“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: European Money And Estonian National Identity


Last week, Marek Tamm, a professor at Tallinn University, spoke about the findings of the RITA-RÄNNE Project, on which one hundred scientists had worked for several years. The project was financed from the European Regional Development Fund to the tune of one and a half million euros. The scientists considered the following: “Estonia is a national state, but in fact it is also multicultural; how can we preserve the Estonian language and culture in such a situation – while ensuring the country’s stability and its citizens’ well-being?”


The scientists concluded that, along with national identity, political identity is also necessary. For example: if you live here, you are Estonian. Of course, for Old Europe, this is the norm: all the residents of France are regarded as French, regardless of their native language, skin colour and so on.


This answer, frankly, is dazzling in its “freshness”, especially when combined with the wasted resources. All these years, many people – both ethnic Russians and Estonians – have been shouting from every corner that the problem with Estonia is that its permanent residents are divided into Estonians and non-Estonians, citizens and non-citizens, “the main group of people” and, according to Jürgen Ligi, “the descendants of brand-new arrivals.”


Okay, the idea is not fresh, but correct. I am curious to know what the residents of Tallinn think about it.


“What do you think: can those people who were born, grew up and have lived their whole lives here call themselves Estonians?”


“I think they can call themselves Estonian residents. Being an Estonian is just a native identity.”


“Since they live in Estonia, they are still Estonians. The Estonian Russians, as they are called today.”


“As the phrase goes, Estonia is our home, but we cannot be called Estonians, because we do not know the Estonian language well and cannot speak Estonian.”


“If they want to, why not? If they know the language, then yes.”


The theme of language inevitably emerges. Hence, Marek Tamm writes it is necessary that “everyone who speaks Estonian, participates in Estonian culture and wants to define him- or herself as an Estonian can be recognised as such.” Simply obeying the laws and paying taxes is not enough.


But knowing the language is not all. Scientists suggest literally replanting non-Estonians with the second ethnic identity, “giving non-Estonians the opportunity to be amongst the main group of people, to be like them, to be part of their ceremonies together, to celebrate their holidays and to be a fully-fledged member of the society of the main group of people.” This should be done, of course, with children in Estonian-language schools.


That is to say that ethnic Estonians are, after all, a kind of elite club, and there will be no political identity without joining their club. So-called “Integration” is the transformation of non-Estonians into Estonians, at least partially. Well, scientists cannot do what they do without experimenting on living humans.


By the way, there is not a single local Russian among those who has been advocating all of this. And rightly so: why on earth would integrators require the views of the integrated? They will decide everything, even without us. They will replant us with the right identity, and the transformation is done. How this differs from the tricks of the EKRE party, I do not know.


In fact, the declared goal of the RITA-RÄNNE Project is to develop a model for our education and labour market to cope with the challenges of immigration. I think this is what the EU was giving one and a half million euro for. And, as always, it ultimately came down to singing festivals and the Russian accent. Is it not in Europe where the slogan “unity in diversity” is used? In a nation-state, however, diversity is scarce, no matter how you cut it.