Representatives of about 194 nationalities live in Estonia. The population consist of 69% Estonians, 25% Russians, 2% Ukrainians, 1% Belarusians, 0.8% Finns and other are smaller national minority groups.
In October 1993, the Parliament passed the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act, which determines the following 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.
After reindependency, in 1992 the Citizenship Act defined Soviet-time settlers into Estonia as immigrants. Soviet-time immigrants and their descendants who have not taken citizenship are either citizens of other countries or stateless (alien passport holders). Most non-citizens are holders of long-term residence permits, which grant them the same economic and social rights as Estonian citizens. They have a vote in local authority level, but not in state or EU elections. Members of the Parliament and local councils may be Estonian or EU citizens, but non-citizens can’t work in certain public offices.
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.
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, more than 300 cultural associations and 30 Sunday-schools of different nationalities operate. Most of them are interconnected through umbrella organisations.
Estonia has ratified several international conventions concerned with the cultural rights of minorities such as the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
There are a number of civil society organisations (NGOs) that help to organise and promote the culture of other national minority groups. These organisations receive financial support from local authorities and the Migration Foundation Our People (MISA). The state supports the Russian Theatre, as well as numerous folk-dance groups or choirs. A good example is the song and dance festival “Slavic Wreath”, in which various Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian culture groups as well as Estonian communities take part. The activities are financed by the state and the city of Tallinn.
MISA supports larger events organised by cultural associations of national minorities, including the Novruz Bayramı festival of Eastern people that celebrates the start of the New Year of the Sun, the Ukrainian Flowers international children’s and young people’s festival held in Tallinn, and the Slavic Wreath international song and dance festival. September is especially rich in national cultural events when National Minorities Day is celebrated in Estonia. The largest traditional events of National Minorities Day include the Ethno Fair, the Under One Sky concert in Tallinn and the National Cultures Creative Pot festival.
MISA also helps to implement cultural activities as part of the ‘Integration-based cooperation activities’ sub-point of the ‘Activities promoting integration in Estonian society’ project of the European Social Fund. Cooperation between people and teams from the field of culture is financed for the organisation and its workshops, masterclasses and discussions. Most of these activities are focused on Ida-Viru and Harju counties, where there are a lot of people have Russian as their first language.
See also chapters 2.2 and 2.5.1.