I recently read through the Estonian Human Development Report for 2007, and the section on integrating non-Estonians -- one of the four main sections, which gives you an idea of how important this topic is in Estonia and abroad -- gave me a new insight into the dynamics of Estonian integration policies and current politics.
The most helpful figure was a breakdown of Estonian residents by age group and ethnic identity. You may be surprised to know that the 25 percent of Estonia that is ethnic Russian is not equally distributed along the age groups. Instead the Estonian side of the graph resembles an hour glass. Ethnic Estonians are about 75-80 percent of the over 60 and under 45 set. But for the middle aged generation, the split is actually 60 percent ethnic Estonian, 40 percent ethnic Russian.
Why is that important? Step into my time machine, and let's revisit the lifespan of the generation of Andrus Ansip (age 50) and Mart Laar (age 47). They were born post-Stalin, so they have no memories of brutal deportations or wars in the woods. Instead, they were raised by the broken survivors of the Second World War, entering adolescence during the Brezhnev stagnation, and becoming young men during the Russification campaigns of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
They must have also noticed that 40 percent of their peers were not ethnic Estonians. And as members of a Soviet society, it was they who were expected to adapt to the majority, Russophone culture, not the other way around. They may have pondered sometime during the tenure of Karl Vaino, the ethnic Estonian Russophone head of Eesti NSV, that if their generation was split 60-40 with Estonians on top, would the next generation have the same split, except with the ethnicities reversed? Were they all just Karl Vainos in waiting?
So you could say that this generation is deeply concerned (not paranoid) about Russian influence in Estonian society. They are the ones that gave you the language law and the law on aliens. They are the ones who form the core of the right-wing leadership. Most importantly, it is this age group that will remain in power for some time to come. The Human Development Report states that it is this age group that is most likely to oppose any liberalization of the current laws. I wonder why.
That's one generation, but how about another? Of those aged 15-19, 78 percent are ethnic Estonian. To give you an idea of what kind of majority that is, it might help to recall that 79 percent of the Russian Federation identifies as Russian. Around the same number of Lithuanian residents identify as Lithuanian. So it's not a simple majority. We're talking nation state.
It's also a majority reinforced by a state culture that favors it, a mass media culture that produces the majority of its products for their consumption. This is an Estonia absent of the bold, Slavic touches of the USSR, and instead covered by the cute, clinical, and nordic. This Estonian majority has grown up with almost no living memory of the USSR. Rather than feeling threatened by the onslaught of Soviet population transfer, they instead feel confident about the future. According to the report, because of this security, they are more 'integration friendly' than their parents' generation. But what of their ethnic Russian peers?
It is their peers who ironically find themselves in a situation not unlike the rising generation of Estonians found themselves in during the late 1970s. Instead of feeling confident, they feel weak. As pointed out previously, their numbers are smaller. In cities like Tartu, Pärnu, and Tallinn, where sizable ethnic Russian minorities have existed since the 1950s, their proportion of the population is shrinking. Instead of coming to Estonia to rebuild it, confident in the mechanics of the Soviet state, as their grandparents did 50 years ago, they instead have grown up poorer than the rest, living in shadow of the collapse of the USSR.
Some may have been intimidated by those who were out in the streets last April smashing windows and burning flags. But the sad reality is for all that damage, there were only a few thousand young people willing to 'go to war' over the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn. Instead of the anger, what one might have seen is the desperation. Because they have no power and their world is determined by a bunch of middle-aged ethnic Estonian men. And, as we have discussed, they have their own phobias and agendas.
Despite this, the report left me hopeful. If the younger half of Estonia really does look like a nation state, and they are less encumbered by the baggage of the Soviet era, then they may be more amenable to an 'open and inclusive debate' about its domestic policies. What I came away thinking after reading the report, was not that Estonia needs any more suggestions from traveling bureaucrats or prodding from Brussels or Moscow. Instead, this country just needs more time to work out its issues by itself. I find that conclusion not only convincing, but also relieving.