Sunday, 29 April 2007

When is an Estonian not an Estonian?

More tension in Tallinn - a third night of violence and trouble has spread to other towns across Estonia. One news report suggests this will continue to fester until 9th May and, with native Estonians working with the police to protect society, vigilanteism rears its ugly head. I fear for my friends and former colleagues in Estonia and I fear for Estonia itself. The great Russian bear is angry and the EU is caught between a rock and a hard place.

A comment on my earlier posting corrected me on my mistaken understanding of citizenship and nationality in Estonia. Wolli said

You can become French by getting French citizenship. You can only become Estonian by being born to Estonian parent(s). You can indeed become an Estonian citizen but in this country, "nationality" and "citizenship" are two different concepts.

Therein lies the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King (to quote Shakespeare roughly speaking). I was aware of many racist issues in Estonia - to discover that it is institutionalised to this degree is scary. To learn that across the EU we are supporting state-sponsored racism with our tax euros is very bad news.

We emerge from the womb as accidents of birth and cannot be blamed for our parents or location. But, in Estonia, it seems that we can. If I am born in Estonia of non-Estonian parents, I am not entitled to be an Estonian; as I take my first breath I can look forward to a life of no passport, no rights, no equality. That's sick.

Not everybody in the EU favoured the enlargement of the union. Now we learn that we have included a country that does not accord nationality to children born in that country. The European Union could fast become a failed experiment when its citizens discover that we are subsidising a new member state that operates as a two-tier society.

At the risk of flame, I question what Estonia and the EU are doing.


  1. "If I am born in Estonia of non-Estonian parents, I am not entitled to be an Estonian; as I take my first breath I can look forward to a life of no passport, no rights, no equality."

    Triona, you're mistaken again.

    Being born to two ethnic Estonians doesn't guarantee that you get Estonian citizenship. You become an Estonian citizen automatically if at least one of your parents is Estonian citizen at the time when you're born.

    The English word "nationality" encompasses both "ethnic origin" and "citizenship". In Estonian, "rahvus" (nationality) means ethnic origin only. The word for citizenship is "kodakondsus".

    Languages differ not only by word roots or grammar, but also by the internal logic. Forcing "citizenship" and "ethnic origin" into one single term would be logical for you but is not logical for me. And there's a counter-example: in Estonian, we don't have separate words for "he" and "she". And it would be wrong to think that this demonstrates English-speaking people's native tendency to discriminate people on the basis of gender.

  2. this is THE MOST depressingly idiotic statement about estonia!
    you blatantly insult our honest hardworking estonians with this load of CR*P!
    the rioters are nothing, but criminals illegally living in our country and EXPLOITING our benefits!

    we have enough problems with them already, keep your ignorant comments to yourself.

    Concerned Estonian

  3. You are a fascist pig. Like a pharisee, you complain about that the Soviets occupied your country while denying the most basic rights to Russian-speaking Estonians. At least in the USSR, Estonians were considered full citizens, and as a matter of fact, the Estonian economy was more advanced than Russia's. Some occupying power, eh?
    What you have in your fascist little pisshole is an apartheid regime, willfully supported and abbetted by that great beacon of democracy, the USA, as an anti-Russian bastion right against her border.
    One third of Estonia's population is Russian, and that bunch of hypocrites in Brussels should suspend Estonian membership in the EU and NATO until they are given the same rights as the ethnic Estonians, as full citizens of the country. Your country is no better than apartheid South Africa, and this injustice cannot prevail in the long-term. You have only gotten a taste now of what is in store if you continue your fascist policies.

  4. Wolli - "languages differ not only by word roots or grammar, but also by the itnernal logic" - so true. But that doesn't make me feel any bit more comfortable with the idea that a large proportion of Estonian society cannot call itself Estonian.

    Janno - you say my post(s) are blatant insults and you respond with offensive language - hmm. Think on - confrontational thinking begets confrontation IMO.

    Anthony - I was glad that somebody else responded to Janno's offensiveness before me. But your response is blinkered and partisan I fear - as so much of the debate and commentary on this tragedy has been. Back to what I said on Friday - conflict resolution requires both sides to recognise their failures and build on their strengths.

  5. lets face it...Estonians are not able to admit their mistakes in integration of minorities...their pride is far beyond all reasonable, possible actions...they want payback, payback all their losses during SU occupation...You know, I happen to attend business meetings with international and estonian businesses...once there was a doctor student of tallinn university, he explained that estonia will not allow any immigration of non-eu workforce just because their fear that the estonian language and culture would be wiped out...howsoever, I do wish that Estonia would take the chance and would learn from the experience France, germany, UK made with integration...such riots as last weekend could have been avoided

  6. Thomas - the Estonians want payback, payback for Soviet occupation - how true that seems to me in the current climate. A young and proud nation needs to make a stronger effort perhaps to rise above the past. Forgiveness is part of it.

  7. If I am born in Estonia of non-Estonian parents, I am not entitled to be an Estonian; as I take my first breath I can look forward to a life of no passport, no rights, no equality. That's sick.

    What are you talking about?

    Our fellow blogger Antyx is a Russian Jew by birth and he received his citizenship in 1991. Why? Because his family was here legally in 1940.

    It's about the law. Latvians, Poles, Russians, Swedes, Germans? -- if your family was here legally in 1940 you got citizenship no questions asked.

    I mean the Estonian ambassador in Moscow isn't even Estonian by blood. She is half Latvian and half Russian.

    And for everybody born since 1992 whose parents have lived here for five years, citizenship is as simple as coming to claim it.

    The idea that 'Russians are denied citizenship' on the basis of ethnicity is false. Russians whose families were in Estonia before 1940 -- 8 percent of the prewar population, as opposed to 26 percent today -- had no issues in obtaining Estonian citizenship after 1991.