A Plan for the Future? the Estonian State Integration Programme on National Minorities 2000-2007

Article excerpt

Events surrounding the replacement of a Soviet bronze statue in spring 2007 in Tallinn and subsequent international tensions between the EU and Russia marked a low point in inter-ethnic relations between Russian-speakers in Estonia and ethnic Estonians in recent years. This raises the question of how successful current integration efforts directed towards Russian-speakers have actually been. The paper analyses the development of the Estonian State Integration Programme (SIP) 2000-2007 from its earliest moments in the 1990s to its current form. It is argued that although its theoretical basis is well grounded, the programme does not account for minority integration needs systematically. Instead it follows a unidirectional action-plan, targeting Russian-speakers without a prior needs-assessment at grass-root level and insufficient minority participation during the drafting and implementation period. Furthermore, the paper highlights the influence the legal-restorationist concept maintains on the implementation of the SIP which partly has the effect of re-enforcing inter-ethnic alienation.

Introduction

In April 2007 a Red Army bronze soldier statue in Tallinn's city centre was removed and placed in a cemetery outside to town centre. Two nights of street riots by the Russian-speaking youth in Tallinn followed. The bronze soldier controversy had already existed for some years before its relocation. But the mobilisation of the Russian-speaking community against its removal and the subsequent street battles with police forces were unseen in the recent history of the country and echo events in 1993 when the so-called Alien Crisis hit the country and ethnic tension was tangible. Without a doubt, significant changes have taken place in Estonia between the years 1993 and 2007. The country has made remarkable progress in the transition from foreign occupation to democratisation, economic prosperity and membership of NATO and of the EU. However, the social and ethnic differences between Estonians and the Russian-speaking minority remain unsettled and a potential source for social unrest as events concerning the bronze soldier crisis have shown. Under these circumstances the reactions are all the more surprising as Estonia has implemented a minority integration programme since the year 2000 and international financial support for minority integration has been considerable. Consequently, this paper evaluates the impact of the Estonian State Integration Programme (2000-2007) on minority integration in the country, and asks what part the SIP has played in reducing ethnic divides and social inequalities.

Minority Integration in Estonia: Early Attempts

In the early 1990s Estonians expected Russian-speakers to leave the country, and state planning on minority issues promoted the remigration of Russophones. At that time minority integration was not an official policy goal and thus no systematic integration policy existed. This situation lasted for a number of years until the end of the last decade at which point Estonia started to develop a central minority integration programme. Main parts of Estonia's minority integration programme have been developed within the country by its academic elite. International involvement was less direct and essentially entailed stressing the need to develop such a strategy. Nonetheless, without EU conditionality and external funding the setting up of minority integration programmes would have been delayed, and would have been much less effectual. From 1996 onwards the Council of Europe (COE) started a programmatic cooperation with Estonian officials with the aim of fostering Estonian integration efforts1 but Russian-speakers were rarely involved during the drafting process.

In cooperation with the UNDP Estonia developed its first integration programme "Integrating non-Estonians into Estonian Society: Setting the Course" in 1997 under the guidance of Rein Taagepera2. However, the programme did not develop directly applicable project proposals but sketched out general objectives and problems. …