Main rights, connected with culture, are stated in the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia:
- § 38. Science and art and their teachings are free. Universities and research institutions are autonomous within the limits prescribed by the law.
- § 39. The rights of an author in respect of his or her work are inalienable. The national government protects authors’ rights.
- § 49. Everyone has the right to preserve his or her ethnic identity.
- § 50. National minorities have the right, in the interests of their culture, to establish self-governing agencies under such conditions and pursuant to such procedure as are provided in the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act.
- § 51. Everyone has the right to address government agencies, local authorities, and their officials in Estonian and to receive responses in Estonian. In localities where at least one half of the permanent residents belong to a national minority, everyone has the right to receive responses from government agencies, local authorities and their officials also in the language of the national minority.
The General Principles of Cultural Policy (see chapter 1.1) define Estonian culture as both the creation of Estonians as well as that of other nationalities living in Estonia. These principles also declare that all Estonian residents must have a chance to create culture and to partake in it regardless of their regional, social, cultural, ethnic, age, gender-related or other individual characteristics and needs.
In October 1993, the Parliament passed the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act. The main objectives of the minority cultural self-government are: organisation of mother language learning, establishment of national cultural institutions, organisation of cultural events, establishment and awarding of funds, scholarships and awards for the promotion of national culture and education, etc.
According to the act, minority cultural self-governments may consist of German, Russian, Swedish and Jewish citizens of the Republic of Estonia and nationalities of which more than 3 000 representatives live in Estonia.
In May 2003, the government approved the Rules for the Election of the Cultural Council of National Minorities. The Cultural Council is the supreme body of the cultural self-government, which is elected by direct and uniform elections. The Ingrian Finns were able to elect their Cultural Council in June 2004. Estonian Swedes were granted cultural autonomy in 2007. The rights of other national minorities are guaranteed by the Constitution and other laws. Non-citizens may also participate in the activities of cultural and educational institutions and religious communities of national minorities, but may not be elected, elected or appointed to the governing bodies of cultural self-governing bodies.
Estonia ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Council of Europe, 1995) in 1997.