Cablegate: Snapshot: Growing Up Russian in Estonia

DE RUEHTL #0406/01 3331148
R 281148Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

B) 07 TALLINN 280
C) 07 TALLINN 488

1. (SBU) Summary: Eight years into the Government of
Estonia's (GOE) integration policy, integration of the
Russian-speaking community remains a challenge for the
state, and for Estonian society at large. However,
unlike their parents, ethnic Russian youth have lived
their whole lives in an independent Estonia and are
largely a product of the GOE's formal integration
efforts. Our discussions with Russian-speaking students,
their teachers and community leaders provide a snapshot
of how they feel about being "Russians living in
Estonia": not entirely at home here or in Russia. For
many, integration is viewed as largely as a one-way
street and there is still a wide cultural gap between
ethnic Estonians and Russians. Russian speaking youth
are not, however, looking to Russia for their future.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) In recent months we have discussed integration
issues with ethnic Russian and Estonian students and
civic organizers in Tallinn, Narva, and the central
Estonian town of Tapa. Our anecdotal conversations
demonstrated complex and mixed personal feelings among
Russian speakers about the progress of integration
efforts in Estonia. Some representative statements we
heard from the ethnic Russian students we spoke with
include the following:

-- Many do not feel truly accepted in either Estonia or
-- Ethnic stereotypes persist on both sides, i.e.:
"Estonians are dull and calm", "Russians are loud and
-- Since the April 2007 Bronze Soldier riots, "Estonians
do not trust anyone speaking Russian in public";
-- Estonians do not separate "Russian" from "Soviet";
-- New Estonian-language curriculum in Russian schools is
either "unrealistic"... or an insufficient "quick fix";
-- Language requirements for Estonian citizenship are not
onerous for the youth, but they are unfair for the older
Russian generation;
-- Few ethnic Russian youth here see their future in
Russia. While many have Estonian citizenship, they also
dream of a future elsewhere in the EU.

Russian, Estonian, or Neither?

3. (SBU) Many of the Russian-speaking students we talked
to insisted they do not judge others based on
nationality, yet many sited differences in character
between the two groups as an obstacle to integration.
While it is commonplace for ethnic Russian and Estonia
youth to work side-by-side in restaurants, stores and
offices, leisure time is another story. During the
summer months, "99 percent of my time is Russian," said
one. Suspicions also abound. Jelena Sotskaja, the
ethnically Russian, tri-lingual Executive Director of the
American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia (AmCham), told us
she had heard that Estonian-language kindergartens will
not allow more than two Russian-speaking students in a
class because the Russian students are more outgoing and
will influence the other children to speak in Russian.

4. (U) Russian-speaking students who graduate from
Estonian public high schools all receive the language
certification required to enroll in Estonian
universities. Many of their parents, however, do not
speak enough Estonian to obtain citizenship or hold a
public service sector job. The parents are often Russian
citizens or "stateless" gray passport holders. Estonia's
remaining 110,000 gray passport holders can travel in the
EU, work in Estonia, and vote in local - but not national
or European - elections. Many Russian students expressed
frustration with the fact that their parents, who have
lived and worked in Estonia 20-30 years or more and held
local citizenship during Soviet times, must now learn
Estonian in order to apply for citizenship. Some
complained that their parents had lost jobs and income as
a result.

5. (U) Many of the young ethnic Russians we spoke to said
the April 2007 "Bronze Soldier" riots in Tallinn (Ref B)
contributed to the sense of separation between ethnic

TALLINN 00000406 002 OF 003

Russians and Estonians. Stanislav Tserepanov, head of
one of Estonia's tiny ethnic-Russian political parties,
believes the riots made what was once 'historical'
tension between Russians and Estonians a "new, current
issue" for youth. While students we spoke to said they
view themselves as Russian, they also noted they are not
considered purely Russian in Russia. Instead, they are
something new: "Russians living in Estonia,- a concept
which is not fully accepted in either country.

Russians' Place in Estonia

6. (SBU) Russian-speaking students and their teachers
said they feel that Estonian society does not easily
accept them. AmCham's Sotskaja believes Estonians are
focused on preserving their nation and identity.
Tserepanov echoed this sentiment noting he believes
Estonians have become engulfed in a new wave of
nationalism that excludes Russian-speakers. Developing a
national pride that could unite Russians and Estonians
would serve Estonia better, Tserepanov asserted. Some
older members of the Russian community we spoke with said
they feel that Estonians often do not separate "Russian"
from "Soviet," though many of the Russians now living in
Estonia also suffered under the Soviet regime. Younger
students had a different view. Even though none of them
remember Soviet times, they expressed nostalgia for its
"easier and calmer" lifestyle.

7. (U) Language remains one of the most divisive issues.
Students and other members of the ethnic Russian
community complained that in Estonia "integration" has
seemed more like "assimilation." While none of our young
interlocutors complained about having to learn Estonian
language and culture, they expressed frustration that
Estonians don't reciprocate Russian-speakers' efforts.
(Note: In February, Estonian President Ilves said in an
interview to the BBC that he does not study Russian
because it would be "recognizing 50 years of Soviet
occupation." However, in November, Ilves visited
schools, worksites and a church in ethnically-Russian
Ida-Virumaa county and promised to return soon and
address the public in the Russian language. End Note.)
Many students worried about their ability to preserve
their mother tongue and national identity. On this
issue, however, students in Tallinn and Narva differed.
Russian speakers in Tallinn insisted on the importance of
preserving the Russian culture and community throughout
Estonia. Students in the border city of Narva (98
percent ethnic Russian), expressed a belief that Estonia
only needed to preserve Russian culture and language in
areas where the majority of the population is Russian.

8. (U) Some of the students we spoke with complained that
the GOE's program to increase the number of subjects
taught in Estonian at Russian-language high schools will
not help significantly. One asked, "How can a Russian
learn physics in Estonian, if the subject is hard enough
to understand in his first language?" While their
feelings were sincere, this is a much different view from
the majority opinion expressed in a recent major survey
of Russian-speaking students (Ref A). Several students
and one teacher we spoke with felt Estonian textbooks
portray Russians negatively and cited this as the reason
Russian students are hesitant to attend Estonian
schools. Jevgeni Krishtafovitsh, chairman of the youth
integration organization Open Republic, and Vjateslav
Konovalov, of Narva College, said that the recent
establishment of Russian-language instruction at the new
St. Catherine's College at Tallinn University is not a
positive step. The students would benefit more from
being forced to speak Estonian, they said. (NOTE: St.
Catherine's College instruction does lead to full
instruction in Estonian. END NOTE.)

9. (U) The students we spoke with generally view the
benefits of being 'stateless' as relatively equal to
Estonian citizenship. Most viewed Russian citizenship as
the least preferable option. However, they acknowledged
that the Russian Federation's recent decision to allow
visa-free travel for stateless Estonian residents will
reduce the incentive to apply for Estonian citizenship
(Estonian citizens must have a visa to travel to Russia).

What the Future Holds

10. (U) While all of the students identified themselves

TALLINN 00000406 003 OF 003

as culturally Russian, they did not profess sympathy with
the Russian state. None of the people we talked to said
they see their future in Russia. (NOTE: Overall,
however, ethnic Russians in Estonia have supported Russia
on international issues, including the invasion of
Georgia in August. END NOTE.) While some students noted
they believe they will not have any difficulty finding
employment as Russian-speakers in Europe, others were
more skeptical about the future. Krishtafovitsh and
others insist Russian-speakers need to "invest in a
future in Estonia" by learning the language and planning
their future here. However, a survey of 1500 people
conducted by a local Russian-language newspaper in August
found that almost all those in the 15-40 age range
believe they have fewer chances at employment and other
opportunities than ethnic Estonians of the same age.


© Scoop Media

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