Answer to Albert Reiterer:
What has changed in Estonia since 1988?

Aksel Kirch

This article is a short response to Albert Reiterer "Estland: Eine Minderheit wird geschaffen" in CIFEMnews September 2001 (Ausgabe 2). S.11-21

Shortly the following three key charateristics should be pointed out:

1. 1988-1991: years for hopes and self-recognition. Also, the start of losing the Soviet identity.

2. 1992-2000: years of energic capitalism, years of starting the stratification from social welfare to rich and poor people.

3. 2001 September: Arnold Rüütel - representative of Farmers Party was elected to Estonian president. Today he represents social democratic wing in Estonian politics. Rüütel was ruling Estonian as Head of Supreme Council of Estonian SSR and claimed independence to Estonia at the negotiations with Moscow 1988-1990.

1. Ethno-demographic structure of majority-minority populations in Estonia

Between the World Wars, Estonian (but also Lithuanian and Latvian) societies were ethnically quite homogeneous. In 1934 there was 88 % Estonians, 8% Russians and 4% other (German, Swedes, Jews) nationalities living in Estonia. The principal changes started with the establishment of the Soviet regime in 1944. One of the most important phenomena after WW II in the demographic situation was the Slaws immigration into Estonia. Many of Russian immigrants came with the military troops since 1945-1955 (post-Wars economic immigrants from destroyed Novgorod, Pihkva and Leningrad oblast). The Russian inhabitants whose massive immigration took place during the Soviet period, live in towns where they form an absolute majority, mainly in the the North-eastern Estonian industrial cities of Narva, Sillamäe and Kohtla-Järve. This migration has resulted in a linguistic and cultural Russification of the historically Estonian region of Ida-Virumaa (East-North) over the course of one or two generations. During the period 1945-1989 number of Russian has risen 20 times (1945 - 23 000, 1989 – 475 000) in Estonia.

In analysing this situation we must take account the fact that postwar immigration to Estonia was not a reflection of these peoples conscious decision of changing their location. Russians more than other immigrants treated the entire Soviet Union as coterminous with Russia. A migrational life-style was a requisite of the Soviet people and was especially accepted in the territory of Russia. Immigrants were viewed as an ingredient of economic development. It was also linked to a special kind of Soviet patriotism.

Looking at migration process across the Soviet Union from 1946 to 1988 Estonian demographers found that Estonia had of the highest rates of migration of all the Soviet republic. The post-war migration flows have resulted in formation of a numerous foreign-born population which comprised 26,3 present of total population and such a high proportion of foreign-born is record-breaking in Europe. More than half (57% according to data from the 1989 census) of Russians is first generation settlers, whose social ties and identity have been strongly associated with the country of origin - Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia.

2. Minority migration patterns since the late 1980s

New General Census of Population was conducted on 31 March 2000. Official data of this census are available yet. By Census data the usually resident population of Estonia was 1,370,052, which is by 195,610 persons smaller than at the time of the 1989 Population Census. Data about ethnic composition of Estonia according to the year 2000 census would be available for public use in December 2001 (next volume). Still it is possible to confirm the following basing on data from Estonian Statistical Office. Last decade the number of Russians has decreased due to the migration, but also due to the negative birth rate 121,000 persons. There have been taken place significant shifts in the composition of Estonia's population. The share of Estonians has increased from 61.5 to 67.9 per cent since 1989 census. At the same time the share of Russians has decreased from 30.3 to 25.6 per cent. Also, during the same period between the two last censuses the share of the ethnic groups has decreased from 8 to 6 per cent.

Russian minority living in contemporary Estonia consists of three different groups: (a) immigrants of the Soviet period (1945-1991), (b) relatively small minority of Russians who have lived in Republic of Estonia before 1940 Russian occupation (by approximate calculation – about 30 000 by 2000) and (c) people born in Estonia.

As we can see from Chart 1 (Russian minority migration patterns), since the first years of 1990s the migrants follow the track caused by political change and psychological shock, leaving Estonia together with political leadership and Soviet army after the collapse of Soviet Union to Russia. According to the estimation of Ministry of Internal Affairs about 10-20 per cent of this wave emigrants have re-emigrated to Estonia during 1999-2000. At the same time, it was not clear, how many of these citizens had left Estonia during last few years. The Statistical Office of Estonia estimate that some 16 000 left Estonia for Russia during 1995-1999.

Chart 1. Russian minority migration patterns

3. Hopes and fears of Estonians and Russians

Today the process of integration is multidimensional. It depends on the Russian’s readiness to integrate in the new circumstances, as well as on the Estonian’s willingness to co-operate with the non-Estonian population.

Several studies about the attitudes and values of the Russian population in Estonia have pointed to the slow creation of a post-Soviet Russian identity. Our research supports these findings. According to our four studies from 1990-1993, for Russians the new situation in Estonia became an identity vacuum which entailed the need to redefine their personal and collective identities. Thus, there was a situation, where Russians` previous sense allegiance had disappeared, but a new one had yet to arise. According to the survey, there have been deep changes in 1993-1995 in the attitudes of Estonians and Russians and Estonian citizenship has become a new inevitability and necessity for Russians in Republic of Estonia. One important issue that still faces the Russian-speaking population in Estonia is the formation of a viable and effective elite.

This and some other differences lead to the conclusion, that Russians see the EU as the ideal future for Estonia. The problem here is not only that of a Europe without frontiers, which from the outside matches the administrative organization of the Soviet Union, where there were no borders between the republics. Moreover, Russians see the EU as a factor developing a political order in Estonia, thanks to which all inhabitants will get the same status through European nationality and that is how Russians in a certain way will be "freed" of their restrictive status as foreigners in Estonia.

The Estonians' hopes for security guarantees accompanying accession to the EU were undoubtedly more clearly defined than the attitudes of the Russians. Estonians see the security guarantees on the part of the EU as a guarantee for maintenance of the national independence and the ethnic identity of Estonia.

That the timetable of the road back to Europe is implemented successfully in Estonia is mirrored also by the Gallup-surveys of public opinion. If Estonia has "survived" the change from Euro-euphoria to more rational considerations and doubts in the years 1995 to 2000, then since the summer of 2001 the need for defence and security has convinced Estonians again. Support for a referendum concerning accession to the EU has grown considerably. Behind this positive trend stands the need to feel safe concerning foreign policy.

Adaptation to the Estonian way of life with no command of Estonian is possible, yet the 351 thousand-strong Russian population still maintains its isolation in Estonia. At Government level great efforts are being made to integrate Russians into the Estonian society. Here the adopted Governmental Programme should be mentioned, accelerated research as well as extended teaching of Estonian to Russians. Resources for the growth of the civic structures are good, but the process of civic development can have an effect on the integration only when language separation is diminishing and collective identities of the people spring up despite of their mother tongue.

However, adaptation by Russians and their subsequent integration into Estonian life will be a long-term process of adapting to the culture and language of Estonia, while the integration into civic society is going to happen much quicker. 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.