People of Foreign Origin in Tallinn and Ida-Virumaa:

Change in Identity and Prospects for Development



Juhan Sillaste, Dir. of Institute for Socio-Economic Analysis of Estonia,

Aksel Kirch, Dir. of Institute for European Studies,

Marika Kirch, Analyst at the Institute for European Studies

Changes in Identity, and Integration in the Process of Formation of an Integral Society in Estonia.

Over the years people of very diverse ethnic origin have settled in Estonia. Among non-Estonians there are, as the largest ethnic minorities, Russians, Ukrainians, Tartars, Estonian Swedes, Finns from Ingermanland and many others. A new phenomenon of recent years is the arrival of westerners for work and longer stay in Estonia, among them Finns, Scots, Irish, people from Pakistan and Indonesia, etc. Certain integration is required to enable the entire population to participate in the society, its various structures and spheres as full and equal subjects. Such an ethnic mosaic of a small society may be interesting culturally, but in order to assure integration both differentiation and full unity are needed.

Estonian legislation does not draw a legal line between people of different nationalities. Nevertheless boundaries exist, namely language boundaries. A major part of the Estonian society operates on the basis of the Estonian language, and Estonian underlies central cultural and political infrastructures. Those who do not have command of Estonian cannot be given the rights that presume a person to be politically informed, socially involved, etc., whose rights as a rule are gained by means of language competence. Therefore, lack of command of Estonian has become an obstacle to a fast integration for many of the non-Estonians living in Estonia. The problem is particularly acute among Russians and other former Soviet citizens from other regions of the USSR who communicate in Russian outside home. The experience that Germany and Finland have acquired by now in the acculturation of newcomers with the way of life in their new domicile (the so-called ethnic Germans and Finns from Ingermanland, respectively) proves that we have to do with a phenomenon that is not unique to Estonia. Adaptation to the Estonian way of life with no command of Estonian is possible, yet the 400 thousand-strong Russian population still maintains its isolation in Estonia.

By now the relationship of the Russians living in Estonia with the State of Estonia has become problematic. Citizenship of which state do the Russians living in Estonia associate themselves with? For instance, pronounced cultural differences between Russians in Russia and Russians in Estonia, as well as belonging to the body of Estonian citizens, underlie a yet new for today's Estonia ethnographic and cultural identity - Estonian Russians. Already in 1993 socio-psychological surveys confirmed that Estonian Russians differ from the Great Russians of Russia.1

Significant changes in the identity of Russians have occurred in the years 1991-1998: they have grown way more focused on Estonia. Estonian Russians clearly set their attitudes and opinions against those of Russian Russians, and at the same time try to be close to the opinion of Estonians. By distinguishing themselves as an ethnic group Estonian Russians draw a line between the two groups - Russian Russians and Estonian Russians. Therefore, in general terms the latter do not identify themselves with the Russians, whence they come, but have formed a distinct group in today's Estonia with its defined local identity.

A survey of the elite of Ida-Virumaa being conducted by the Estonian Institute for Social-economic Analyses reveals that even the cream of local non-Estonians often fails to name a single local Estonian cultural personage r the like. They know only those who personify political and economic power on the Estonian side.

Yet the survey by the Institute for Russia and CIS on the prospects of the eastern market titled "Assessment of the economic potential of Ida-Virumaa with corresponding risks. Future prospects in the direction of Russian and CIS markets " indicates that Estonian Russian entrepreneurs in Ida-Virumaa are rather sceptical about the potential of so-called eastern business. And nothing but cultural and civilisation-based differences between Russian businessmen in Estonia and in Russia are given as reasons:

"We are spoilt because we have got used to work in a civilised atmosphere, being trusted, being given credits - commodities, money; we have got used to believe the word of a partner... There, in Russia, it is totally different... no chance that the money you put in returns to you. This unpredictability of the Russian market starting with the unpredictability of politics, laws, taxes - all this dramatically affects how things go. Deep corruptness is a characteristic feature of Russian business. Here in a civilised atmosphere we have also got rid of that. We have rather strict laws in Estonia, but they can be understood, and it is enough if you simply abide by them. But in Russia...". This is an extract from an interview of a Narva construction entrepreneur with interviewers.

The group of indigenous Russians in Estonia numbers about 50 thousand, which is a tenth of Estonian Russians. Thus Estonian indigenous Russians form a distinct minority group and it is correct to call this group Estonian Russians. At the same time, they are not able to shape the ethno-cultural nature of the whole body of Russians among whom late immigrants dominate. For instance, of the Russians living in Estonia only up to 40 per cent are born in Estonia (by 1989 census - 38 %).

The barriers that have been set up either on the basis of historic memory, Great Russian culture or civilisation in a broader sense, and which date back to the former empire, are still a significant obstacle to integration. For example, the survey from December 1994 shows that about a quarter of the Russians surveyed still feel nostalgia. As a rule, these people do not consider Estonia their one and only homeland. To distinguish these people form the Estonian Russians, they could be called diaspora-Russians (and less often compatriots living abroad).

Diaspora-Russians seek to become somewhat like Estonians in terms of attitudes and assessments, yet due to the language barrier and lack of adequate information they have no clear idea what the Estonian society is like, so to speak, insiders, understanding what attitudes and opinions Estonians really have. However, it should be noted as a positive point that the nostalgia for the Soviet time has considerably decreased among the Russians. The interviews conducted with Russians in Sillamäe, Kohtla-Järve and Narva early 1999 indicated that in the discussions of main social issues, the interviewed compared their social problems, and opportunities to influence the current situation, with that in the early period of Estonia regaining independence (1991-1992). Nobody compared the present time to the Soviet period. In a unique survey of Sillamäe, Klara Hallik has said the following: "It is not an impossible task to develop an original integration strategy for Sillamäe, given Estonia's adapting to a new international political space and global cultural environment".

In addition to the above two groups, there is a relatively large group with a rather clouded identity ethnically, culturally and with regard to the state. They recognise themselves as "Baltic Russians" or "Eestimaalased" (the latter term was much in use during the "Singing Revolution" of 1988-1989 and translates "the one living in Estonia"). In case a person does not clearly associate himself or herself with Estonia, the decision to apply for Estonian citizenship comes hard to many Russians. On the one hand, close family relations with Russia remain and feed their ethno-cultural identity. On the other hand, although there is a growing drive to adapt to and integrate into the domicile, it is not an easy task to perform within a couple of decades due to the complexity of acculturation. This slow-moving process rather indicates the reconciliation of many Russians to cope with the obscure situation.

The unchanged ethno-cultural identity of an ethnic minority living among another nation suggests that the population has undergone no integration. The change in identity is the yardstick that tells us that there has been integration (a partial change or shift in identity) and that e.g. there is no ongoing assimilation (a total change of identity). A partial change in identity is a process in the course of which the non-Estonians living in Estonia become more or less bi-(or multi-)cultural and bi-(or multi-)lingual (e.g. Estonian-Russian, Estonian-Ukrainian, etc.), and at the result of which process the significant barriers disappear that today prevent non-Estonians from participating in the life of Estonia.

Over the last decades, carriers of two new identities can be seen among the Russians living in Estonia - the groups known as Estonian Russians and diaspora-Russians have been formed. Significant developments of the 90ies in the economic and political status of the Republic of Estonia have brought about pronounced trends in the identity of up to 120 thousand Russians. They are becoming an Estonia-focused national group. Estonian Russians clearly set their attitudes and opinions against those of Russian Russians and at the same time try to be close to the opinion of Estonians. By distinguishing themselves as an ethnic group, Estonian Russians draw a certain line between the two groups - Russian Russians and Estonian Russians. Therefore, in general, the latter do not identify themselves with the Russians, whence they come, but have formed a distinct group in today's Estonia with a pronounced "self".

Outwardly, diaspora-Russians seek to become like Estonians in terms of attitudes and assessments, yet "thanks" to the language barrier and lack of adequate information they do not sense what the Estonian society is like, so to say, inside, what attitudes and opinions Estonians really have. Similar to neo-imperialist sentiments in Russia, we also may say that a part of the diaspora-Russians in Estonia carry chauvinist and vengeful sentiments. The carriers of this ideology are not many - a couple per hundred Russians living in Estonia, and their attitudes have sometimes received too much publicity in the Estonian media.

Many of the holders of the Alien's passport (a total of 220 thousand people) do not associate themselves clearly with the Estonian State. That is why. Actually, the policy implemented by the state of Estonia in Ida-Virumaa should definitely contribute to a positive transformation of this obscurity. Therefore, "a stronger integration of Ida-Virumaa into the rest of Estonia" can be considered "a paramount task facing the Estonian State in the field of social policy, interior and foreign policy as well as an economic and ethno-cultural task".

Through which changes in identity will the integration occur? This is an important question also to Estonians. How much the Estonian language, culture, as well as conventions (daily customs and practices) will persist in the course of the integration process. The formation of the identity of Estonian Russians contains at least two important aspects: a) Estonian-Russian (Russian-Estonian) biculturalism and b) the sense of belonging to the body of Estonian citizens (state identity). Prof. Rein Taagepera has called this process the integration of language and mindset. Importantly, in the course of the integration process Estonians' own identity also undergoes a change - it is necessary to become aware of being a citizen of a country with ethnical diversity.

At the level of the Government great efforts are being made to integrate non-Estonians, primarily Russians, into the Estonian society. Here mention should be made of the adopted Governmental Programme, accelerated research, as well as extended teaching of Estonian to non-Estonians. Openness of the Estonian society, good communication and broader co-operation may contribute to mutual trust. It is obvious that the more one is integrated into the society socially and culturally, the more likely a person is to generate real loyalty to Estonia as "its own" society.

    Transformation of Economic Environment - Engine of Integration in Ida-Virumaa.

Regardless of what has been done and what is being done in terms of the integration of people of foreign origin into the Estonian society, the following questions need an answer:

In order to assess how sufficient the current integration preconditions are, the lessons should be learned from the period that lasted several decades, during which Estonia (and Ida-Virumaa in particular) were being integrated into a totally different background system. As everybody remembers, as early as in czarist times the central power in Moscow pursued the policy of forced switching of nationality in its border regions, in order to irrevocably fasten these territories to the metropolis.2 In principle, the Soviet power continued the same thing, only slogans underwent a transformation. The integration into the Soviet unified national economy complex became the key term, accompanied by reasoning and justification of the measures taken to achieve this goal. How effective that activity was, is proved by the difficulties that constantly confront the action undertaken in the field of integration.

Estonia's regained independence, the political will of the state to integrate people of foreign origin into the Estonian society, moral and financial support by western countries to the teaching of Estonian to the non-Estonian population - all this created essentially new preconditions for the ongoing social processes in Ida-Virumaa. These are necessary preconditions for the integration of the majority of Ida-Virumaa's inhabitants into the life of Estonia and Europe, yet insufficient preconditions. Quite the opposite, many symptoms indicate increased self-isolation of non-Estonians (manifestations of separation). Therefore additional preconditions need to be found and created in order to give the integration processes in Ida-Virumaa an irrevocable character.

Co-operation based on common interests of the members of society can be the carrier of integration processes, expressed in a concentrated form in economy; and so is Estonia's entering the sphere of influence of global economy, accession to the EU.

The Government of Estonia recently adopted the Regional Development Programme of Ida-Virumaa. Formally, the time horizon of the Regional Development Programme is limited to 2003, however, the Programme has a long-term and perhaps a pivotal consequence for the integration processes in Ida-Virumaa, as well as provides these processes with an economic basis.

The Regional Development Programme defines these new fields of economic activity that receive state support and, next to the economic sectors originating from the previous period of development, diversify the economic structure of the county. They also compensate for and anticipate the negative effect on employment and living standards of the fallen-out links in the county.

The Regional Development Programme is not an attempt to reflect the economic activity in every detail. The Programme primarily defines the measures that trigger new economic elements and processes (so-called key measures). The focus of the Programme is on the factors that facilitate and accelerate natural development and considerably change social, economic, cultural and technical environment. The goal is a multicultural region with a diverse economic and social structure, own distinct features and face, which region is successful and known all over Europe.

The Programme accommodates along with the existing ones, immediate resources (people, finances, organisations, etc.) creating the will to fully engage the potential contained in the likely development of Ida-Virumaa and of the surrounding background system (particularly the EU and Russia). It is assumed that as the result of a purposeful activity, a pronounced political will provides the resources necessary for ensuring the development, which resources complement budgetary facilities and come from very different sources. It is assumed that the new elements introduced to the development of the county will win space for growth not by means of the existing administrative restrictions, but owing to vitality, superiority and better conformity with the needs of people.

The importance of industry, oil shale mining and power production, as the very foundations of the economy of Ida-Virumaa has not been questioned. However, the economy as a whole must undergo a significant transfiguration in Ida-Virumaa, in order to fundamentally change and diversify economic and social structures, social climate and human environment.

Taking this statement as a point of departure, there are three fields/complexes that form new structures and considerably change environment:


These fields interrelate closely. Measures taken in the transport sector must be co-ordinated with measures in the tourism sector, since a well-organised transport creates preconditions for the development of tourism. Both, in turn, must be linked to the activity of vocational education establishments (and to further training and retraining of adults) so that staff is trained in due time.

However, one should be aware that transport, tourism and education are very capital-consuming. Tourism and transport infrastructures, organisational and information structures as well as training of people cost a great deal. Anyway, what is being done for the promotion of transport and tourism also facilitates the development of the county and leads to increased levels of employment, economic turnover, local income etc. Moreover, it gives a major impetus to the integration of the core of the county residents into Estonia and Europe.


A change in the working environment from the individual's viewpoint should be emphasised. The relationship: workerÞproduct or workerÞmachinery that has ruled so long will be replaced by the relationship: workerÞconsumer (client, customer). It is the consumer of goods and services who is going to assess the worker instead of (or along with) the supervisor. An open work and communication environment of small enterprises progressively replaces working in closed large-scale enterprises.

Given these circumstances, command of language(s) and ability to meet the requirements of a specific individual rather than the somewhat abstract State become one of the most important prerequisites of success. Therefore, the requirements established for the education of employees rise dramatically.

The current somewhat one-sided approach, whereby the educational problems of the region are being reduced primarily to the learning of (the Estonian) language, should be replaced with/transformed into content-oriented instruction. Provided that regardless of the language of instruction (Estonian, Russian, English, etc.) and age of pupils, things that are being taught are focused on Estonia i.e. directed to the (current or would-be) Estonian citizen. Focus on Estonia should not be limited to the subjects of history, nature, society etc., but should extend to all subjects/disciplines/courses, whereas it is important to take account of the background of the learner (nationality, language spoken at home, social status, etc.) and to support the preserving/seeking of one's roots through national language and culture. Since in various surveys the majority of non-Estonians indicate Estonia (Narva, Sillamäe, etc.) as their homeland or place where they live, this should also be reflected by what is being taught at school. However, student polls have revealed that students receive the least information about their county and hometown.

Introduction of the county and local component to the school curricula requires significant "investments in history and cultural heritage studies" (financial, intellectual and organisational). It seems expedient to have country-wide tenders in order to get teaching aids that address the history and formation of the county, towns, settlements faithfully, without Soviet-time distortions. Concurrently with the change in the content of the instruction, appropriate for Ida-Virumaa ways should be found to diversify the language environment and somewhat undermine the habit of big nations to live in a monolingual and monocultural environment. A progressive understanding that an ability to orient oneself and communicate elementarily in three or four languages is a regular practice in Europe, is instrumental in shaping such a resident of Ida-Virumaa who is able to integrate into Europe and maintain county identity at the same time. The position stated by a working group comprising Sillamäe school administration members and teachers that the Russian school should start the instruction of three languages already in the first and second grade, should get support. Moreover, in the course of the formation of the school network of the county and attestation of schools the status of such schools should be highlighted, which give some subjects not only in Estonian and Russian, but also in English, German, etc. Such capabilities should particularly be emphasised and stimulated when young teachers are being employed.

By way of a conclusion it can be noted that the implementation of the Regional Development Programme of Ida-Virumaa, especially with the participation of a large part of population in the form of a continuing social dialogue, would create additional preconditions for deeper and accelerated integration processes.

However, economic processes may cause a severe setback to the so far positive changes in attitudes and actual behaviour. Here we refer to the oil-shale industry-linked economic sector. More specifically, reference is made to the lukewarm reaction of several State institutions to the ongoing processes, attempts to close eyes to the threats that have emerged, to say nothing of designing solutions.


True, Estonia has no practical experience in nationally solving problems of such scale and complexity which we observe in the oil shale industry. Estonia is prepared neither organisationally nor methodologically, and government agencies are not tuned in accordingly (leaving aside the concept that "market economy is when you let things go the way they go").

Which does not mean there is no such experience in the world. Quite the opposite, large scale redundancies and the anticipation and mitigation of social tensions associated with these redundancies is nothing new to international organisations and the EU. The World Bank has been preparing projects addressing these issues and specifically with regard to closing down mines, in Poland, Rumania, Hungary and several CIS-countries. Consultations with the specialists from the World Bank indicate that so far Canada has gathered major experience in that field. As a rule, the World Bank operates in the given field in Europe in co-operation with the EU.

Due to their scale and weight, the problems facing the oil shale industry inevitably require state intervention. Confining oneself to guaranteeing redundancy payments under Eesti Põlevkivi Development Plan is nothing but evading real problems. With redundancy payments trouble starts rather than ends. Eesti Põlevkivi plans to pay EEK 40 million worth of redundancy payments with the close-down of the first mines, whereas the scope of social benefits to be paid to the families of jobless miners is estimated at about EEK 220-250 million annually, and job creation costs EEK 1.3 billion.

Yet it would be unreasonable to solve the emerging problems with the resources of the state of Estonia only. The pre-accession period to the EU should be taken full advantage of, together with likely accompanying additional facilities, as well as routine financial and social technologies of the World Bank. Thus the problems that have emerged should be diffused both in time and space, as well as by population groups by age, nation, sex. That would allow buying more time and properly preparing for the restructuring of the oil-shale-related economic sector, and involving the facilities and experience of the EU and World Bank. The designed measures should be linked to the steps envisaged in the Regional Development Plan of Ida-Virumaa for the years 1998-2003 in the field of the reconstruction and expansion of transport and tourism infrastructures.

Since the problems referred to essentially include several agencies and manifest themselves primarily within one county, no time should be lost in drafting a corresponding territorial state programme, which by analogy with practice in the EU member states could be dubbed Social Plan of the County or Ida-Virumaa Employment Pact.

Partly with EU financing, 89 such territorial programmes (Territorial Employment Pacts) have been drafted by now to solve situations similar to that in Ida-Virumaa.

Concurrently, consultations with the World Bank should start in order to implement the practice adopted there (e.g. Labour Redeployment Programme for the miners of Rumania or Miners Social Package for the restructuring of the mining industry of Poland and Macedonia).


The experience acquired at the talks with NRG Energy on financing social problems resulting from privatisation should also be taken account of, and such practice should extend to all the terms and conditions of privatisation related to oil-shale industry.

Considering the scale and social weight of the forthcoming activity, the authority of partners involved and the cost of the programme, also corresponding organisational solutions have to be found by the time of preparing, drafting and realisation of the programme. It probably cannot be imagined as a side-activity of a single ministry or the county government (besides other more important tasks), or in the form of a government committee meeting every now and then.

It would be expedient to form a special structure for that purpose (e.g. State agency), whose activity would include the period prior to the restructuring (employees to be dismissed would be in the sphere of influence of the agency at least half a year prior to the redundancy being designed).

1 Marika Kirch, David D. Latin , ed., Changing Identities in Estonia. Sociological Facts and Commentaries. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Sciences, 1994, pp. 25-41.

2 Prof. Budilovitch. Kak nam zakrepitj okrainõ za Rossijei. (from 1907) reprinted in the first issue of the periodical "Revel", Tallinn, 1990.