The General Principles of Cultural Policy of Estonia up to 2020 (adopted by Riigikogu (the Parliament) 12th February, 2014):
The objective of the cultural policy is to form a society that values creativity by maintaining and improving the national identity of Estonia, researching, storing, and transferring cultural memory, and creating favourable conditions for the development of a vital, open, and versatile cultural space and for participating in culture. General principles have been set, stating that cultural policy is based on the constitutional aim of ensuring the preservation of the Estonian nation, language, and culture in perpetuity. The national culture policy views this aim as the harmony between the preservation and continuation of culture on the one hand, and the innovativeness and openness of culture, on the other hand.
The General Principles of Cultural Policy adopted by the Parliament of Estonia are the basis for the state’s decisions in the field of culture up until 2020. This strategic document is a continuation of the former General Principles of the Estonian cultural policy adopted by the Parliament in 1998.
This document also draws on the national strategy for Estonia’s sustainable development (Sustainable Estonia 21), which has the viability of the local cultural space as one of its objectives. In this document, Estonian culture is defined as both the creation of Estonians as well as of other nationalities living in Estonia. The cornerstone of Estonian culture is the Estonian language. The state has agreed on the objectives of the language policy and activities of the development plan of the Estonian language, which is why the general principles do not address the language policy separately.
The cultural policy is closely interlinked with several other national policy areas including educational, economic, social, environmental, employment, integration, regional, tourism, and foreign policy. The many-faceted cultural life has a significant impact on the well-being of the Estonian people, the quality of the local living environment, and the international competitiveness of the country. The general principles are based on the conviction that culture is one of the key factors in achieving many goals both on a local and national level.
According to the Estonian Constitution, all issues related to local life are decided by local governments who operate independently based on the applicable legislation. The General Principles of Cultural Policy are activity directions for shaping and realising the cultural policy for the Government of the Estonian Republic, at the same time considering that local governments have an important role to fill in organising local cultural life, sustaining cultural establishments, and supporting cultural activities.
The General Principles of Estonian Cultural Policy up to 2020 state that the development of the society and communities, and the quality of local sustainable life, depends on accessibility to culture, active/passive participation and diversity of culture.
The preamble of the Estonian Constitution states that to “form a pledge to present and future generations for their social progress and welfare, which must guarantee the preservation of the Estonian people, the Estonian language and the Estonian culture through the ages” are among the main functions of the independent state.
The Ministry of Culture stresses that its mission is to retain the national identity of Estonia as well as to develop and ensure a vital cultural space. In order to achieve this, the Ministry of Culture values, retains, develops, acknowledges, and spreads Estonian culture, the rich heritage, and cultural diversity as well as the sportive lifestyle both in Estonia and abroad. The Ministry also supports both professional and amateur creative and sporting activities. This shows a wide concept of culture, broader than the arts and heritage alone.
Since 1997, Estonia participates in the European Programme of National Cultural Policy Reviews and the cultural policy priorities of the Council of Europe have been accepted by the Ministry of Culture. Support for identity and creativity, openness for cultural influences from abroad and concern for participation in cultural life are all part of Estonian cultural policy. At the same time, culture is an identity-building factor. On the preservation of the institutional structure, the definition of culture has been instrumental in guaranteeing a sustainable support system for a large number of culture organisations. So, that part of cultural policy model in Estonia is moderately centralised.
The arms-length-principle of cultural policy is represented by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Kultuurkapital) as well as in the fact that funding proposers of support programmes in the Ministry of Culture are committees of experts. The same system of experts’ and stakeholders’ involvement is used in other public funding cultural programmes, such as the Estonian Folk Culture Centre, the Estonian Film Institute etc. Thus, the representation of umbrella organisations, NGOs and wider civil society has become more frequent in decision making processes involving state cultural policies.
However, the Minister of Culture is free to make funding decisions without consulting the expert advisory bodies or partners. Thus, since 2014, the last three ministers have increased the number of cultural organisations that receive direct support from the Ministry of Culture.
The Ministry of Culture is also responsible for sport, media and integration policies. Since the early 2000s, the ‘creative industries’ appear in the Ministry’s policies and a support to creative industry development organisations were established in Enterprise Estonia, and later in the Ministry of Culture.
During the last century, Estonia has survived a number of pivotal times and events. These included the creation of an independent state at the end of the First World War (on 24th February 1918), two occupations during the Second World War and the destruction of social as well as cultural structures by the Soviet regime. The fifty-one-year period of Soviet rule lasted from 1940 until reindependence in 1991 (Estonia was occupied by Nazi-German regime during the period 1941-1944). An important milestone in the history of Estonia was the entry to the European Union on 1st May 2004, NATO on 2nd April 2004 and to the Euro zone on 1st January 2011.
In the 1990s, the Estonian government and its citizens built a democratic and liberal society with an open economy. The state as well as local authorities closed, restructured or created new institutions, also in cultural field. A désetatisation process started in a few fields of culture (for example, in 1998 the organisation of the traditional song and dance celebrations was transferred from a state agency to the state-owned foundation Estonian Song and Dance Celebration Foundation). Several fields of culture, like architecture, design and film, survived the privatisation and the institutions found themselves in totally new circumstances.
In the 1990s, legislation in the cultural sector developed with great speed, important laws such as the Copyright Act (1992) and the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act (1993) were passed. In 1994, the main arms-length-principle financing instrument in the cultural filed was re-established with the Estonian Cultural Endowment Act (1994) (see chapters 1.2.2 and 4.2.1).
Debates about a cultural policy document started and the General Principles of Estonian Cultural Policy passed in the Parliament in September 1998.
Estonia became a member of UNESCO in October 1991, joined the European Cultural Convention in 1992 and became a member of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1994.