10 - chapter

National minorities and integration policy

Author: Kristjan Kaldur


Political and institutional developments

On the political level integration has become a boring area in a good sense – it has grown to become a natural part of Estonian governance and policy shaping, the necessity of which is generally not doubted. The coalition agreement of the new government formed at the end of 2016 also continues the custom of earlier coalition agreements and dedicates a separate part to integration.[1] Even though this is nothing revolutionary and the agreement follows in the path of earlier agreements it covers the main themes of focus for integration: improvement of accessibility and quality of Estonian language studies, citizenship issues, raising the awareness of Russian-speaking population and other topics.

In addition to the usual target group for Estonian integration policy, the Russian-speaking population, integration also has to do with two somewhat separate target groups: new immigrants and asylum seekers / refugees. In case of new immigrants, the adaptation programme initiated by the Ministry of the Interior in 2015 and so far still working well, is worth a mention; the Ministry of Social Affairs is actively working with asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in cooperation with various support organisations (the Estonian Refugee Council and the Johannes Mihkelson Centre).

Legislative developments

In comparison to the previous period of reporting (2014–2015) there haven’t been remarkable changes on legislative level in this period. In the beginning of 2016 at the competition for best and worst acts of law of 2015 the amendments to the Citizenship Act (automatic naturalisation of children born into the family of parents of undetermined citizenship, legally allowing multiple citizenship for minors who have obtained Estonian citizenship by naturalisation, and dismissing over 65-year-old applicants for citizenship from the written exam) were declared the best act of law.[2]

Statistics and surveys

The results of monitoring of integration in Estonian society were published in the beginning of summer of 2017. Integration of society has been studied as a comprehensive instrument of study since 2000 and this monitoring is already the seventh. The results of the study could be divided in two. The more positive developments indicate that the Estonian language skills are improving in Estonian Russian-speaking population, four out of five Estonians share common ground on main issues of integration, and the majority of Estonian population support starting studies in Estonian already in kindergarten. The more negative developments, however, show that inequality based on nationality still reigns on Estonian labour market (in incomes, in employment, in unemployment rates), Estonian citizens still live in their own language spheres, and that contact between different nationalities primarily takes place at work or at school. Confidence in the state continues to be lower among population who does not speak Estonian than among the population that does.[3]

Another important survey was the “Estonian Human Development Report” presented in spring of 2017, the topic of which this time was “Estonia in the migration age”. The report summarizes several topics related to migration and integration and states that even though welfare in Estonia has rapidly improved it is still distributed unevenly among people. The report explains that there is a migration reversal taking place in Estonia – for the first time immigration is exceeding emigration and transnationalism is becoming an increasingly significant trend. One of the main messages of the Human Development Report is that since migration, transnationalism and integration policies make up a comprehensive unit they also need comprehensive coordinated activities to deal with them.[4]

In addition to these larger studies dissecting Estonian society more broadly several other studies looking at integration and the situation of minorities from different points of view were also published. For example, the National Audit Office published a report in the beginning of 2016 on the readiness of the state and local authorities to receive applicants and beneficiaries of international protection, which states that readiness of the state and local authorities to deal with sharp increase of refugees and their integration is only partial – of the evaluated 17 duties stemming from law Estonia can currently completely fulfil just three.[5] A lengthy UNHCR-lead review on beneficiaries of international protection was published at the end of 2016, specifically on integration of refugees into Estonian society (see chapter 12 on refugees and asylum seekers in the current report).[6] It states that even though legally Estonia meets the international and European standards on reception and other conditions, various shortcomings have to do with coordinating various parties’ work with accessibility of general services and the support persons’ scheme.

The meta-analysis on Estonian labour market division by nationality and language ordered by the Integration Foundation was also published in the spring of 2017. It shows and confirms the results of earlier such studies: that in comparison to Estonians, persons of other nationalities are at a weaker position on the Estonian labour market: differences show up in employment, in unemployment rates, in income sizes as well as in several other situations.[7]

Good practices

There were no remarkable examples of good practices changing or influencing integration or the situation of national minorities in the observable period. Nevertheless, an example of a good practice on a wider scale is the fact that the day-to-day issues of integration are being dealt with consistently, starting from supporting Estonian language studies to implementing cultural and educational integration methods.

A good example of a small scale good practice are the discussions on integration, which took place at the 2016 and 2017 Opinion Festival in Paide, the creation of concept of Estonian Language Houses, preparation of the measure enabling Estonian citizenship applicants to receive free language courses, but also regional events, such as empowering Russian-speaking young people at the first Russian-language hackathon in Narva.[8] [9] [10]

Noteworthy public discussions

The years 2016 and 2017 show some sign of calming down of public discussions over issues related to immigration and refugees. Nevertheless, three important questions related to national minorities were actively discussed in the period, all of them about citizenship: giving owners of grey passports / people of undetermined citizenship the right to vote at European Parliament elections (spring of 2016), possible legalisation of multiple citizenship for adults (summer of 2016) and giving Estonian citizenship without them having to pass the language exam and exam on the constitution to all persons who have lived in Estonia long-term (spring of 2017).

The discussion on giving persons of undetermined citizenship the right to vote at European Parliament elections arose from a petition on the issue from a member of the European Parliament.[11] In the course of the discussion two main and opposing viewpoints stood out: firstly, if to take European Parliament to meant to be a representative body of the population of the European Union and consider the fact that all Member States’ places and the European Parliament are decided based on the total population of each state it is natural that all (permanent) residents of the states are able to vote at European Parliament elections regardless of their citizenship. The other viewpoint is based on EU Treaties, which state what European Parliament can be elected by European Union citizens (that is each Member State’s citizens, which does not include persons of undefined citizenship.[12]

Another heated debate concerning citizenship and integration in a wider sense arose after the Prime Minister’s speech in the beginning of 2017, where he promised to make granting Estonian citizenship to all persons who have resided in Estonia for at least 25 years without the language exam and the exam on the Constitution one main point at the next Riigikogu election.[13] This point caused fierce debate among parties as well as within the parties,[14] and a wider response from the society.

The arguments supporting this issue are that granting citizenship more widely decreases the feeling of being ostracized among the Russian-speaking population, decreases security risk and increases social cohesion, but also that the differentiation based on passports has turned grey passport holders into “second class people”.[15] [16] The arguments against this are that citizenship does not add anything significant to a person since most of their rights are guaranteed anyway (except the right to elect the Riigikogu), implementation of such policy means that the target group will only vote for one specific political party, integrating into society does not come down to the colour of the passport, but to other factors, granting citizenship without exams will put those people in an unfair situation who have worked hard for Estonian citizenship, or that such a measure decreases the importance of Estonians in deciding over life in Estonia, etc.[17] [18] [19]  The after-effect of these discussions was the raise of the topic of whether integration in Estonia is necessary and possible.[20]

The third discussion over citizenship arose during the presidential election debates in the summer of 2016. Nearly all of the presidential candidates supported legalizing multiple citizenship in some way or another, the idea was also supported by most leaders of Estonian political parties in the parliament.[21] Excluding the positions against multiple citizenship (which mostly state arguments related to loyalty and security risks), the opinions primarily come down to the issue of whether multiple citizenship should be allowed for all persons regardless of the way citizenship was obtained (at birth v. naturalisation) or whether this right should only be granted to persons who are Estonian citizens at birth.[22]

It is important to note that looking back ten to twenty years, loyalty and security have been the main arguments to frame nearly all discussions regarding citizenship.[23] At the same time, the definition of citizenship is changing in the whole world – people are increasingly mobile, transnational, and children are born into such families that contain parents of different citizenships. It bears repeating here that, Estonia, as well as the rest of the world is growing more international at a rapid pace – and despite the acts on citizenship – which is why more and more children born into Estonian families have multiple citizenship of several states at birth.

Changes in issues regarding citizenship cannot take place overnight, neither is there thorough basic research conducted, for example, on legalizing or not legalizing multiple citizenship for adults (the topic has been more thoroughly researched only in the 2013 analysis by the Ministry of the Interior, and for the first time the views of Estonia’s population on the possibility of multiple citizenship and its different versions have been asked in the 2017 integration monitoring).


As in the previous period, the period of 2016–2017 is characterised by significantly greater number of discussions on the topic of immigration and refugees in comparison to the previous decade. Nevertheless, the discussions in this period have not been as fierce as in the previous period (2014–2015). Despite this, it can be concluded by observing the past decades that most public discussions concerning national minorities, integration or immigration predominantly take place in an unsystematic manner, as a rule, raising as a reaction to a current political event or a knowingly exaggerated statement. This in turn indicates that handling and discussing topics, which are important for Estonian society, have often been left to chance, not as much to a thought through plan of action.[24]


  • Stop the decades’ long play on the Russian card and nationality-based opposition in election fights and planning for them, which polarizes the voters and makes comprehensive integration of the Estonian society more difficult in all of the population groups. Draw attention to the ever-increasing use of this tactic regarding new immigrants, including the refugees.
  • Estonia does not have a migration policy in its strategic and narrative sense. The migration policy so far has been exceedingly method-based and the discussions predominantly centre on topics such as the quota, a (possible) points’ system, salary coefficient, etc. At the same time the government lack consensus and most of all a shared and communicated narrative on what Estonia’s future as an immigrant state should look like.
  • Initiate and hold discussions on citizenship systematically and according to plan, not based on current political events.
  • Pay more attention to various nationalities living in their own language sphere and inequality on the labour market stemming from nationality.


[1] See chapter VI „Integratsioon“ in „Keskerakonna, IRL-i ja SDE koalitsioonilepe täismahus“ [Estonian Centre Party, Pro Patria and Res Publica union and Social Democratic Party coalition agreement text in full]. ERR uudised. 19.11.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/577620/keskerakonna-irl-i-ja-sde-koalitsioonilepe-taismahus.

[2] „2015. aasta parim ja halvim seadus on selgunud“ [Best and worst acts of law of 2015 decided]. Postimees. 22.02.2016. Available at: http://pluss.postimees.ee/3591649/2015-aasta-parim-ja-halvim-seadus-on-selgunud

[3] Institute of Baltic Studies. „Eesti ühiskonna monitooring 2017“ [Monitoring of integration in Estonian society 2017]. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/publikatsioonid/integratsiooni-monitooring-20/

[4] Foundation Estonian Cooperation Assembly. „Eesti inimarengu aruanne 2016/2017 „Eesti rändeajastul““ [Estonian Human Development Report 2016/2017 “Estonia in the migration age”]. Available at: https://inimareng.ee/

[5] National Audit Office. „Riigi ja kohalike omavalitsuste valmisolek võtta vastu rahvusvahelise kaitse taotlejaid ja saanuid“ [Readiness of the state and local authorities to receive applicants and beneficiaries of international protection]. Available at: http://www.riigikontroll.ee/DesktopModules/DigiDetail/FileDownloader.aspx?AuditId=2379&FileId=13545

[6] UNHCR. “Integration of refugees in Estonia: Participation and Empowerment”.

[7] Institute of Baltic Studies. „Eesti tööturu rahvuslik ja keeleline jaotus“ [Estonian labour market’s division by nationality and language]. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/publikatsioonid/eesti-tooturu-rahvuslik-ja-keeleline-jaotus/

[8] Ministry of Culture. „Eesti keele majade loomine“ [Establishment of Estonian Language Houses]. Available at: http://www.kul.ee/et/eesti-keele-majade-loomine

[9] „Eesti kodakondsuse taotlejad saavad tulevikus tasuta keeleõpet“ [Estonian citizenship applicants to receive free language courses in the future]. ERR uudised. 13.07.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/607290/eesti-kodakondsuse-taotlejad-saavad-tulevikus-tasuta-keeleopet

[10] „Ida-Virumaa esimesel häkatonil arendati välja 21 nutikat ideed“ [21 smart ideas developed at Ida-Virumaa’s first hackathon]. Press release. 11.10.2016. Available at: https://www.ibs.ee/uudised-ja-press/ida-virumaa-esimesel-hakatonil-arendati-valja-21-nutikat-ideed/

[11] „Yana Toom andis Euroopa Parlamendile üle petitsiooni mittekodanike õiguste kohta“ [Yana Toom handed the European Parliament a petition on the rights of non-nationals]. ERR uudised. 21.06.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/562158/yana-toom-andis-euroopa-parlamendile-ule-petitsiooni-mittekodanike-oiguste-kohta

[12] „Õiguseksperdid on halli passi omanikele EL-i valimistel hääleõiguse andmise osas eriarvamusel“ [Legal experts disagree on giving grey passport holders the right to vote at EU elections]. ERR uudised. 15.04.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/558018/oiguseksperdid-on-halli-passi-omanikele-el-i-valimistel-haaleoiguse-andmise-osas-eriarvamusel

[13] „Ratas: kodakondsus tuleks anda kõigile, kes on elanud Eestis vähemalt 25 aastat“ [Ratas: citizenship should be given everyone who has resided in Estonia for at least 25 years]. ERR uudised. 23.01.2017. Available at: http://www.err.ee/581233/ratas-kodakondsus-tuleks-anda-koigile-kes-on-elanud-eestis-vahemalt-25-aastat

[14] See for example the views of I. Gräzin vs. A. Korobeinik „Ratase kodakondsusidee paistab kui poliitsepitsus“ [Ratas’ citizenship idea seems to be a political scheme]. Äripäev. 24.01.2017. Available at: http://www.aripaev.ee/uudised/2017/01/24/ratase-kodakondsusidee-paistab-kui-poliitsepitsus

[15] „Uued kodakondsed? Jah, muidugi“ [New citzens? Yes, of course.]. Äripäev. 25.01.2017. Available at: http://www.aripaev.ee/juhtkiri/2017/01/25/uued-kodakondsed-jah-muidugi

[16] „Ratas: ma ei toeta mitte üheski võtmes kodakondsuse nullvarianti“ [Ratas: I do not support any version of no citizenship]. Delfi. 25.01.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/ratas-ma-ei-toeta-mitte-uheski-votmes-kodakondsuse-nullvarianti?id=77026704

[17] „Dmitri Jegorov: lõimumine on kinni muus kui passis“ [Dmitri Jegorov: integration is not about the passport]. Postimees. 26.01.2017. Available at: https://www.postimees.ee/3993159/dmitri-jegorov-loimumine-on-kinni-muus-kui-passis

[18] „IRL ei toeta ideed anda kodakondsus kõigile, kes on Eestis elanud 25 aastat“ [Pro Patria and Res Publica Union do not support the idea of granting citizenship for everyone who has lived in Estonia for 25 years]. Delfi. 24.01.2017. Available at:  http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/irl-ei-toeta-ideed-anda-kodakondsus-koigile-kes-on-eestis-elanud-25-aastat?id=77013764

[19] „Martin Helme: hallipassi inimeste puhul tahetakse kodakondsus vägisi anda okupatsioonikolonistidele“ [Martin Helme: with regards to grey passport holders the citizenship is forced on occupation colonists]. Delfi. 24.01.2017. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/martin-helme-hallipassi-inimeste-puhul-tahetakse-kodakondsus-vagisi-anda-okupatsioonikolonistidele?id=77009010

[20] See for example „Kaire Uusen: äkki loobudagi integratsioonist?“ [Kaire Uusen: maybe we should give up on integration]. Postimees. 16.02.2017. Available at: https://arvamus.postimees.ee/4015805/kaire-uusen-akki-loobudagi-integratsioonist; „Marianna Makarova: miks oleks integratsioonist loobumine Eestile ohtlik?“ [Marianna Makarova: why would it be dangerous for Estonia to give up integration?]. Positmees.27.02.2017. Available at:  https://arvamus.postimees.ee/4028121/marianna-makarova-miks-oleks-integratsioonist-loobumine-eestile-ohtlik or „Viktoria Ladõnskaja: kas ja kes tahab lõimumist?“ [Viktoria Ladõnskaja: whether and who wants integration?]. Postimees. 21.01.2016. Available at:  https://arvamus.postimees.ee/3476819/viktoria-ladonskaja-kas-ja-kes-tahab-loimumist

[21] „Enamik presidendiks pürgijaist pooldab topeltkodakondsust teatud juhtudel“ [Most of the candidates running as presidents favour multiple citizenship on certain cases]. ERR uudised. 14.06.2016. Available at: http://www.err.ee/561722/enamik-presidendiks-purgijaist-pooldab-topeltkodakondsust-teatud-juhtudel

[22] „Pevkur lubaks topeltkodakondsust vaid sünnijärgsetele kodanikele“ [Pevkur would allow multiple citizenship only for citizens at birth]. Postimees. 15.06.2016. Available at: https://www.postimees.ee/3733493/pevkur-lubaks-topeltkodakondsust-vaid-sunnijargsetele-kodanikele; „Henn Põlluaas: topeltkodakondsus kujutab Eestile julgeolekuohtu“ [Henn Põlluaas: multiple citizenship is a security threat for Estonia]. Delfi. 16.06.2016. Available at:


[23] The third latent postulate about these discussions has always been the political viewpoint that basic principles of citizenship policy don’t change.

[24] In addition to the examples stated in this chapter this trend is also very well illustrated by the issue on the future of Russian-speaking kindergartens and their language of study, which created wide-based debate in the media in the summer of 2017.


  • Kristjan Kaldur on Balti Uuringute Instituudis töötanud alates 2007. aastast. Tema peamiseks töö- ning huvivaldkonnaks on ränne ja lõimumine, kuid lisaks tunneb ta suurt huvi infoühiskonna ja andmestunud maailmaga seotud teemade vastu. IBSis on Kristjan rände ja lõimumise valdkonna programmijuht. Kristjan on pärit Jõhvist, lõpetanud matemaatika eriklassi Hugo Treffneri Gümnaasiumis, magistriõpingud Tartu Ülikoolis võrdleva poliitika erialal, ning on stuudiumi jooksul ennast täiendanud erinevate pikemaajaliste stipendiumite raames Saksamaa ja Gruusia ülikoolides. Hetkel omandab ta ka doktorikraadi Tartu Ülikooli Johan Skytte poliitikauuringute instituudis, uurides oma doktoritöö raames uussisserändajate kohanemist ja lõimumistrajektoore, ning juhendades seal ka BA ja MA tudengeid natsionalismi-, etnopoliitika- ja rändeteemadel.