Laas Leivat, Eesti Elu
Estonia is slated to celebrate its cultural diversity throughout 2014. The year will be declared “Kultuurilise Mitmekesisuse aastaks”.
One may ask how this is compatible with the widely accepted notion that Estonia is a ‘nation-state’, which usually denotes territory that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who see themselves as a nation. This core group claims the state as belonging to them and declares their right to self-determination.
Most Estonians, if asked, probably take the above as their personal position. We would likewise also agree with a more general geo-political definition, that a nation-state is simply a politically sovereign country or administrative territory.
But the European fringe right interprets the first definition from the most ethnocentric, restrictive viewpoint. In contrast, the far-left states that nation-states inhibit minorities from protecting their heritage.
Estonians know that their notion of a nation-state derives from a need for survival as a distinct people, not a need to dominate. It’s a justified response to the historic threat of Russification.
Thus, in the Estonian context, respect for the cultural/ethnic heritage of others is built into our mindset and exists side-by-side with tolerance. But, the acceptance of ethnic differences is a concept derided, even vilified by the fringe right. And this rejection of societal diversity is also a denial of democratic ideals.
We should be remined that more than 300 ethno-cultural organizations and 32 supplementary language schools from 211 different nationalities are active in Estonia. In fact, with this, Estonia can claim to have one of the highest percentages worldwide – 27% of its residents of foreign origin.
Why so high? Estonia is portrayed as an excellent destination for higher education and also internationally recognized as attracting business start-ups and offering an advanced IT environment. It obviously has a proven record in education and industry.
However, it’s also the result of the deliberate and massive resettlement of Russians into Estonia during the Soviet occupation, violating the Geneva Convention with respect to changing the ethnic balance of the population of occupied countries.
Even before the Cultural Diversity Year, a variety of events already exist that celebrate the heritage of minority groups, such as the Slavic Wreath Song and Dance Festival, the Pärnu Multicultural Summer Festival, the September National Minorities Day, etc.
On occasion, some have suggested that the rights of Estonians as a whole be elevated over individual rights that are enshrined in the Estonian constitution. But in a democratic society, respect and recognition of minority rights to preserve their culture against state encroachment is fundamental.
Hopefully the celebration of cultural diversity will not be a perfunctory observation of Estonia’s ethno-cultural richness. Just going through the motions actually harkens back to the Soviet hypocrisy of proclaiming a union of equal but different peoples. With one exception – Russia was ‘more equal’.
On occasion the Canadian concept has been suggested as a model that Estonia could follow. But one must be aware that Canada is a land of massive immigration. In addition, the cultures of Canada’s indigenous peoples (many dozen ‘first nations’) represented rich diversity by themselves and with the addition of the British and French cultures, no distinct singular core culture has ever been recognized. This model for Estonia is inappropriate.
A meaningful celebration of Estonia’s diversity can foster a feeling of pride in one’s heritage and a sense of belongingness, and loyalty to a nation-state that values both.