[lg policy] Integration Policy & Perceptions in Estonia

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue May 8 10:21:06 EDT 2018

Baltic Bulletin <https://www.fpri.org/publications/baltic-bulletin>
Integration Policy & Perceptions in Estonia
Mridvika Sahajpal <https://www.fpri.org/contributor/mridvika-sahajpal/>, Silviu
Kondan <https://www.fpri.org/contributor/silviu-kondan/>, David J Trimbach

May 7, 2018
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Mridvika Sahajpal is pursuing a Master's Degree in European and Russian
Affairs at the University of Toronto, Centre for European, Russian, and
Eurasian Studies (CERES).Read More
Silviu Kondan is pursuing a master’s degree in European and Russian Affairs
at the University of Toronto, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian
Studies (CERES).Read More <https://www.fpri.org/contributor/silviu-kondan/>
Dr. David J. Trimbach is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. Read More
Related program(s)

Eurasia Program <https://www.fpri.org/research/eurasia/>

Broken international agreements, historical cleavages, and Russia’s use of
both hard and soft power in the Baltic states have caused some analysts to
worry that another conflict in Eastern Europe awaits. Fearing that the
Kremlin will launch a Crimea-style military intervention, the media has
fixated on rising Baltic military spending
to reach $2.1 billion
by 2020. Yet, the most pressing threat to the Baltics is not the
possibility of conventional warfare in the upcoming months. Rather, it is
Russia’s ability to use soft or sharp
power to achieve its aims.

Central to Russia’s soft power capabilities is the issue of Estonia’s
Russian-speaking minority population, largely a legacy of the illegal
Soviet occupation (1940-1991). Estonia’s multiethnic Russian-speaking
population comprises roughly 30% <https://www.stat.ee/64629>of Estonia’s
total population of 1.3 million people, of which, an estimated 80,000 to
individuals are stateless and carry the grey passport that denotes
undetermined citizenship. While stateless residents make up a small
percentage of Estonia’s total population, Estonia does contain the 10th
stateless population by state in the world. Statelessness and
Russian-speaker integration more broadly continues to be a major issue of
contention both internally between majority Estonians and Russian-speakers
and externally between Estonia and the Russian Federation.

This ongoing contention continues to be reflected in the everyday
experiences of many Russian-speakers, who perceive group-based
in Estonian society and noted incidents of instability or volatility. Such
incidents include, but are not limited to, the failed 1990s regional
autonomy referendum
in Estonia’s predominantly Russian-speaking northeast; the 2007 Bronze
soldier riot
which was sparked by the removal of a Soviet-era statue in Tallinn and led
to the death of one individual, the arrest of over 1,000 people, and the
first Russian cyberwar <http://www.bbc.com/news/39655415>; and an attempted
of a Russian pensioner in protest of the Estonian government. The status
and wellbeing of Estonian Russian-speakers have provoked the Russian state
in the past to voice official concern
Such everyday experiences and noted incidences illustrate an underlying
fracture that the Russian state could potentially influence through soft

While historically the security concerns of Central and Eastern European
states have been at odds with the rights of their minorities, regional
institutions now view minority integration as a means for de-escalating
interstate conflict. Specifically, in the Baltics, NATO, the OSCE, and the
EU have identified grey passports, socioeconomic disparities between
Russian-speakers and titular populations, and the naturalization process as
key policy challenges <http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5a338b5c4.pdf>. For
these organizations, the adoption of stable integration policies is
imperative to mitigate the risks associated with targeted hybrid warfare.

Estonia has followed the recommendations of its regional partners and
gradually introduced more favorable integration policies for its
Russian-speakers. While simultaneously promoting national security as the
top policy objective, the government has increased its efforts toward
facilitating Estonian language-learning and naturalization. While
comparative data suggests that Estonia has progressed well in social,
political, and economic integration, debate still surrounds the appropriate
path forward.
*Current Policy Developments*

In its *2020 Vision*
<http://www.kul.ee/sites/kulminn/files/integrating_estonia_2020.pdf>, the
Estonian government identified three objectives to aid the integration of
minorities: (1) increasing the openness of Estonian society towards
multiculturalism, (2) supporting minority cultures and languages, and (3)
adapting integration policies for new and incoming minorities. The current
focus with regards to Russian-speakers is to increase naturalization rates
of youth and those with undetermined citizenship through reformed
naturalization laws and language acquisition planning.

The continued use of language exams as a prerequisite for naturalization
poses the greatest challenge to the integration of Russian-speakers,
particularly stateless Russian-speakers. While naturalization reform has
made it much simpler for youth to become citizens, older generations are
still required to meet at least a B1 level of Estonian proficiency. For
some Russian-speakers, the time and money required to complete Estonian
language classes presents too significant a burden. For others, the
requirement of naturalization—despite being born on Estonian
territory—provokes a stigma of being classified as “secondary citizens.”

Incentives to preserve the grey passport have arguably also hindered the
success of the naturalization process. There are some practical benefits to
having undetermined status, such as travelling cost free across both the EU
and Russia, where Estonian citizens must get visas to visit Russia. This
dissuades some individuals from acquiring citizenship. Regardless of these
benefits, having access to political participation at the national level
remains a civic right that Russian-speakers should enjoy. The reduction in
undetermined citizenship has been an ongoing goal for both policymakers and
representatives of the Russian-speaking community.

The language of instruction in schools is central to integration debates.
In Estonia, the minority group is allowed, albeit with some restrictions,
to choose the primary language of instruction. However, tensions have
emerged over allowing Russians to regulate their own language acquisition,
creating an immersion program for both Estonian and Russian students,
and/or assimilating Russian pupils into the Estonian language.

In accordance with Estonia’s integration goals, the government has settled
on the following: as long as schools teach 60 percent of subjects in
Estonian during grades 10-12, Russian-language schools may operate.
However, these schools lag in educational standards due to a lack of
institutional support, understaffing, and insufficient bilingual teaching
capabilities. Furthermore, the introduction of the 60/40 bilingual split in
tenth grade exacerbates the difficulties of weaker Russian-language
students. As a result, the families of Russian students strongly oppose the
government’s proposed benefits of the 60/40 policy.

Lastly, recognizing that an ethnic divide in media only fuels polarization,
the government aims to integrate
<https://wwwkul.rik.ee/sites/kulminn/files/6_meedia_eng.pdf> the
information spaces between Estonian- and Russian-speakers. With the
implementation of the 2007 Estonian Public Broadcasting Act, Estonia Public
Broadcasting (ERR) became responsible for meeting the information needs of
all populations in Estonia. It established ETV+ as an alternative
Russian-language channel to combat targeted disinformation campaigns from
external Russian broadcasting. Interestingly, despite significant funding
and access gaps between Russian-speaking and ethnic Estonian journalists,
Russian-speaking journalists see themselves as potential mediators
the two communities.

Thus, while the Estonian government has made strides toward achieving its
objectives, public opinion
divided. Some regard the government’s efforts as too invasive and
assimilatory, while others believe they are insufficient to counter the
alienation of Estonia’s Russian-speakers.
*Integration Outcomes: Local Perceptions*

What does integration policy look like to Estonia’s Russian-speakers?
Examining the impact of these policies as perceived by their target
community is critical to gauging policy effectiveness.

Our research shows that Russian-speakers vary in how they understand
citizenship and integration. When asked to assess the value of citizenship
in Estonia, around half deemed it important. Research shows that Russians
tend to value the acts associated with being a citizen—i.e., voting, civic
engagement, volunteering, protesting, etc.—more than its legal status. This
mixed perception of citizenship’s value is illustrated by naturalization
which reveal a steady decline since 2005. When asked about the
naturalization process, the majority of Russian-speakers stated that
learning the Estonian language should be a requirement. However, many noted
that naturalization is difficult, particularly due to current language
requirements and process length.

In our interviews, Russian-speakers demonstrated ambivalence toward
citizenship in their perceptions of integration. While a select few voiced
positive impressions of integration, most expressed more negative
attitudes. Some Russian-speakers saw no distinction between integration and
complete assimilation, thus illustrating the divisive and politicized
nature of integration policy. For example, one individual asserted that the
Estonian government was “forcing people to learn Estonian and to become
citizens.” Others suggested that integration is ineffective because it
neglects integral aspects of everyday life, like basic interactions between
ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers. One disillusioned Russian-speaker
went as far as to say,

Integration in Estonia. . . . It’s dead. . . . I can actually tell exactly
the date when the integration was over . . . April 26, 2007 [date of Bronze
Soldier riots
So, as of April 26, it became apparent to me in 2007 about my role in this
society and about my possibilities – what I can achieve and cannot achieve
in this society.

This same individual, among others, shared a sense of Estonia’s “two
inequitable societies.” Estonian- and Russian-speaking communities lack
daily interactions and shared information spaces, particularly in the
predominantly Russian-speaking northeast. We heard stories of
Russian-speakers changing their surnames to better integrate. One
individual explained, “I know that some people have a negative attitude
towards me because I changed my surname from a Russian one to an Estonian
one. . . . But it just gives you some kind of benefit.” Overall, the
prevalence of such negative attitudes toward integration illustrates a
critical need for policy “resuscitation.”
*Policy Recommendations*

While it is easy to ignore Estonian integration policy within the current
geopolitical context, security and integration in Estonia deeply intersect.
Both are bellwethers of stability, especially as the government derives
political legitimacy from notions of democracy, equality, and justice.

To implement effective and well-received policies, officials must rectify
the views of national security experts with the experiences of Estonia’s
Russian-speakers. We propose the following recommendations in geopolitics
and security and in minority integration and perceptions.
*Geopolitics & Security*

Hybrid threats continue to pose a security risk to the Baltic states.
Cyberwarfare and disinformation counter-campaigns must be present on the
government’s agenda. Studies on information consumption
reveal that Russian-speakers a) prioritize entertainment over news and b)
are skeptical of both Russian and Estonian news broadcasting. Estonian
broadcasting companies must therefore deliver programming that matches the
entertainment interests of Russian-speakers. They should also market ETV+
as a tool for cultural exchanges and language-learning—both for
Russian-speakers and ethnic Estonians.

Social and digital media play an increasing role in information
consumption. For example, fake news
targeted toward Russian- and Estonian-speakers in Estonia, shared or
perpetuated via social and digital media, may influence Russian-speakers’
perceptions of the Estonian government. Recent research shows that
Estonians are the least critical
of fake news and its potential dangers among EU residents. Measures are
needed to ensure active participation among both ethnic Estonians- and
Russian-speakers in information integration.

Our interviews further revealed
the vulnerability of Russian-speakers in national discussions surrounding
security and defense. Fixating on the threat from Russia, officials often
wind up alienating Estonia’s Russian-speakers. To prevent ethnic
stereotyping in mainstream society, officials must take caution to separate
the Russian government and the Russian people as two distinct entities.
Similarly, in discussions of Estonia’s posture toward Russia, policymakers
should include a diverse array of Russian-speaking perspectives, which have
often been absent in such conversations.
*Minority Integration & Perceptions*

Recognizing that naturalization has become easier for youth, we recommend
greater accommodation for Russian-speaking adults with undetermined
citizenship. Through long-term, fully or partially funded language classes,
the government can increase levels of Estonian proficiency and ease the
naturalization process. The government should also prioritize consultation
with Russian-speakers who feel disenfranchised by the requirement of
naturalization. Not only will this help mitigate tensions, but it will
allow the government to develop more inclusive and equitable processes to
better reflect the community-wide challenges faced by Russian-speakers.

As acquisition planning continues to fuel grievances between
Russian-speakers and Estonian policymakers, proponents of the 60/40
education policy must address the concerns of Russian families. To allocate
teaching resources, the Estonian government should a) direct more funding
to Russian schools and b) ensure that Estonian and Russian teachers are
adequately trained so that neither language group is systematically
disadvantaged. To promote the holistic integration of Russian-speaking
youth, the government should consider full-immersion programs, informal
language learning classes, and exchange programs that encourage active
collaboration between ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers.
*The Integration Work Continues*

Estonia has introduced key multidimensional integration policies to bridge
more effectively Russian-speakers with mainstream Estonian society;
however, much work remains. Estonia’s naturalization process, in
particular, has undergone various amendments that have allowed for easier
access to citizenship. However, it continues to be measured as more
restrictive <http://www.mipex.eu/estonia> than its fellow EU member states,
with the exception of Latvia, which shares somewhat similar policies
and national concerns

The geographic concentration and separation of Russian-speakers,
particularly in the northeast, reflect a need to better integrate
Russian-speaking areas. For example, President Kersti Kaljulaid has
unexpectedly committed to relocating
office to Russian-majority Narva for one month in 2018, building upon past
efforts to relocate
state institutions to the region. These efforts highlight a path forward.
However, the challenge remains to balance responsibly the local perceptions
and input of the Russian-speaking community with the overall security of
the state.

*This work combines findings from complementary studies carried out by the
authors including **Integration Policy and Outcomes for the
Russian-Speaking Minority in Estonia*
research on **citizenship*
**identity* <http://balticworlds.com/understanding-narva-identity/>*,
and **Estonian
Mridvika Sahajpal and Silviu Kondan **conducted research from a policy
perspective at the national level through interviews with officials and
policy-makers, while** David J. Trimbach engaged in mixed-method research
at the local level with Russian-speakers.*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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