REPUBLIC OF ESTONIA
Mrs Katrin Saks
Minister for Ethnic Affairs
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
Saturday 1 September 2001
Dear Madam Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The current conférence is looking for answers to thé concrete and actual problem in thé entire world: how to fight racism and other related injustices? 1 agree with many of thé previous speakers that thé conférence has taken an active and practical attitude to find possible solutions to urgent problems, to show thé best practices in thé field; and thé désire to promote co-opération among geographically close, as well as distant countries.
In my speech, 1 would like to tackle an issue that became widely discussed, especially during thé 1990ies, that is how to achieve a well-ordered balance of ethnic relations in a multi-ethnic country, how to achieve a stable, democratic and competitive society that guarantees security and possibilities for self-réalisation for its subjects.
In many countries of thé world, in particular in Eastern and Central Europe, we are witnessing thé development of two parallel trends:
- on thé one hand, thé concern of states to unify societies around common values; - on thé other hand, an ever increasing wish of various ethnic communities and other socio-cultural entities to maintain their identity.
These trends are simultaneous and sometimes of a contradictory nature. In certain cases, they may corne into conflict with each other.
Here 1 would like to refer to thé Estonian situation. Why? As a result of thé extensive migration that took place during thé Soviet period 1940-1991, a community using Russian as its first language bas developed in Estonia. Many of its members do not have sufficient outlet to thé rest of society because of their poor knowledge of Estonian, lack of interest to became thé Estonian citizen, psychological problems of socio-cultural adaptation, etc. The self-isolation of this segment of Russian-language community from thé rest of society could threaten both social stability and national security. Besides, at thé beginning of 1990s thé ethnic Estonians faced thé need to adapt to a truly multicultural society, which was almost 90% ethnically homogenous 60 years ago, in thé 1930ies. Today ethnic Estonians comprise approximately 67% of thé total population and ethnic minorities 33%.
These were thé reasons for thé élaboration and implementation of thé Estonian State Integration Policy at thé end of thé 1990ies. By taking into account thé abovementioned combination of those two somewhat contradictory trends in many societies, thé current concept of thé State Integration Policy of Estonia is based on two principles:
- firstly, social harmonisation of society by gathering those groups around thé common elements in society, such as democratic values and statehood identity; - and secondly, maintenance of ethnic différences by recognising cultural and other rights of ethnic minorities and by supporting thé development of their cultural identity.
Thus, one objective of thé Estonian State Integration Policy is thé cultural acclimatisation of différent ethnic groups in Estonia, not their assimilation, indicating thé state's clear intention to respect thé interests of minorities.
These policies have been warmly welcomed by thé minorities themselves and strongly supported by thé international community.
It does not mean that there cannot be problems in combining these two principles into one intégration policy of society. One indicator to measure possible tensions between thé two is thé level of toleration in a country. And this conférence is an excellent place to identify concrete problems, as well as to explore possible ways to increase toleration all over thé world between ethnic and religious communities and other groups in society. Toleration is also a keyword for Estonia if we talk about thé challenges in thé field of ethnic relations.
According to thé public opinion poll in 2000, overwhelming majority of thé ethnic Estonians believe that even very différent ethnic communities can get along very well and co-operate, living in one country, and approximately 75% of thé ethnic Estonians believe that différent cultures and languages make society richer and more varied. Only a small proportion of thé ethnic Estonians (10%) is directly against thé formation of a multicultural society in Estonia. Analyses show that these are mostly elderly people. In thé case of thé non-Estonians, thé priority is also on thé improvement of relations with thé Estonians, to increase tolerance and develop cooperation among ethnic communities.
Does it mean that there is sufficient tolerance in Estonia and that one aim of thé Estonian integration policy is achieved? The answer is both yes and no. These is enough tolerance to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts and tense standoffs. Yet there could be more tolerance to shape a society functioning on thé basis of effective cooperation. Ethnic stereotypes and barriers are, in one or another way, présent.
To conclude, thé processes of developing inter-ethnic relations will take generations in all countries of thé world. To have better results in thé field, one must also take into consideration thé expérience of other countries. Therefore, we welcome thé organisation of thé World Conférence Against Racism here in Durban, in order to find new friends and co-opération partners in this difficult and challenging work.
I am coming from a small Nordic country where thé summer is often colder than thé winter here in Durban. I strongly believe that when it comes to tolérance-building there are no big or small countries. In this respect, we all can be big, be it a state or be it an individual.