Representatives of about 194 nationalities live in Estonia. The population consist of 69% Estonians, 25% are Russians, 2% Ukrainians, 1% Belarusians, 0.8% Finns and other are smaller national minority groups.
The task of the Ministry of Culture is to ensure the integration process within Estonian society between Estonians and the representatives of national minorities, and support the cultural life and societies of the Estonian minorities to preserve their cultures and languages in Estonia.
The Estonian Constitution states:
- § 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.
In October 1993, the Parliament passed the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act, determining the main objectives of the minority cultural self-government: 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. Non-citizens may also participate in the activities of cultural and educational institutions and religious communities of national minorities, but may not be elected or appointed to the governing bodies of cultural self-governing bodies. In order to preserve their distinctive cultural and national identity (customs, practices, language), people of different national groups belong to associations of national culture in Estonia. By 2019, there are more than 300 such kind of associations. Most of them are interconnected through umbrella organisations.
The Ministry of Culture is in charge of the coordination of the strategy of integration and social cohesion (Integrating Estonia 2020) and the integration measures of the European Social Fund for the period of 2014–2020. The Ministry of Culture is the founder of the Integration Foundation.
The purpose of integration is to foster a situation where other nationalities living in Estonia, as well as Estonians themselves, are ensured a cohesive and tolerant society where everyone can feel comfortable and safe – to work, study, develop their culture, be a full member of the society.
Integration is a broad-based societal process involving many different areas of life. Besides the Ministry of Culture, other ministries also contribute to the pursuit of a more cohesive society, mainly the Ministries of Education and Research; Interior Affairs; Justice; and Social Affairs.
The preparation of a new national integration plan for 2021-2030 is underway at the Ministry of Culture, which will formulate the objectives of the integration policy of the Republic of Estonia and the activities needed to achieve them.
The state wishes to recognise the value of everyone in society, and thereby also support cultural diversity, promote a behavioural space in which the Estonian language and culture can be developed. This allows the Estonian identity to be preserved and its culture to be cultivated by people who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds.
The new sector-based development plan will provide the basis for the planning of the implementation and financing of the national integration policy for 2021 to 2030. To prepare the development plan, a series of research studies, consultations, discussion seminars, and inclusion meetings will be conducted. Related state institutions, scientists, representatives of civic associations and all interested Estonian residents will be able to participate online as well as by attending inclusion events.
Foundation Innove, local municipalities and civil society organisations (NGOs) play a central role in the integration activities. Foundation Innove implements the state supporting measure “Creating opportunities for less integrated permanent residents living in the Estonian society for increasing active participation and social activity as well as for supporting the adaptation and integration of new arrivals”, and monitors and controls the related projects. Most of integration activities are carried out by the Integration and Migration Foundation ‘Our People’ (MISA) on the basis of the directive of the Minister of Culture. Although all activities are nationwide, it should be taken into account that the representatives of the target group (less integrated residents) mainly live in two cities and two major regions: Tallinn and Tartu, Ida-Virumaa and Harjumaa.
One major activity supported by the related measures is the shaping of attitudes. Support is provided for those media and outreach activities, which increase tolerance in Estonian society. Attitudes are also shaped by means of cooperation activities, which take place at the level of ministries, local governments, and civil society. This helps to increase the awareness of people residing in Estonia about various cultures, traditions, and values, which in turn improves attitudes towards other ethnic groups.