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The proposal for a new Estonian Integration Strategy document for 2014-2020 awaits parliamentary debate.

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Estonia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.7 Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes

The discourse on migration and immigrants has so far been intertwined with the debate on the issues of integration of minorities, citizenship policies and language policies. The number of migrants to Estonia from countries outside the former Soviet Union has remained very small. In fact, the need to develop a policy towards new immigrants has become apparent only very recently, partly due to Estonia's membership in the European Union. Accordingly, the discourse on migration related issues has until recently been primarily concerned with the Soviet-time settlers to the country.

At the same time, some problems have remained unsolved and continue to be debated. They are related both to symbolic and practical aspects of the relations between the majority and minorities. In 2007, the symbolic controversies showed their latent conflict potential. A Soviet-time monument for the victims of the Second World War that was located in the centre of Tallinn became a subject of occasionally heated public debate. During the parliamentary election campaign, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and his reform Party made a promise to relocate the monument to the Military Cemetery. After the elections, and the appointment of Ansip's new Government Cabinet, this line of action was followed. However, removing the monument triggered protests by Russian-speakers, which eventually degenerated into violent street riots on 26-27 April, 2007. The press discussion following these events has shown that there still exists widely differing views about the goals and possibilities of policies towards the diverse Russian-speaking minority groups in Estonia.

Within minority organisations, the future of secondary education in Russian is debated actively; even for people with non-Russian ethnicity, the Russian language and culture may (sometimes, but not always) be closer to their own experiences than the Estonian culture. The minority activists sometimes say that the integration process should be "two-sided", implying that the Estonians should pay more attention to the Russian language and culture. The future of Russian-language secondary education is among the most crucial practical issues. According to the official policy, Russian-language gymnasiums should adopt Estonian as the language of instruction, of at least 60% of the lessons. After having been postponed several times, this change is now mandatory since the autumn term of 2012. The Law on Basic Schools and Gymnasiums actually provides for the possibility of schools applying for the use of another language of tuition, but the government has hitherto turned down all such applications on behalf of the Russian gymnasiums.

Since 2000, state policies towards non-citizens and ethnic minorities have been formulated in general action plans, the current one entitled the Estonian Integration Strategy 2008-2013. The proposal for a new strategy document for 2014-2020 has been presented by the Ministry of Culture to the Government of the Republic and awaits parliamentary debate and adoption (as of September 2014). The integration programmes are coordinated by the quasi-governmental Integration and Migration Foundation of Our People (until 2008 known as Non-Estonians' Integration Foundation), established in 1998. The current programme stresses two simultaneous goals: firstly, a need for the country's permanent residents to share "a feeling of belonging in Estonian society", based on "common values" and knowledge of the Estonian language, which is to be the common language of communication in the public sector; and secondly, an opportunity to maintain ethnic differences,based on the recognition of the cultural rights of ethnic minorities. The objectives have been classified under three sub-programmes, which include educational and cultural, social and economic, and legal and political integration. These objectives should be accompanied by the spread of positive attitudes towards integration among both the minorities and the majority population. When the various integration programmes since 2000 have been assessed, the very fact of their existence has been regarded as a significant achievement in itself. However, certain shortcomings have been raised; firstly, the implementation has concentrated on the education and language sectors, which have received a lion's share of the total financing of the programmes, leaving the fields of legal-political and socio-economic integration dependent on their inclusion in other government programmes. Although the programme stresses the objective of combining integration with the maintenance of strong minority identities, and the minority citizens' competence in their ethnic cultures, its implementation has been accused of being rather assimilationist in practice.

Roma minority representation in local media was an issue in 2010, partly due to the international controversies surrounding the repressive policies towards Roma minorities in France, due to the release of a film "Mission of a Rom" (2010) by Estonian director Vahur Laiapea and due to a recent criminal case. The rather small minority (estimates range from 400 to 1500 persons) has not received much attention since. In the same year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance's (ECRI) report on Estonia pointed at a practice of placing Roma children with no disabilities in the special schools for disabled people. In 2012, ECRI noted that no new such cases had come to its attention. 

The number of refugees and asylum seekers is small; between 1997 and February 2012, altogether 301 persons applied for asylum, which was granted to only 55 persons, some of whom no longer reside in Estonia. Their number is smaller than in any other EU country. In public debate, even usually well-informed debaters have difficulties in making a conceptual difference between asylum and migration policies. The public perception of asylum seekers has largely remained negative and stigmatising. The only refugee centre operates since 2000 in rural Illuka in eastern Estonia, largely isolated from the rest of society.

Additional Resources:

Government's overall approach to intercultural dialogue

Database of Good Practice on Intercultural Dialogue

Key Resources<-->

Chapter published: 13-10-2014

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