Monday, August 23, 2010

Russian Minorities in Estonia...

Regular readers know that I have visited both Estonia and Russia many times, and that I have friends there.  Many of my friends are ethnic Russians; some are ethnic Estonians.  The history of Estonia is very complicated; the country has been independent twice, for a total of well under a hundred years.  The rest of the time it has been ruled by another country.  Most recently that was the Soviet Union, which was dominated by Russians.  The history of the Soviet domination of Estonia is not pretty – many Estonians suffered greatly under Soviet rule (including many who were outright killed).  In addition, the Soviets actively suppressed the Estonian culture and language, trying to force the integration of Estonians into the Soviet Union.  So naturally once Estonia gained its independence from the Soviet Union (in 1991), there was a great deal of tension between the ethnic Russian and Estonia communities.  That tension continues to this day

It's easy to understand this tension in the abstract.  The history is clear.  The Estonians have good reason to be angry and resentful about their treatment at Soviet (mainly Russian) hands.  It's much harder to analyze in the concrete sense of people that you know. 

Many ethnic Russians whom I know bear no ill will toward Estonians.  They think of the historical treatment of Estonians as history, and not something they bear any personal responsibility for.  At the same time, many of them would like to continue using their language and to be free to become citizens. 

Many ethnic Estonians whom I know bear no ill will toward Russians.  They think of the historical treatment of Estonians as history, and not something they've been personally subjected to.  At the same time, most of them support their government's efforts to enforce Estonian as the country's language – and in particular to require fluency as a prerequisite for citizenship.

I don't see any easy answers out of this.  I can easily place myself in the position of any of the people I know, and think about it from their perspective.  History has dealt the people of Estonia a tough hand in current times, and I suspect the only “solution” is to let a lot of time go by.  Decades, probably, before these tensions fully subside...

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