Eesti ülikool versus saksa keel. Georg Barkani ja Ernst Masingu juhtum

Terje Lõbu


Estonian university vs the German language.
The case of Georg Barkan and Ernst Masing

It has always been important for Estonians that the foreigners who
come to live in our country learn the Estonian language. Knowing
Estonian is an essential factor in becoming “one of our own”. It
was the case also in 1919 during the foundation of the national
university, which had the aim of providing instruction fully in Estonian.
It was not easy because it took time to establish a scientific
community who had a command of Estonian, at first they had to
accept that lectures were conducted in Russian and German as
well. Initially, several concessions were made to lecturers who did
not speak Estonian and these were also specified in the University
of Tartu Act adopted in 1925. According to this, professors were
allowed to give lectures in Russian or German for 5 years and by
the permission of the Ministry of Education this period could be
extended for another 3 years.
Most researchers managed to learn Estonian within the time
permitted by the law but two professors of the Faculty of Medicine
had problems with this: Georg Barkan and Ernst Masing. Barkan,
who was elected professor of pharmacology of the University of
Tartu, was a talented German researcher with good organisational
skills. Unfortunately, he did not learn Estonian so as to speak
it at the level required for teaching in Estonian during the time
permitted by the law. Several Estonian colleagues also opposed
Barkan, and, based on the law, he had to leave the University of
Tartu despite his fierce protests.
Ernst Masing was a Baltic German who managed conversational
communication in Estonian but did not consider his language
skills sufficient for the lecture hall. After the establishment of
the Estonian-language university, he was the first professor of the
Faculty of Medicine who was commissioned. However, during this
busy time—the autumn of 1919—, the matter of his language of
instruction was not specified in writing and years later this caused
misunderstandings. When Masing was required to give lectures in Estonian in 1934, a compromise was made and a 5-year permission
was given for him to teach in German. Unfortunately, Masing
also had to leave the University of Tartu in 1939 when the Baltic
Germans were called back to Germany.

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