2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model
Estonian cultural life has, for a long time, been characterised by its close connection to identity politics. The re-building of an independent state started in 1991 and was preceded by a mobilisation of the whole society in order to regain the country's independence. In Estonia, professional culture is perceived as representative of the nation, both outwards and for its own citizens. This creates a certain pressure to prioritise well-established, heavily institutionalised forms of cultural expression. The wish to preserve unity can also, partially, be seen as a legacy from the Communist past, when both cultural life and civil society had to stand united against pressures from the repressive state. Thus, cultural policy was originally based on a defensive strategy.
On the other hand, the cultural workers themselves feel they must jointly defend themselves against the invasion of mass culture, against the insecurity created by a dependence on market mechanisms, and guard their interests vis-à-vis other policy spheres competing for budget resources. The Ministry of Culture has initiated public discussion in order to encourage feedback on documents concerning cultural policy; a means to unite the established cultural institutions in a common "front", to guard their share of the state budget against cuts. However, cultural policy is also prepared by other actors, including municipal governments and an important arm's-length body, The Cultural Endowment of Estonia (see below).
The maintenance of an established set of cultural institutions has remained the basis of cultural policy in independent Estonia. In 2011, around 46% of the state cultural budget of 252 million EUR consisted of expenses for professional theatres, museums, libraries, sports schools and centres, and state-run concert organisations. This share of the budget has somewhat increased in comparison to the corresponding figure of 39.7% in 2006. Due to the adoption of the European common currency in 2011, and an on-going rise in the domestic price level, it is hard to compare the development of actual state cultural expenditure. Nevertheless, there has been a growth in the relative share of cultural expenditure in the overall state budget. Culture has been less influenced than other policy sectors by the monetarist principles that have prevailed in designing the state budget since the early 1990s, and especially after the financial crisis around 2010. This is very much due to the fact that Estonians continue to define their nation in terms of culture, rather than political citizenship; accordingly, the financing of culture from the state budget can be successfully legitimated with reference to the needs of the nation. From this also emerges a central aim of Estonian cultural policy: that of "preserving" the nation through a web of national institutions (most of which were already established during the Soviet period or before that.
An important exception to this institution-directed approach was the foundation of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Eesti Kultuurkapital) in 1994. In 2011, this institution received a fixed share from gambling, alcohol and tobacco excise taxes, together with income from invested assets amounting to 20.2 million EUR; i.e. 8.0 % of all government expenditure on culture), which was given as support for various projects in culture and sports. The income was higher than in 2010 (18.4 million EUR). The "newer" principle of granting support to projects departs from the typical institution-focused Estonian cultural policy. There is, however, a clear political wish to encourage the Cultural Endowment to finance the regular activities of cultural institutions. The overall share of the Cultural Endowment within government expenditure has fluctuated slightly (2000 – 10.7%, 2005 – 13.8%, 2007 – 11.9%, 2009 – 9.1%, 2011 – 8.0%). The Gambling Tax Act of 2002 prescribes that the Cultural Endowment will participate in the financing of the construction of cultural buildings. The cultural expenditure of local governments currently amounts to about 46% of all public expenditure on culture (see chapter 6.2.2).
In general, the cultural policy model is still moderately centralised, rather than decentralised. Representation of civil society has however become more frequent in decision making practices involving state cultural policies.