Stabilizing Estonia: The International Dimension of State Security and Ethnic Integration Policy

By Feldman, Gregory | Demokratizatsiya, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Stabilizing Estonia: The International Dimension of State Security and Ethnic Integration Policy


Feldman, Gregory, Demokratizatsiya


Introduction

The government policy to integrate Estonia's national minority and non-national populations does not defy western European values and practices, but instead exemplifies them. Moreover, many European Union (EU) member states, the Nordic countries in particular, actively support Estonia's integration policy as a cornerstone of Baltic Sea regional security. Their support rests on the common assumption that the security of the nation-state depends upon establishing the dominant position of the national majority within the territorial boundaries of the state. In this context, I suggest that Estonia's main ethnic integration document, State Programme: Integration in Estonian Society 2000-2007 (hereafter the State Programme), should be understood not as a peculiar expression of Eastern European nationalism, but as an outcome of the logic of state security in Europe. (1) To date, discussion on Estonia's citizenship laws, language laws, and ethnic integration policy focus on the questions of whether Estonia is shifting from "ethnic democracy" to "civic democracy," (2) whether it has made sufficient progress toward ethnic integration, and whether its citizenship and language laws match those in Western Europe. (3) I forego strict dichotomies between Eastern and Western Europe as far as minority-state relations are concerned because they obscure the ways in which these relations are part of a pan-European discourse nation, state, and security. Therefore, I ask how the State Programme functions in the context of broader European interstate relations so that the responsibility for, and improvements in, the difficult circumstances faced by Russian speakers in this future EU member state can be discussed with the necessary nuances.

This article concerns the function of the State Programme in contemporary (inter)national security. It examines how the State Programme supports stable European interstate relations in the present day, and only draws on the complex history of ethnic relations in Estonia as necessary. (4) This approach provides a perspective for interpreting the changes of the previous decade, and focuses discussion on where minority-state relations across Europe might be headed. The Estonian case is particularly interesting given the low level of ethnically motivated violence compared to other post-socialist and many EU states. There has been little ethnically motivated violence despite the presence of a large minority population and the legacy of the Soviet occupation that enabled its arrival. (5) However, rather than assume that Estonia's peaceful transition is a direct result of the successful adoption of liberal Western values, this article makes the counterintuitive suggestion that Estonia's approach to ethnic integration stems largely from the strong Western support given to reinforcing the position of the Estonian language and culture throughout the country. The implication is that Western and Eastern Europe should not be seen as categorically liberal and nationalist, respectively. Instead, both give privileged status to the national majority prior to accommodating minorities.

I begin by outlining the conceptual link between state security, territory, and national culture that underpins interstate relations. This is followed by a brief discussion of how the concept of nation-state sovereignty helped to preclude automatic citizenship for roughly 600,000 Soviet-era Russian speakers upon the restoration of the Republic of Estonia. Today, more than two hundred thousand of these individuals are still either stateless or citizens of other states. I then examine how the State Programme not only conforms to international agreements on minority rights, particularly the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (hereafter the Framework Convention), but also supports West European security concerns in the Baltic Sea region as explained by diplomats themselves. Next, I show how the logic of nation-state sovereignty precludes the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Russian-speaking leaders in Estonia from influencing the basic premises of Estonia's ethnic integration policy. …

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