Cover Image
close this bookEthnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (United Nations University, 1996, 298 p.)
close this folder7. From centre-periphery conflict to the making of new nationality policy in an independent state: Estonia
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentFrom country to borderland, from nation to minority
View the documentAn ethnically divided society
View the documentThe language issue
View the documentWho has been the minority since august 1991?
View the documentConclusion

Conclusion

Estonians have always realized more acutely than Russians the discord resulting from changes in the ethnic environment; but, in an undemocratic situation, this uncertainty was internalized. The Russian population neither heard nor realized Estonian national problems, nor comprehended their own interests on the ethnic level. This situation changed dramatically when the Estonians could start speaking publicly about national injustice, occupation, and their existential fears for the future. This national awakening took most Russian-speaking inhabitants of Estonia by surprise. They were shocked by the multiplicity of the problems that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The criticism of imperial abuse, demands to revive the historical truth, defence of the stability of Estonian society and Estonians - all these were first taken as something directed against non-Estonians.

The inter-ethnic relations of Estonia have now started to assume new qualitative features. The main shift can be accounted for by the fact that the Russian-speaking part of the Estonian population, first and foremost the Russians, has now begun to see its interests as related to a range of its national interests. In other words, the ideology of differentiation between Estonians and Russians has been transformed into a two-way nationalism.

In the shifts taking place in Estonian society in this sphere, there are many analogies to relations between Canada and Quebec. Let me draw on Raymond Breton's concept of two kinds of nationalism, in which he distinguishes between ethnic or ethno-cultural nationalism and civic nationalism.22 The changes that have taken place in the development of Estonia's national ideology involve two phases. In the first phase, preceding the Estonian national liberation movement, Estonian nationalism had a strongly self-defensive character. This was induced by the exercise of alien authority by a great power, as well as the existential uncertainty caused by an unfavourable demographic situation. Since Estonian society and local authority lacked self-governing rights, the mechanisms which persisted in the Estonian national identity were forced into the ethno-cultural sphere. The leitmotif was to maintain the Estonian language and culture and to obtain strength from traditions. The tragedy that befell the nation favoured the preservation of a romantic image of the past. In contrast, Russian nationalism was state-centred (state nationalism) and valued the merits of being a great power, pragmatism and being future-oriented. In this concept, Russian culture and language lacked any special emotional potency. The notion of ideal national relations meant an internationalist and inclusive approach, which conflict with the Estonians' strong exclusive standpoint towards foreigners.

In the second phase, the ideology of both national-linguistic groups becomes more marginal. We may note that, psychologically, Estonians are having great difficulties in adapting positively to their refund legal status as a "majority." This orientation towards the past is even stronger because Estonian independence has been re-established, not proclaimed for the first time. Together with the reestablishment of the state, a process of restoration (renewing of presoviet ownership, compensation for repression, the reinforcement of several laws, the revival of organizations and symbols, adaptation of exile culture, etc.), has partly begun. The presence of the Russian army, as well as the unchanging demographic situation, has kept alive the "state of defence." Ethnic exclusiveness is supported by the anticommunist related to the restoration of ideology. That, in turn, excludes certain groups, and is not an integrating factor. Estonian society would appear to need time to rid itself of the ideology of the minority, so that it can move from ethnic nationalism towards civic nationalism and acceptance of a multicultural future.

Local state-centred nationalism has also lost its fulcra, and the changes taking place are dramatic. Overnight the citizens of a great power became inhabitants of a foreign country, whose relations with the new state as a former homeland are unclear. The dominant nationality has become the ethnic minority of a small state. This transformed situation has inevitably transformed the nationalism of the local Russian community and shifted it towards ethnicity. Perhaps Russian nationalism will start acquiring some of the features that had been characteristic of Estonian nationalism. Time will tell whether Estonia will be divided by ethnic conflict, or whether it can develop into a cooperative society which accepts ethno-cultural differences. The crisis in relations between nations has developed in close connection with the socioeconomic, political, and moral crisis of Estonian society. To begin rebuilding society and the state, Estonia first needs to create a pluralistic democratic society, free of today's polarization.

Notes

1. Karl Aun, "A Critique of Nation-State - United in Diversity," in A. Nyri and T. Miljan (eds.), Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Research Seminar (Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1980), vol. 2, pp. 70-1.

2. Anthony D. Smith, "Towards a Theory of Ethnic Separatism," Ethnic and Racial Studies 2, no. 1 (January 1979): 22-3, 33.

3. Ibid. p. 31.

4. Hain Rebas quotes Anatol Renning in "Decisive Factors in the Formation of the Estonian Nation," in Enno Klaar (ed.), Metroo teine raamat (Stockholm: Metroo-trukk, 1979), p. 13.

5. T. Parming, "The Communist Party and the Estonians," in Enno Klaar (ed.), Metroo teine raamat (Stockholm: Metroo-trukk, 1979), p. 89.

6. V. Maamagi (ed.), The History of the Estonian SSR (Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1971) vol. III, pp. 503-4.

7. Op. cit., vol. III, pp. 595-6.

8. Looming 5, Tallinn, 1988.

9. K. Hallik, On the Features of the Development of Estonia's Socialist Nation (Tartu: Tartu Riikliku Ulikooli Toimetiset, 1989), p. 144.

10. Rahva Haal (daily newspaper), 19 October 1991.

11. Kalev Katus, "Demographic Development in Estonia Through Centuries," Population Studies (Estonian Inter-university Population Research Centre) 3 (1989): 16.

12. Rein Taagepera, "Size and Ethnicity of Estonian Towns and Rural Districts 1922-1979," Journal of Baltic Studies 8, no. 2: 105-27.

13. "Estonia v godu," Estonian Express, Tallinn, 18 October 1991.

14. Joint Plenary Meeting of the Estonian Creative Societies, 1-2 April 1988 (Tallinn, 1988), pp. 53-4.

15. Trud v. SSSR, Statisticheskii zbornik (Moscow, 1988), pp. 22-3.

16. The number of those speaking the Estonian language exceeds the number of Estonians by 9%; for the Russian language, the corresponding figure is 25%.

17. Michael Hechter, "Group formation and the cultural division of labour," American Journal of Sociology 84, no. 2 (1978): 294.

18. Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), pp. 60-3; MN Doc. E/ON 4/Sub. 2./1990/46 page 8; Protection of Minorities, Progress report submitted by Asbjide.

19. Sovetskaya Estonia, 12 October 1988.

20. Mezregionalnoi Sovet Narodnah Deputatov i Delegatov Trudyanskai Estonskoi SSR. Rinfo #3 (Tallinn, 1990), pp. 2, 4.

21. Andrus Saar, "Inter-ethnic Relations in Estonia," The Monthly Survey of Estonian and Soviet Politics (Tallinn), December 1990, pp. 13-14.

22. Raymond Breton, "From Ethnic to Civic Nationalism: English Canada and Quebec," Ethnic and Racial Studies 2, no. 31 (January 1988): 85-102.