Sa, 2.12.2023

British study paints a sad picture of Russians in Estonia

Tiina Kaukvere
, reporter
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Photo: AFP / Scanpix

A study meant for internal use by the British government on the mentality of Russians in the Baltic countries claims that the community is the most cut off in Estonia.

“Socially passive”. “Disgruntled.” “Regards corruption as the only problem in Russia.” “The European Union has failed, NATO is hostile.” “ETV+ is counterpropaganda, PBK covers events in Russia objectively.” “Russia is more successful than Estonia also in promoting human rights,” “Estonia and Russia should cooperate.”

Those are the words, sentences, and generalizations that make up the summary of a study ordered by the British government that interviewed 4,000 people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Postimees has at its disposal the main conclusions of the Russian-speaking population’s attitudes and media consumption study.

No comment

The British embassy in Tallinn invited people in charge of communication from select ministries for a presentation of the study’s results in December of last year. Participants were shown slides and given a brief overview that paints quite a deep divide between the two communities. Estonian government agencies were not given any materials.

The study, carried out in Estonia by Latvian media monitoring organization Baltic Center for Media Excellence, concludes that segregation between communities is greatest in Estonia.

No Estonian government agency is willing to comment on the results of the study. Even though the subject matter is an important one, institutions maintain the Brits shared the information on an internal use only basis.

“The UK Foreign Office routinely orders various target group studies and other analyses that support its work in the field of strategic communication,” said Julia Amor, press representative for the embassy, after seeing the overview Postimees has of the study.

“Information collected is for internal use only,” Amor said. The press representative promised all the data would be shared with the Estonian government which process has allegedly already begun. Because the UK government finances media projects aimed at Russians in the Baltics, it is likely such studies are needed to prove that continued funding in necessary.

The Guardian wrote about the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund (CSSF), the budget of which exceeds £1 billion, in last October. The work the fund pursues is said to be classified on a level where even long-serving British MPs only have limited access to the list of 40 countries it spends money in.

The publication wrote that the CSSF is used to pay for Russian auditorium analyses in the Baltic states.

“The study is meant to serve as a foundation for maintaining UK-Estonia relations and supporting independent media. The Estonian government and other partners, including non-governmental

organizations, have been consulted in the course of the work,” Amor said.

A slightly better picture

The United Kingdom’s study of the Russian community is not the first, nor will it be the last such work. However, it is very one-sided when compared to other studies carried out in Estonia.

Postimees recently wrote about a joint project of researchers from the Bergen University College and Tallinn University called DIMA that divided Russians in Estonia into four broad groups: breakaways (34 percent), people who hardly feel they belong (19 percent), people who are integrating (22 percent), and people who are assimilating (23 percent). All groups sport different attitudes toward their own identity and the Estonian community.

The breakaways have erected high walls around themselves. “They perceive attempts to turn them into Estonians and react by building a wall between the “them” and “us” groups,” said the Estonian side’s lead researcher, professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University Raivo Vetik. If the breakaways are protecting their cultural identity because they feel unequal and threatened, Russians who don’t feel they belong are indifferent toward the Russian community, but even more indifferent toward its Estonian counterpart. Neither group is interested in communicating with Estonians.

The choice between integration and assimilation is affected by people’s financial situation. People who are integrating fear separation as it might impact their already poor financial situation.

The financial situation of those assimilating is strong enough for the group not to perceive the need to protect the rights of Russians as a minority.

The Ministry of Defense has been ordering annual nationwide polls on national defense since 2001. Last year’s study revealed that in a situation where 92 percent of Estonians support the country’s membership in NATO, only 33 percent of Russian-speakers do.

No fewer than 48 percent of Russian-speakers were against Estonia’s NATO membership, while a fifth had no opinion.

The Ministry of Culture orders an integration monitoring the more important conclusions drawn by which last year were that the position of people of other nationalities on the labor market is still poorer and that Estonians and other nationalities are still operating in their respective language environments and only rarely come into contact.