seljamaa, elo-hanna

Ethnic Diversity and Competition in Post-Soviet Estonia

Estonian integration policy launched in the late 1990s seeks to homogenize the society and increase cohesion by means of Estonian language and a supra-ethnic state identity, while simultaneously supporting the preservation and development of minority cultures and identities. This latter goal has been pursued, most notably, by means of encouraging the establishment of cultural associations representing particular nationalities. For example there are over 60 Russian associations alone and nearly 300 ethnic cultural organizations altogether, roughly half of which receive funding from the state. On celebratory occasions, such as the Day of Estonian Nationalities or the Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, state and minority actors alike describe Estonia as a home to over 100 nationalities – an assertion that challenges the more mundane division of the population into Estonians and Russian-speakers.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among minority organizations and actors in Tallinn in 2010-2011, I explore how the Estonian model for boosting ethnic diversity employs Soviet-era notions of nationality/ethnicity while fostering competition between and within ethnic groups as well as a sense of national culture as a project-based undertaking. I argue that this spread of competition into new domains of social and cultural life is presenting state and minority actors with opportunities and challenges that are not only intertwined in complex ways but lack precedents. For example, while the state is struggling to find ways for managing the plethora of organizations it has helped to induce, it also uses this abundance strategically to prevent the consolidation of Russian-speakers and Russians and thus to secure the position of the Estonian majority; meanwhile, established and ambitious Russian cultural organizations expect the state to recognize their achievements and to support their continuous growth, which would entail creating a system for ranking minority organizations if not minorities.

Thursday 25 October 10:15-12:15 Panels IV, Panel 11 Inter-Ethnicity and Citizenship (Hall 8)