Update to EST30841.E of 6 January 1999 on the treatment of Russians and availability of state protection [EST40648.E]

According to estimates made in 2000, 403,925 of Estonia's 1,439,197 people (28 per cent) are ethnic Russian (Europa 2002 2002, 1510). A "historical national minority," Russians are predominant in the northeastern industrial area (Minorities in Europe 22 June 2000) where they make up 82 per cent of the population (LICHR 15 Jan. 2002). Russians are also centered in the cities of Narva and Sillamäe (IHF 8 May 2002, 116), while in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, "non-Estonians - mostly Russians - account for 50% of the population" (BBC News 10 Dec. 2002).

It was the opinion of the European Union (EU) in 2002 that "the rights of the Russian-speaking minority (with or without Estonian citizenship) continue to be largely observed and safeguarded" (EU 9 Oct. 2002, 31). Other international organizations have observed that Estonian minority affairs have "made much progress" (IHF 8 May 2002, 114) and that Russians no longer face "severe and violent manifestations of intolerance and racism" (COE 23 Apr. 2002, 19). According to a January 2001 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report, more than half of the ethnic Russians place their trust in, and 62 per cent had a positive evaluation, of the Estonian government (11 Jan. 2001).

However, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) maintained that the full rights of the Russian-speaking minority were not sufficiently secured (8 May 2002, 114), and the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) concluded that Russians "continue to face difficulties in several spheres of life" (COE 23 Apr. 2002, 19). The Minorities at Risk project report took a more ominous position, noting that Russians in Estonia suffer "significant political, economic and social discrimination" and concluding that there is a significant likelihood of group protest by this community (4 Nov. 2002).

Among the issues reportedly faced by Russian-speakers in Estonia are their under-representation in political and administrative structures, private business and among elite groups, disproportionate levels of unemployment and a reportedly steady deterioration of their social and economic position relative to that of ethnic Estonians (COE 23 Apr. 2002, 19). The predominantly Russian northeastern part of Estonia had a reported unemployment rate of 21.2 per cent, for example (LICHR 15 Jan. 2002). Russian-speakers are also restricted access to citizenship and, through this, to those rights and protective mechanisms that are available only to citizens such as the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (IHF 8 May 2002, 114-115). Legislation also limits many employment opportunities to individuals holding Estonian citizenship (LICHR 15 Jan. 2002).

A recent case of inter-ethnic violence taking place between Estonian and Russian schoolchildren in Ida-Viru County during October-November 2001, although whether ethnicity was the basis of the violence is in dispute (OSI 7 Sept. 2002, 225). The Estonian-Russian interest group, Union of Russian Citizens of Narva, recently stated that continuing discrimination and the ongoing limitation of opportunities available to Russian citizens may result in inter-ethnic violence (BNS 29 Aug. 2002).

Among the programmes adopted by the government to integrate Russians into Estonian society is the "Integration in Estonian Society 2000-2007," an effort which seeks to harmonise Estonian society while protecting ethnic differences (COE 23 Apr. 2002, 19). It both addresses cultural, linguistic, politico-legal and socio-economic areas of integration and "foresees an equal participation of both ethnic Estonian and non-ethnic Estonians in this process" (ibid.). The integration programme acknowledges the citizenship and language barriers that hinder non-Estonians from fully participating in society, but it does not address discrimination (OSI 7 Sept. 2002, 210). The EU described the programme's implementation as "sufficient" and the Open Society Institute (OSI) and considers it "proceeding successfully" when based on the legislation's set priorities (EU 9 Oct. 2002, 32; OSI 7 Sept. 2002, 192).

It was reported that in regions where Russians comprised the majority, local authorities use Russian for communication with residents and in its internal dealings (IHF 8 May 2002, 116; EU 9 Oct. 2002, 31). Furthermore, state-funded Russian language primary education is widely available although, the OSI reported that were concerns about the continued availability of secondary schooling in Russian language (OSI 7 Sept. 2002, 226). In addition, Estonia established the role of an Ombudsman charged to investigate citizen's complaints concerning the quality of public service (EU 9 Oct. 2002, 27; COE 23 Apr. 2002, 11-12). Branch offices of the Ombudsman are operating in Narva and Sillamäe, as well as a number of other Estonian cities (EU 9 Oct. 2002, 27).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Baltic News Service (BNS). 29 August 2002. "Leader of Russian Citizen's Union Doesn't Rule Out Inter-Ethnic Clashes in Estonia." (NEXIS)

BBC News. 10 December 2002. Laurence Peter. "Estonia's Euro Vision." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2556449.stm [Accessed 3 Jan. 2003]

Council of Europe (COE). 23 April 2002. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). (CRI (2002) 1) Second Report on Estonia: Adopted on 22 June 2001. http://www.coe.int/T/E/human_rights/Ecri/1-ECR/2-Country-by-country_approach/Estonia/PDF_CBC2-Estonia.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

The Europa World Year Book 2002. 2002. 43rd ed. Vol. 2. London: Europa Publications.

European Union (EU). 9 October 2002. Commission of the European Communities. 2002 Regular Report on Estonia's Progress Towards Accession. (Sec (2002) 1402) http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/report2002/ee_en.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 8 May 2002. Human Rights in the OSCE Region: The Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America. "Estonia." http://www.ihf-hr.org/reports/AR2002/2_Country%20Issues/estonia.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

Legal Information Centre for Human Rights (LICHR). 15 January 2002. Jelena Karzetskaja. "Comments on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women." http://www.lichr.ee/rus/deti/report.rtf [Accessed 7 Jan. 2003]

Minorities at Risk. 4 November 2002. "The Russians of Estonia." Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/mar/data/estruss.htm [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

Minorities in Europe. 7 November 2001. "Preface." http://www.minorty2000.net/t-info-gb.htm [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

_____. 22 June 2000. "Russian Minority in Estonia." http://www.minority2000.net/Gr-15/t13gbo.htm [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

Minorities in Europe is described as an "Internet presentation" and part of the project "Cultures, Languages, Minorities: The Danish-German Border Region - An Example of Conflict Resolution" produced for EXPO 2000 (Minorities in Europe 7 Nov. 2001)

Open Society Institute (OSI). 7 September 2001. Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection. "Estonia." http://www.eumap.org/reports/2002/content/07/233/10/2002_m_estonia.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2003]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 11 January 2001. Features. Paul Goble. "Baltics: Analysis from Washington - Ethnic Identity, Political Loyalty." http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2001/11012001114625.asp [Accessed 3 Jan. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted


Internet sites, including:

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Council of Europe

Estonia Wide Web

Estonian Institute for Human Rights

European Country of Origin Information Network

Google News


United Nations

Associated documents