Estonia: Identity and Independence

By Jean-Jacques Subrenat; David Cousins et al. | Go to book overview

Rein Raud


The Conditions for a Multicultural Estonia

One of the most acute problems in Estonia since the restoration of independence has been the question of the non-Estonian population. The Estonian term muulased is generally used in this regard to designate people who moved to Estonia from within the Soviet Union, as well as their descendants whose cultural and/or political identity is different from that of the Estonians. The term is not normally used to designate all foreigners or non-Estonians. It is perfectly clear that the restoration of the independence of Estonia was a traumatic experience for some of them, as they had been accustomed to thinking of Estonia as an integral part of their large homeland and the new situation was strange and unfamiliar to them. State policies in respect of language and citizenship, aspiring to restore the hegemony of the Estonian language and national culture, have dramatically intensified the scale of this identity crisis. The problem has gradually begun to be resolved over recent years, primarily due to the breaking down of the stereotypes held by both Estonians and non-Estonians, and the disappearance of their fears, but a change in state policy has also had a role to play in this process. The nonEstonians have begun to identify themselves more and more with the totality of the environment in Estonia and Estonians no longer see them as a threat to the state and to society.

It is not my aim here to describe or document this process in detail but rather to analyse the theoretical conditions required for the formation of a multicultural Estonia. Nor is my discourse based on extensive surveys but rather on my own observations. It is, therefore, inevitably subjective, although in one sense this approach may be more justified than, for example, a statistical analysis of standardised answers to a questionnaire. The question of the non-Estonian population is significantly more complex than it appears at first sight and, despite the success which has been achieved in solving practical problems, it is my opinion that in Estonian society there is still no conceptualisation of the problems in a manner which is acceptable to both sides. This complexity is caused not only by historical, political and social problems, but also by the ways in which the living environment in Estonia is structured culturally.

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