Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

An independent Baltic state between the two World Wars,
Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a
constituent republic of the U.S.S..R. The United States does
not recognize the forcible incorporation of Estonia into the
Like the other Baltic states, Estonia is subjected to the same
centralized rule, the same Constitution and system of justice,
the same restrictions on civil and political liberties, and
the same police controls as the republics of the Soviet
State. In addition, Soviet policy toward the Estonian nation
arouses fear of Russif ication and of the destruction of
Estonian values. Because of a low birthrate and the influx of
Slavic settlers in recent years, Estonians now make up only 63
percent of the total population as compared to 92 percent in
The standard of living in Estonia is higher than the Soviet
average. In recent years, however, a decline in food supplies
and in some consumer goods has caused popular discontent. The
manner of Soviet exploitation of Estonian natural resources
has also been criticized.
Serious human rights violations continued in Estonia in 1985.
Any manifestation of national rights is harshly repressed by
Soviet authorities. Attempts to keep religious faith alive
are countered by Soviet harassment of religious leaders.
Estonians involved in human rights issues have also been
severely punished with prison sentences.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Although Estonian activists have on occasion died in Soviet
custody, it is difficult to establish official responsibility
for the deaths of persons involved in political dissent.
Soviet persecution of those attempting to defend Estonian
national rights, however, may lead to their deaths. Activist
Johannes Hint died in Soviet custody in 1985.
b. Disappearance
There are no known instances of permanent or prolonged
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
In Estonia, as throughout the Soviet system, cruel and inhuman
treatment of political prisoners occurs during both
interrogation and confinement in labor camp, prison, or
psychiatric hospital. Physical and psychological abuse of
* Given Soviet control over all aspects of life in Estonia,
the systemic human rights abuses described in the report on
the U.S.S.R. apply also to Estonia. This report discusses
only instances of repression specific to Estonia.
prisoners is common, as is detention under extremely unhealthy
or otherwise onerous conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Soviet laws are written and interpreted in so broad a manner
that persons may be arrested and sentenced for exercising
basic human rights.
On July 19 Estonian human rights activist Robert Vaitmaa was
sentenced to 3 years in labor camp on a charge of "resisting
the authorities." Vaitmaa had been arrested on May 7 after
being forcibly removed from a plane while on his way to visit
exiled Estonian activist Tiit Madison.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Despite guarantees of judicial objectivity in both the
Estonian and Soviet Constitutions, the State completely
controls the judicial process and, in political cases,
arbitrarily decides the outcome of all trials to suit its
requirements. No rights of a defendant override the
self-determined compelling needs of the State.
Lutheran pastor Harri Motsnik was arrested on April 13
following a search of his home and charged with "anti-Soviet
agitation and propaganda." Although reportedly convicted, the
exact results of his trial, scheduled for August, had not
reached the West by year's end.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Government interference in personal life is pervasive through
its use of informers, mail censorship, electronic monitoring
of telephones, and other devices. Contacts between Estonians
and visitors from foreign countries are strongly discouraged,
and those who indulge in such contacts are subject to
harassment by the authorities.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for most internationally accepted
political liberties provided that their exercise accords with
the strengthening and security of the Socialist system. In
practice, the authorities do not tolerate dissident behavior.
All legal means of publication are under the complete control
of the party and the State. Because of their proximity to
Finland, however, Estonians have access to Finnish television
and radio broadcasts.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right to associate in public
organizations, but the authorities subject all associations
and organizations to their strict control.
Beginning in April 1985, a number of prominent Estonian
intellectuals were called in for questioning by the security
police (KGB) . They included Vardo Rumessen, a pianist and
musicologist; Arvo Vallikivi, a writer; Rein Einasto, a
scientist at the Estonian Academy of Sciences Institute of
Geology; Rein Ruutsoo, a philosopher; Hal j and Udam, a Persian
scholar; and several others. Questioning centered on contacts
with former Estonian prisoner of conscience Mati Kiirend,
musicologist Helju Tauk, and others.
Soviet labor law and practice is enforced in Estonia.
Although the Constitution guarantees all Soviet citizens the
right to form trade unions, any efforts by workers to exercise
this right independently of state-sponsored and controlled
unions have been brutally repressed. Given Soviet concern
that the ideas of the Polish Solidarity trade union movement
might spread, this has been especially true in the Baltic
states. In Estonia, the party leadership has denounced local
efforts to call strikes at state enterprises.
c. Freedom of Religion
In spite of constitutional guarantees of the right to profess
or not to profess any religion, religious believers are
subject to many restrictions. As part of a Soviet program to
reduce the authority and activities of the Lutheran Church,
many Lutheran pastors have been called in for questioning in
recent years, and the professional licenses of several have
been revoked.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Freedom of movement is neither guaranteed by law nor respected
in practice. The right to leave one's country and return is
also not recognized. Worker Enn Veerpalu was reportedly
convicted in 1985 for "illegally attempting to leave the
Soviet Union. "
Soviet authorities in Estonia do not respect the right of
emigration. Two Estonian families remain on the U.S.
Government Representation List of Divided Families who have
been refused permission to join relatives in the United
States. Many Estonian Jews have also been repeatedly denied
permission to emigrate. One well-known case of Soviet denial
of this basic human right concerns two-year-old Kaisa
Randpere, daughter of former Estonian Justice Ministry
official Valdo Randpere. Randpere and his wife, singer Leila
Miller, defected to Sweden in 1984. Soviet authorities have
refused to allow Kaisa to join her parents, reportedly
informing them "you will never see her again."
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Soviet authorities attempt strictly to forbid political
activity outside the framework of the Communist Party. In
Estonia, ethnic Estonians comprise only 52 percent of the
membership as compared to their 63 percent share of the total
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Soviet Government rejects any foreign criticism of its
human rights record, maintaining that all internationally
recognized human rights are fully protected. Its attitude
toward investigation of the human rights situation in Estonia
is uncompromisingly negative.
By Soviet standards, Estonia's 1.5 million population enjoys a
high standard of living and an advanced industry. In recent
years, however, a decline in food supplies and a reduction in
some consumer goods have caused discontent. Soviet statistics
reveal a poor economic performance by Estonia during the first
6 months of 1985. According to these statistics, Estonia
posted industrial growth of only 1.9 percent, well below the
1984 growth rate of 4 . 5 percent, and an increase in labor
productivity of only 2.4 percent, again below the 1984 rate of
4.2 percent. Economic performance in 1985 was subpar even
relative to the other Baltic republics and the Soviet Union as
a whole.
The exploitation of Estonia's oil shale under central Soviet
control has provoked sharp criticism in Estonia. Used for
thermal energy production and for the chemical industry, the
deposits have been exploited at an accelerating rate, although
only about a third of the electrical energy produced from this
source can be used in Estonia. In addition to the rapid
depletion of a national resource, the enormous amount of
pollution and environmental damage caused by shale
exploitation has aroused concern.
Estonian-Russian tensions are always close to the surface in
Estonia; they appear to be increasing as the proportion of the
Russian-speaking population grows. One manifestation of this
is the reluctance of Estonians to learn or use the Russian
language. In 1979, only 24 percent of Estonians said they
spoke Russian well, a decline of 5 percent from 1970.
Estonians are under strong pressure to pursue Russian- language
programs. At the university level, particularly in the
sciences, courses are often taught in Russian, even when
Estonians make up the majority of a class. The nationalist
demonstrations by thousands of Estonian high school students
in October 1980, ruthlessly suppressed by the security forces,
have not been forgotten.