Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

The Pragmatic and the [National] Approach to the Question
of the Russian-Speaking Population in Estonia
An exchange of ideas

Sergei Ivanov, Jaan Kaplinski, Mart Nutt, David Vseviov, Harri Tiido

Participants: Sergei Ivanov, Jaan Kaplinski, Mart Nutt, David Vseviov. The debate is chaired by Harri Tiido.

Tiido:Is the currently dominant approach to the question of the Russianspeaking population in Estonia pragmatic or [national,] and have you noticed any changes in that approach during the years since the restoration of independence?

Kaplinski: The pragmatic and the [national] approach to the question, or rather questions, of the Russian population in Estonia are currently in competition with each other. Officially, the government was then dominated by Pro Patria1, has stated that its position is strongly national but in actual fact it has displayed a substantial degree of pragmatism regarding the Russian question. The balance between the two has swung between the two poles but fortunately it has never reached extremes: no serious Estonian politician has yet used the slogans [Russians out!] or [Estonia to the CIS!]

The fluctuations between the national and the pragmatic approach have been dependent on several circumstances. In recent years, it has seemed that society is always hit by a light outbreak of nationalism before elections to the Riigikogu, even though this is normally limited to rhetoric. It appears that the politicians believe that this rhetoric will assist them in winning a few vital percent of the majority Estonian vote. Also, in taking the national position, it is much easier to accuse the opposing side of betraying the interests of Estonians, or at least of neglecting them. Nationalism is expressed in Estonia largely through attitudes to precisely that Russian question, irrespective of whether the matter in hand is the fight to Estonianise Russian schools or for stricter observance of the national language requirements in Narva and Sillamäe, or some kind of demonstrative action, such as the petition against the Russian campaign in Chechnya. And so nationalism is one component of Estonian domestic and foreign policy while mild Russophobia is itself a

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