Russian National Minority in Estonia
26 Years of Apartheid and Ethnic Discrimination
- With the proclamation of independence by Estonia in 1991, the Estonian political elite took action to prevent the Russian national minority from governing the country, depriving Russians of their political and civil rights. The Estonian Left needs the support of the European Left in its struggle for equality and human rights.
The nationalist parties that took control of the state passed a law on citizenship, which essentially deprived Russians (unlike Estonians) of the unconditional right to citizenship. This, in turn, limited their role in the adoption of fundamental laws. For decades, the Russian national minority was not able to influence the laws that were adopted or defend its interests in legal and political fields. During this period, there was a unique and unprecedented mass deprivation of the civil and political rights of a group of the population. It constituted approximately 32% of the country’s population (approximately 500,000 people at the time, mostly Russians).
The Russian language was abolished as a state languageand received no other status in return, despite more than one third of the population considering it to be their native language. The preservation of the Estonian nation (even to the detriment of other people living in the country) was written in the Constitution as one of the state’s main goals. This created the legal basis for the so-called ethnic superiority of Estonians over other people living in the country (primarily Russian).
At the beginning of the 21st century, a number of politically biased decisions were made to gradually transfer Russian schools to the Estonian language. The Russian national minority took such a policy as an attack on its constitutional rights, ignoring the rights of parents to choose the language of education and, most importantly, ignoring the basic rights of children to preserve their national identity. There was no dialogue with the Russian minority representatives on this matter (which is of vital importance to the Russian minority). Appeals for the preservation of some Russian secondary schools, in accordance with the law (4 appeals have already been launched!), have not yet obtained support from the government.
Since Estonia was ruled mainly by right-wing and right nationalist parties, the language of ethnic hatred, intolerance and ethnic superiority prevailed over the Russian minority. Russians are not perceived to be part of those who have the right to rule the country, but as a certain group of alien people who must only carry out the orders and demands of the state apparatus. This situation is due to the fact that almost 2 out of 3 Russians (and this is about 20% of the population) still do not have Estonian citizenship, and therefore cannot participate in parliamentary elections. Some of them were forced to take Russian citizenship due to high demands for Estonian citizenship. A considerable proportion of Russians (currently about 6% of the country’s total population) have remained stateless; they have “alien” passports.
A strange regime of apartheid has been built in the country, where a significant part of the population is deprived of civil and political rights on ethnic grounds. Even those Russians who have acquired citizenship are far less likely to get a high-paying job; for example, ethnic Russians only make up about 3% of officials. The level of poverty and unemployment among Russians is significantly higher than that of Estonians (especially in the period of economic recession). A similar ethnocratic regime was established in Latvia.
It is naive to believe that Estonia can solve these problems in a short space of time; over the course of 26 years of independence, this has not been done. The realities are such that, without external pressure from the European Union and the entire international community, the abovementioned problems cannot be solved. Our party (Estonian United Left Party) pays great attention to this issue. We advocate respect for civil and political rights, for equality in this sphere, and for the absence of xenophobia in our country. We hope to receive the support of the entire left movement and, in particular, the European Left (of which we are part) in our struggle for equality and human rights.