Polls Show Estonians Growing More Tolerant

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Polls Show Estonians Growing More Tolerant

According to the results of two polls released
on 5 June by the Open Society Institute and the Integration
Foundation, Estonians have become much more tolerant than they were
a decade ago. Despite that progress, analysts warned that
Estonia–where one-third of the population is not ethnic
Estonian–has a long way to go to achieve ethnic harmony.

While praising the progress, sociologist Iris
Pettai said in an editorial in the daily Eesti Paevaleht pointed
out that Estonians’ tolerance is quick to end when it comes to
matters of competition in the labor market or representatives to
elected bodies, she said. Only 10 percent of Estonians polled say
that at least one-quarter of the seats in representative bodies
should be filled by members of non-Estonian ethnic groups.

The vast majority of people in Estonia who are
not ethnic Estonian are ethnic Russian. Those residents believe
they have fewer chances of getting a job, even if their
qualifications and language skills are equal to those of ethnic
Estonians.

Forty-one percent of “non-Estonians” indicate
that they perceive themselves as belonging to an underclass because
of their ethnicity. Pettai charged that those feelings of
insecurity and inferiority could lead to social problems: “If we
continue [to create an underclass based on ethnicity] we will make
it easy for poverty, crime, drug addiction, AIDS, and other
problems to spread,” she said.

The other poll released last week indicates that
non-Estonians aged 15 to 19 and 30 to 39 are least satisfied with
their Estonian language skills, while pensioners aged 60 and above
are most satisfied.

Sociologist Ivi Proos told a 5 June press
conference that young people’s insecurity about their Estonian is
worrying. “This is a very negative figure and might cause a number
of status conflicts,” he said. Proos suggested that the country’s
official language-learning policy, which concentrates mainly on
adults, should focus more on young people. Older people feel
comfortable with their language skills because they do not need to
speak Estonian much, and middle-aged people are unsatisfied as the
competition on the labor market is the toughest between the ages of
30 and 39, Proos added.

According to the survey, children in the
northeastern part of Estonia, where the concentration of ethnic
Russians is the highest, seem to be suffering from an identity
crisis, as they have trouble defining their national belonging. “If
a child from a “non-Estonian” family goes to Estonian school, he’s
often the only one in the family to speak Estonian. He doesn’t get
any help on homework from parents and has to watch only Russian
programs on TV,” Sirje Joemaa, headmistress of Kohtla-Jarve
Gymnasium, told the Kohtla-Jarve newspaper Pohjarannik.

“There are a lot of bilingual families in
Ida-Virumaa county where kids don’t speak any language decently.
They are more stressed out and sometimes choose not to go to school
at all. More professional help should be available to these
families,” psychology professor Galina Mikkin said in the
Pohjarannik article. “There should be more counseling offices and
special education advisers,” she added.

The poll also showed that while non-Estonians
generally believe the Estonian citizenship policy is too tough or
even humiliating, ethnic Estonians tend to think of it as too lax.
Seventy percent of non-Estonians said they would like to apply for
citizenship, but the same amount thought the rules and regulations
to do so violate human rights.

The poll also revealed different perceptions of
history. Sixteen percent of non-Estonians and 1 percent of
Estonians believe that Estonia joined the Soviet Union voluntarily
in 1940. Currently, half of Estonians and 16 percent of
non-Estonians see Russia as a threat to Estonian independence, wh
ile 14 percent of non-Estonians and 1 percent of Estonians would
like Estonia to join Russia.

While support for joining EU is closer to parity
(56 percent of Estonians and 47 percent of non-Estonians), support
for NATO differs greatly–60 percent of Estonians and only 18
percent of non-Estonians support joining the alliance.

To read more about the candidate countries,
please visit

Transitions Online.  

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