Kristjan Kaldur

2011 was a rather eventful year in terms of national minorities and integration politics in Estonia. This topic was the centre of public discussion on a few instances: in debates held during the Riigikogu elections and in connection to the debate surrounding the reform of schools teaching in Russian. As there have been several developments as well as regressions in this field during the last twenty years – the Bronze night events for example – the topic of national minorities has never subsided and deserves continuing attention.

Political and institutional developments

One of the most important topics regarding national minorities in 2011 was the transfer of schools that teach in Russian to teaching in Estonian, which was concluded in September. The transfer means that the youths starting tenth grade in the school year of 2011/2012 have to study 60% of the subjects in Estonian during the next three high school grades. The reform has received harsh criticism from several administrations of schools that teach in Russian as well as the members of Riigikogu. Ten members of the union of national minorities in Riigikogu sent the Prime Minister and the Government a memorandum, which claims that forcing schools that teach in Russian to transfer to teaching in Estonian to be in breach of the Constitution.[1] The non-profit association Russian School in Estonia held a demonstration against the reform at Toompea; [2] they also filed an inquiry with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the situation with Russian schools in Estonia.[3]

17 Russian upper secondary schools (11 in Tallinn and 6 in Narva) applied for a time extension for the changeover in relation to the reform. Two of them (upper secondary schools for adults) were afforded the time extension on the condition that the schools will continue with intensive tuition of Estonian language in the next three years.[4] The Government did not support making exceptions for the other schools.

It is still early to assess the changeover of schools that teach in Russian to teaching in Estonian as it depends of several factors, from preparation of the teachers to existence of proper methodological materials. The attitude of the parties also has an effect on the success of the school reform. The latest survey to that effect indicates that the most positive attitude, and the attitude agreeing to necessity of teaching in Estonian among the group of non-native Estonians is the group with the most direct link to the changeover – the students and the youths.[5] However, considering the current situation, it could be presumed that the dissatisfaction surrounding the reform will not abate any time soon and is likely to carry on in the following years.

The 2011 Riigikogu elections also touched upon the topic of national minorities and integration, although there was limited debate on the merits of this topic.[6] Mati Heidmets deduced from the analysis of discussions held during the election debates that the ideas of coalition parties on increasing the efficiency of integration politics are relatively vague; however, the further the party is from position of power, the more specific their viewpoints on the topic.[7] For example, one of specific viewpoints of the Estonian People’s Union was to end the system of undetermined citizenship and easing of the naturalisation conditions, and the viewpoint of the Russian Party in Estonia was to abolish the Language Inspectorate, however, the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union set a relatively general goal of focusing on education politics and the Reform Party planned on increasing the competitiveness of national minorities in Estonia and increasing the interaction between different groups of the society.[8]

The position of parties that formed a coalition in April – the Reform party and the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union – remained similar to that of previous years: according to the agreement the fundamental principles of citizenship politics will not be changed.[9]  The draft act (68 SE I) amending the Citizenship Act initiated by the fraction of Social Democrats which was rejected at the first reading in Riigikogu is also worth mentioning. It would have automatically granted Estonian citizenships in naturalisation to children younger than 15 years old born after 1992 without their parents’ application, if his or her parents are stateless persons and have legally lived in Estonia for at least five years.[10]

An example of a positive example is the integration implementation plan for 2011–2013 that the Government confirmed in June.[11] The priorities of the implementation plan are increasing efficiency of teaching Estonian language in schools and in non-formal environments, and facilitating contacts and cooperation between persons with different mother tongues in order to increase the activity and involvement of young persons especially in Estonia’s society. The implementation plan also pays attention to supporting citizens’ associations and career counselling of young persons. Another important goal is to support a common Estonian information space.[12]

Statistics and surveys

The introduction of results of the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX)[13] of European states in Estonia set the attention of Estonian media on the citizenship politics. The survey states that Estonia’s integration politics is generally average in Europe in terms of liberality and openness, in some areas (such as immigrants’ access to job market and regulations on long term living permits) even more lenient than the European average. On the other hand, the citizenship politics in Estonia is one of the most conservative in Europe.[14] The main problems in Estonia in comparison to other European states are the strict language tests, stateless children and not affording them automatic citizenship.[15]

A think tank in the United States, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report in October, which pointed out the danger of an ethnic divide in Estonia.[16] The report described the relations between Russia, Estonia and ethnic Russians living in Estonia, and also focused on Russia’s so-called nationals’ politics.[17] The report suggested applying various measures to soothe tensions and solve problems between ethnic groups: adapt the labour market training to the needs of Russians, implement teaching history in schools so that students can get to know different interpretations of history (for example of the Soviet occupation), advance the naturalisation process for stateless persons and solidify the civil society via Estonian and Russian language organisations.[18] Additionally Estonia was advised to pay attention to Russian nationals’ politics, pointing out that the state of Estonia should not hinder the activity of organisations in Estonia acting on the Russian nationals’ politics, but should rather concentrate on and advance the current integration politics and measures that are already functioning.

Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities published its third report about Estonia in November.[19] It pointed out as one of the main problem areas the situation where even highly qualified Russians with good Estonian language skills who are Estonian citizens believe that there is a glass ceiling in their work-related development, that they are in the position where, despite their efforts, their further development is hindered because of their ethnic background. One of the main proposals of the report claims that ethnic Estonians are preferred at the labour market even if all conditions for candidates of different ethnicity are comparable, and that this situation must be fought against. The unequal situation on Estonian labour market is manifested by the fact that persons of Russian ethnicity are paid on average 10–15 per cent less than Estonians.[20] There are other factors creating a pay gap in addition to citizenship: ability to speak the official language, level of education and the geographic location.

In the effort of granting integration politics and equal treatment, attention should also be paid to integration of persons who have been granted asylum in Estonia, which has so far been faulty. The survey of the Institute of Baltic Studies conducted among the asylum seekers in 2011 states that the order of acceptance of persons enjoying international protection stated by the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens no longer applies. Just one in twenty of the interviewed persons that had been granted international protection had taken part in a free language course; none of the persons interviewed had received help from the local government in finding accommodation, or help with social or health services, or information about his rights and obligations.[21] Since the integration plan for aliens (the so-called new immigrants) is in force in Estonia, which also entails the adaptation program for aliens (citizens of third states), one option would be to organise integration of persons who have been afforded international protection in the course of this program: for example their integration in the labour market and the language training.

There were no recorded instances of racial violence in Estonia in 2011 according to the official statistics of the Ministry of Justice, neither were there court practices in this field.[22] The media, however, did draw attention to a case where a person was fined for inciting hatred in his blog.[23] Federation of Estonian Student Unions also drew attention to a case where an exchange student from Republic of Cameroon was assaulted in Tartu.[24] European Network Against Racism (ENAR) also mentions the assault on a black student in Tartu. The report of ENAR states that Estonian police does not have special instructions on how to behave in cases where the cause of an attack is racially motivated.[25] OECD’s report also drew attention to problems with tolerance in 2011, which stated that Estonia was in the last place in tolerance to minorities among the OECD states.[26]

Good practices

A good practice in national minorities can be considered the competition for multicultural corporations and work environments lead by Äripäev and supported by the European Fund for the integration of third-country nationals, the Integration and Migration Foundation and the Ministry of Culture. The goal was to acknowledge Estonian companies and organisations that value and promote multicultural work environments. In 2011 the first prize in the category of companies was awarded to the producer of containers, Estanc AS, which is based on Estonian capital, and the best multicultural public sector organisation was kindergarten Rukkilill in Kohtla-Järve.[27] In previous years Skype has won the prize for an ethnically diverse company.

Essential public discussions

The main topic of discussion regarding national minorities that was awarded attention to in public in 2011 was the transfer of schools teaching in Russian to teaching in Estonian.[28] Topics concerning migration were also discussed in the second half of 2011 – from the scandal surrounding the sale of residence permits to discussion about the necessity of immigration quotas and arguments against immigration. Even though 71% of Estonian population favours a conservative policy preventing immigration according to the Saar Poll of 2010,[29] the analysts and entrepreneurs speaking on this topic state unanimously that Estonia will not manage without immigrants and increasing immigration is inevitable in guaranteeing Estonia’s progress.[30] So far there has been a very modest public discussion about migration policy in Estonia, which makes it necessary to initiate a widespread inclusive debate involving all groups of the society to reach a consensus and to establish the various viewpoints. The politicians, entrepreneurs, employers, trade unions as well as regular citizens should be asked to express their opinions.


One of the indicators of the integration process is often considered to be the proportion of stateless persons among Estonia’s population.[31] 2011 was remarkable in that the number of stateless persons in Estonia fell below 100,000 for the first time.[32] However, it must be said that the rate of naturalisation has slowed down in recent years – the number of naturalisations in 2005 was 7072, in 2006 it was 4753, but in 2011 it was just 1498.[33] The issue of stateless persons was also raised in the campaign of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) against global statelessness, when Estonia was advised to grant automatic Estonian citizenship to all children born in Estonia after 1991.[34] In the words of a politician belonging to a governing party the current acts of law already enable the children of stateless persons to obtain citizenship without additional conditions, and the important thing should be not the automatic granting of citizenship, but the fact that the parents’ will to obtain a certain citizenship is clearly recorded.[35]


  • More information should continuously be given bout the transfer to teaching in Estonian in order to improve the attitude of the parties and to alleviate fears; the teachers should also be given plenty of support (methodological as well as emotional).
  • Implementation of measures of integration on persons who have been afforded international protection must be made more systematic; the Integration and Migration Foundation should be included in the integration process more actively by, for example, enabling the protected persons to participate in adaptation programs intended for the new immigrants.
  • Cultivating naturalisation is still necessary, but it must also be kept in mind that adoption of citizenship does not automatically bring about greater involvement or activity in the society.
  • Undertakings affording positive recognition should be continued, such as the competition for multicultural companies and work environments, but also conducting of citizenship ceremonies.
  • A debate involving all groups of the society on the topic of immigration must be initiated to discuss how the state can benefit from immigration and what are the problems and possible dangers of it.

[1] Aasaru, Heiki (2011). „Kümme riigikogu liiget kaitseb venekeelset õpet“ [Ten members of Riigikogu defend tuition in Russian], ERR news. 17.06.2011.

[2] Randlaid, Sven (2011). „Vene noored kogunesid Toompeale eesti õppekeele vastu meelt avaldama“ [Russian youths gathered in Toompea to protest against tuition in Estonian], ERR news. 11.10.2011.

[3] NGO Russian School in Estonia (2011). „Pöördumine OSCE Rahvusvähemuste Ülemkomissari hr. Vollebæki ja Europa Nõukogu Inimõiguste Komissari hr. Hammarbergi poole“ [Appeal to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities mr. Vollebæk and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights mr. Hammarberg].

[4] Koppel, Karin (2011). „Kaks täiskasvanute kooli said loa venekeelseks õppeks [Two schools for adults received permission for tuition in Russian]. ERR news. 14.07.2011.

[5] TNS Emor (2011). „Eestikeelne aineõpe vene õppekeelega koolide gümnaasiumiastmes: mitte-eestlaste teadlikkus ja suhtumine“ [Estonian tuition in Russian tuition secondary schools: awareness and attitude of non-Estonians].

[6] Also see the address of the Estonian Cooperation Assembly Roundtable before the elections made to Estonian parties, independent candidates and the general public suggesting people are valued regardless of their ethnicity and not to see a problem in non-Estonian speaking communities, but a strategic resource. Available at:

[7] Kahu, Oliver (2011). „Erakondade küsitlus: lõimumispoliitika“ [Survey of parties: integration policy]. ERR news. 16.02.2011.

[8] Kahu, Oliver (2011).

[9] Coalition agreement (2011). „Erakonna Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit ning Eesti Reformierakonna valitsusliidu programm aastateks 2011-2015“ [Coalition program of the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union and the Reform Party for years 2011–2015].

[10] Riigikogu. Kodakondsuse seaduse muutmise seadus 68 SE I. Algatatud 09.06.2011. [The draft act 68 SE I amending the Citizenship Act initiated 09.06.2011.]

[11] Reimaa, Anne-Ly (2011). „Kultuurilise mitmekesisuse osakonna infokiri 8/2011“ [Information letter of the department of cultural diversity]. Ministry of Culture.

[12] The preparation of the new development plan in the field for years 2014–2020 also includes a widespread monitoring of integration in Estonian society, which was initiated in 2011. The reults will be revealed in the beginning of 2012.

[13] Also see the Migrant Integration Policy Indexit. Available at:

[14] Kallas, Kristina (2011). „MIPEX uuring: Eesti kodakondsuspoliitika on üks rangemaid Euroopas“ [MIPEX study: Estonia’s citizenship policy one of the strictest in Europe]. Institute of Baltic Studies.

[15] Toom, Uku (2011). „Eesti immigrandid ei pääse poliitikasse, küll aga tööturule“ [Estonian immigrants cannot break into politics but they can penetrate the labour market]. ERR news. 03.06.2011.

[16] Conley, Heather ja Theodore Gerber (2011). „Russian Soft Power in the 21st Century“. CSIS.

[17] For example, the report points out that 34% of young Estonians feel hostility or fear towards Russians, while this applies to 8% of young Russians.

[18] Conley, Heather ja Theodore Gerber (2011).

[19] Council of Europe (2011). „Third Opinion on Estonia, Advisory Committe on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities“.

[20] Salu, Mikk (2011). „Vene meestel ei tasu eesti keele õppimine ära“ [Russian men don’t benefit from learning Estonian]. Postimees. 06.06.2011.

[21] Institute of Baltic Studies (2011). „Eestis rahvusvahelise kaitse saanud isikute hetkeolukord ning integreeritus Eesti ühiskonda“ [The situation of person who have been granted international protection in Estonia and their level of integration into Estonian society].

[22] Ministry of Justice (2011). E-mail conversation. 21.09.2011.

[23] Kuul, Marek (2011). „Vaenuõhutajast Lasnamäe blogijat trahviti 100 euroga“ [The hate inciting Lasnamäe blogger was fined 100 euros]. ERR news. 11.08.2011.

[24] Loonet, Teelemari (2011). „ Mälzer: vahetustudengite ründamine on Tartus ammune probleem“ [Mälzer: attacks on exchange students an old problem in Tartu]. Tartu Postimees. 1.06.2011.

[25] Also see: Kovalenko, Julia (2011). Racist Violence in Estonia. March 2011. Available at:

[26] OECD (2011). „Society at a Glance 2011 – OECD Social Indicators“.

[27] Sarapik, Raivo (2011). „Selgusid mitmekultuurilise organisatsiooni ja töökeskkonna konkursi võitjad“ [Winners of competition of multicultural organisations and work environments announced]. Äripäev. Press release. 28.04.2011.

[28] The topic of education and language policy of national minorities has been written about in more length in the Estonian Human Development Report 2010/2011. Available at:

[29] Pors, Merje (2011). „Suurem osa eestimaalastest pooldab sisserände takistamist“ [Majority of Estonians favours preventing immigration]. Postimees. 15.03.2011.

[30] See for example: Valge, Jaak (2011). „Jaak Valge: sisseränne tagant- ja eestpoolt“ [Jaak Valge: about immigration]. Postimees. 04.12.2011; Roots, Lehte (2011). „Elamislubadest, kvootidest ja ärist“ [About residence permits, quotas and business]. Eesti Päevaleht. 8.12.2011; Rainer Kattel in the article of Tamm, Merike (2011). „Kas sisseränne on Eestile lahendus?“ [Is immigration a solution for Estonia]. Postimees. 15.07.2011; Jüri Mõis in the article „Jüri Mõis: avaliku sektori töötajad erasektorisse, immigratsioonipoliitika liberaalsemaks“ [Jüri Mõis: public sector workers in to private sector, liberalise immigration policy]. 2011. Eesti Päevaleht. 19.10.2011.

[31] Attention should be drawn to the fact that the Government’s action plan measures meeting the goals of integration only by reducing the number of stateless persons to 89,700 in 2015. Also see:

[32] Ministry of Internal Affairs (2011). „Siseministeerium kutsub määratlemata kodakondsusega inimesi Eesti kodakondsust taotlema“ [Ministry of Internal Affairs is calling for statelss persons to apply for Estonian citizenship]. Press release. 25.04.2011.

[33] Police and Border Guard Board (2012). Kodakondsus-ja migratsioonivaldkonna statistika [Statistics of citizenship and migration fields].

[34] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2011). „Handbook on Statelessness for Parliamentarians goes Estonian“. Press release. 25.08.2011.

[35] Randlaid, Sven (2011). „Nutt: kodakondsuseta lapsed ei ole Eestis probleem“ [Nutt: stateless children are not a problem in Estonia]. ERR news. 30.08.2011.