possibilities, as well as the goals of activity.

Article 4.

Persons whose job requires communication with individuals, i.e. all executives and administrators, the staff of bodies of State authority and government, public organizations, the judicial system, law enforcement and inspection agencies, medical personnel, journalists, the employees in trade and communication services, the personnel of accident and rescue services, etc., shall be subjected to certain requirements of language competence. The competence in and use of Estonian, Russian and other languages shall be obligatory within the requirements laid down in Article 37 of the present Law.

Article 5.

In communication with their subordinates, executives and administrators shall use the language chosen by the former, while being under no obligation to exceed the limits of language competence required of them.

Article 6.

In services and trade, those performing services shall be obliged to use the language chosen by the customer within the limits of competence required of them.

Article 7.

The inhibition or disparagement of an individual's choice of language shall be forbidden and, on certain occasions provided for by law, liable to punishment.

Bodies of State Authority and Government

Article 8.

The working language in the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR shall be Estonian. The sessions and meetings of the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR shall be conducted and the minutes kept in Estonian.

The official documents of the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR shall be adopted and published in Estonian and their translations in Russian.

Russian may be used as the working language in local bodies of State authority and government in accordance with Article 36 of the present Law.

Article 9.

Where a body of State authority and government addresses a party outside the Estonian SSR, a language accept­able to both sides shall be used.

Article 10.

The bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR shall use Estonian in written communication with institutions, enterprises, and organizations situated in the Estonian SSR, as well as with one another.

The local bodies of State authority and government who under Article 36 of the present Law shall conduct their affairs in Russian may use Russian in their written communication with the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR.

Article 11.

When addressing an individual in the Estonian SSR, the bodies of State authority and government of the Esto­nian SSR shall use Estonian, but in the case that the individual has no command of Estonian, either Russian or some other language shall be used.

The bodies of State authority and government of the Esto­nian SSR shall guarantee an individual the possibility to com­municate and conduct his or her affairs in Estonian or in Russian, and the issuing to them of documents either m Estonian or in Russian according to the purpose of the document or according to the wish of the individual. Communication and the issuing of documents in other languages in the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR, may occur in consideration of the purpose and possibilities of the institution, the ethnic composition of the local population, or the needs of international communication.

Institutions, Enterprises and Organizations

Article 12.

The working language of internal communica­tion in institutions, enterprises and organizations situated on the territory of the Estonian SSR shall be Estonian.

For a limited period of time, Russian may continue to be used as the working language, subject to conditions set by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR, whereas the deadlines shall be fixed on the basis of realistic appraisals of the ability of the institutions concerned to switch over to the use of Estonian as the working language. Employees. shall be provided with job-related information in Estonian, and internal documents in Estonian shall be accepted by them. Subdivisions of those institutions, enterprises and organizations which continue to conduct their affairs in Russian, shall have the right to conduct their affairs in Estonian. Internal communication may likewise be conducted in a language other than Estonian also in accordance with Articles 20 and 25 of the present Law.

Article 13.

Institutions, enterprises and organizations may use technical documentation in its original language.

Institutions, enterprises and organizations of the Estonian SSR may issue technical documentation in a language other than Estonian only at the request of the client.

Article 14.

When addressing a party outside the Estonian SSR, an enterprise, institution or organization situated in the Estonian SSR shall use a language acceptable to both parties.

Article 15.

Institutions, enterprises .and organizations situated in the Estonian SSR shall use Estonian when commu­nicating with one another or with the bodies of State authority and government of tile Estonian SSR.

Institutions, enterprises and organizations using Russian as their internal working language may communicate in Russian with one another as well as with the bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR.

Language use in army units shall not be regulated by the present Law.

Article 16.

When addressing an individual in the Estonian SSR, institutions, enterprises and organizations shall use the Estonian language, in the case that the individual has no command of Estonian, Russian or some other language shall be used. .

Institutions, enterprises, and organizations of the Estonian SSR shall guarantee individuals the possibility to conduct their affairs in Estonian or in Russian and to .receive documents either in Russian or in Estonian in accordance with the purpose of .the documents or the wish of the individual.

Article 17.

Intra-Republican reports and financial documents of enterprises, institutions and organizations situated in the Estonian SSR shall be in Estonian.

Courts of Law

Article 18.

Language use in legal proceedings shall be con­ducted in accordance with Article 158 of the Constitution of the Estonian SSR.

Education, Science and Culture

Article 19.

The Estonian SSR shall recognize the equal rights of every citizen to general state-provided education in his/her native language.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee education in Estonian on the whole of its territory.

General education in Russian shall be guaranteed in accordance with the distribution of the Russian-speaking population.

Article 20.

Citizens of late Estonian SSR shall enjoy the right to receive pre-school and general education in unilingual educational establishlments.

The internal working language of non-Estonian child-care institutions and schools may be conducted in the language of the respective institution.

The heads and staff of child-care institutions and educatio­nal establishments shall be proficient in the language of instruction of the respective institution.

Article 21.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee the teaching of the Estonian language in all educational establishments and study groups working in other languages, regardless of what institution they are controlled by.

All students of institutions of higher learning who have no command of Estonian shall be taught the Estonian language.

Article 22.

Citizens of the Estonian SSR shall enjoy the right to receive vocational, secondary, special and higher education in Estonian in all the specialties taught in the Estonian SSR.

Graduates of Russian schools in the Estonian SSR shall be guaranteed the the opportunity for pursuing further education at Estonian SSR establishments of vocational, secondary special or higher education through the creation of Russian study groups or schools in accordance with needs and possibilities of the Republic, as well as through intensive teaching of Estonian to them at the initial stage of their professional schooling.

Article 23.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee the right to submit and defend dissertations in pursuance of an academic degree in Estonian.

The choice of language of scientific publications shall not be restricted in the Estonian SSR. Dissertations may be submit­ted and academic degrees defended in any language accepted by the respective academic board.

Article 24.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee priority development of Estonian culture, while at the same time supporting the cultural activities of other ethnic communities.

The dissemination of information in Estonian shall be guaranteed in every town and district of the Estonian SSR.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee priority to Estonian-language publishing.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee radio and television chan­nels for Estonian-language programmes and the availability of the aforementioned throughout the territory of the Estonian SSR.

The Estonian SSR shall guarantee the translation into Esto­nian of films, video and other audio-visual material at public showings.

Comprehensive information about the Estonian SSR shall be guaranteed in Russian television programmes, radio broadcasts and publications.

Language use related to religious activity and rituals shall not be regulated by the present Law.

Article 25.

Cultural organizations of ethnic communities in the Estonian SSR may use their national language in conduct­ing their affairs and have publications, forms and documents printed in their own language.

Cultural organizations of ethnic communities may initiate the establishment of child-care institutions, schools and perio­dicals in their own language, and they shall have the right to organize vernacular out-of-school instruction and education.

Meetings

Article 26.

The choice of language for addressing meetings, sessions, conferences and other gatherings taking place in the Estonian SSR shall be free. If need be, 'translations shall gua­rantee comprehensibility.

The language and translation at international and inter-Republican meetings shall be determined by the respective organizing committees.

Names

Article 27.

In the Estonian SSR, place names shall be in Estonian. Only such exceptions will be allowed as are histo­rically and culturally motivated.

Every place in the Estonian SSR shall have only one offi­cial name. This name shall be fixed m the Estonian Latin-based alphabet and it may be transliterated into other alpha­bets in accordance with rules set in the Estonian SSR.

Article 28.

The name of an Estonian citizen of the Esto­nian SSR shall consist of one or more first names and a single or double surname. The addition of other parts to the name shall .take place only at the request of the individual concer­ned. The name of a person shall be fixed in the Estonian Latin-based alphabet and it may be transliterated into other alpha­bets in accordance with the rules set in the Estonian SSR.

A non-Estonian citizen of the Estonian SSR shall enjoy the right to bear a name in accordance with his or her national tradition, but in official use the name shall contain at least the surname and one first name. The transliteration of the name of a non-Estonian citizen in Estonian language documents shall be based on set rules.

Article 29.

The international form of the place and personal names of the Estonian SSR, written in the Latin alphabet, shall be identical with that used in the Estonian SSR.

In the case of the official name of a means of transporta­tion, building, structure or other object is an Estonian word or a name originally written in the Latin alphabet, its internatio­nal form in the Latin alphabet shall be identical with the writ­ten form of the same word or name in Estonian texts.

Article 30.

Detailed rules for the use of names shall be fixed by the Law on Names of the Estonian SSR.

Signs and Information

Article 31.

In the Estonian SSR, Estonian-language forms shall be used. The Estonian text may be supplemented with translations.

Forms in languages other than Estonian may be used in accordance with Articles 12, 20, 24 of the present Law, as well as when addressing a party outside the Estonian SSR.

Article 32.

The text of seals and stamps shall be in the Estonian language, with translations, if necessary.

Article 33.

The texts of signs, posters, notices and adver­tisements displayed m public must be in Estonian. Translations or transliterations into other languages may be added but they shall not be in larger print than the Estonian. Translations shall be added in consideration of the needs of the local popu­lation, the needs of inter-Republican and international communication.

The posters, notices and advertisements of the cultural organizations of ethnic communities, schools and those meant for international communication may be in other languages.

Instruction sheets in Estonian must be provided for goods sold in the Estonian SSR. Labels on goods produced and sold in the Estonian SSR must appear at least in Estonian.

Article 34.

The letter combinations of trademarks used in the Estonian SSR may only contain characters of the Latin alphabet.

Application of the Law

Article 35.

Articles 2, 3, 11 and 16 shall came into force within one year, Article 6, paragraph 1 of the Article 10, Articles 31, 32, paragraph 3 of Article 33 within two years, and Article 5, paragraph 1 of Article 15, Articles 17 and 34, within four years after the enactment of the present Law.

Article 36.

For those local bodies of State authority and government where Russian has hereto served as the working language and where the overwhelming majority of the popu­lation on the territory under their jurisdiction has no com­mand of Estonian, the enforcement of paragraph 1 of Article 8 of the present Law may be postponed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR, which shall set the dead­line in consideration of the concrete opportunities for the reinstitution of Estonian as the working language.

The above paragraph shall not extend to Tallinn, capital of the Estonian SSR, or to any of its districts.

The local bodies of State authority and government referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article shall have the right to communicate in Russian with one another and with those institutions, enterprises and organizations whose operating language is Russian.

Article 37.

Article 4 of the present Law shall come into force step by step within four years after the enactment of the Law.

The lists of specialties and official positions referred to in Article 4, language competence required of such persons when concluding a work contract, attestation requirements, regulations concerning language teaching, as well as deadlines for the enforcement of Article 4 shall be set by the Council of Ministers of the Estonian SSR in coordination with the Lan­guage Protection Committee of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR.

Responsibility and Supervision of the Observance of the Law

Article 38.

The heads of bodies of State authority and government of the Estonian SSR and the administrators of institutions, enterprises and organizations of the Estonian SSR shall bear personal responsibility for the observance of the present Law within their sphere of jurisdiction.

The said officials, as well as the employees referred to in Article 4 of the present Law, when found guilty of intentional violation of the present Law, shall be responsible for their actions as provided for by Law.

Article 39.

The supervision over the observance of the present Law shall be entrusted to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR and the Language Protection Committee to be formed by the Presidium.

A. Rüütel
Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR

V.Vaht
Secretary of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR

Tallinn, January 18, 1989


Source: Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Estonia. Selection of legal acts (1988-1991). Compiled by Advig Kiris. Tallinn: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonian Institute for Information, 1991, pp.7-16


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