7. Current status planning
in Estonia is implemented through legislation, comprising the Constitution, over 400 laws,
lower legal and normative acts. The Estonian Constitution provides the basis for future
strategies concerning language. Language issues are regulated in several articles of the
Constitution. Estonias nation-building task as a nation-state appears to be quite
balanced in the Constitution, envisioning the common language policy through the
introduction of Estonian as the official (national) language, a system of hierarchisation
and regulation for minority languages, and, as a counterbalance, language considered as a
human right, providing linguistic protection for individual and collective aims. The
Constitution proclaims Estonia as a nation-state and a politically unitary state (Article
2), so that ethnically autonomous regions are unconstitutional. The two main
characteristics of nation-building, namely the requirements for the introduction of the
common language and the hierarchisation of languages, lead to the two language regimes
introduced in the Constitution, which are (Rannut 1997):
In addition to
this, functional regimes concerning foreign language use may be introduced by the Estonian
is based on two different foci: administrative requirements based on instrumental needs of
a state (official language, information, translation, etc.) and specific linguistic
rights, sustaining the Estonian language environment. Linguistic human rights are based on
various fundamental principles, including the non-discrimination principle
(equality before the law), the communication rights (freedom of expression).
The most important domestic human right, the right to communicate in the Estonian
language throughout the whole territory of Estonia, is provided in article 4 of the
Language Law. It implies Estonian-language environment, placing obligations to all
institutions and artificial bodies before any person. The law does not differentiate
between public and private legal persons and subordinate-superior position in these. In
order to fulfil this obligation, Article 5 of the Language Law (Requirements for knowledge
and usage of the Estonian language) delegates the establishment of requirements for the
knowledge and usage of the Estonian language by employees of state institutions and local
governments, as well as of institutions, enterprises and organisations, in work-related
dealings with the public to the Government of the Republic to be regulated through
testing of the Estonian language proficiency is based on the Common European Framework
of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. According to this,
competence in Estonian is divided into three broad categories:
- basic level,
corresponding to the levels of A, B, C of the previous system.
level (previous D)
- advanced level
(previous E, F)
Bilingual territorial language regime
In order to
protect linguistic and ethnic minorities in Estonia, two bilingual regimes are provided.
Bilingual territorial regime is based on the Constitutional articles 51(2) and 52(2),
according to which in localities where at least half of the permanent residents belong to
an ethnic minority, all persons shall have the right to receive answers from state and
local government authorities and their officials in the language of that ethnic minority
and local government authorities may use the language of the majority of the permanent
residents of that locality in internal communication.
This right of the
council of a local government to propose the language other than Estonian for internal
administration was used by Narva and Sillamäe City Councils in 1995. However, these
proposals were declined by the Estonian government for two reasons: firstly, although most
of the residents in Narva and Sillamäe are of Russian origin, they do not constitute a
Russian minority according to the Article 2 of the Law on Cultural Autonomy, which adheres
minority to the condition of belonging to the Estonian citizenry. The second reason was
the condition of use of an additional language, meaning that the members of the Council
should be able to conduct the work in Estonian. As this condition was not fulfilled (most
of the work was done in Russian) the Government did not consider it necessary to make a
favourable decision in this case.
bilingual regime is based on cultural autonomy. Article 50 of the Constitution assures
ethnic minorities "the right, in the interest of their national culture, to establish
institutions of self-government in accordance with conditions and procedures established
by the Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities."
In 1993 the
Estonian Parliament adopted the Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities.
This is the legal successor of a similar law dating back to 1925. This 1925 law was
considered by the League of Nations to be a model text for the cultural autonomy of
national minorities. The new law, which has been given a generally favourable appreciation
by the experts of the Council of Europe (Bratinka et al.), revitalises and
simplifies the old one. It follows Capotortis definition in determining national
minorities. The Law considers as national minorities citizens of Estonia, who:
- reside in the
territory of Estonia;
longstanding, firm and lasting ties with Estonia;
- are distinct
from Estonians on the basis of their ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic
- are motivated by
a concern to preserve together their cultural traditions, their religion or their language
which constitute the basis of their common identity.
position on the definition of minority was confirmed through the ratification of the Framework
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on 21 November 1996 by the
Riigikogu, the Estonian Parliament, who made a declaration according to which the Republic
of Estonia understands the term national minorities, which is not defined in the
Convention, exactly as provided above.
cultural autonomy may be established by persons belonging to German, Russian, Swedish and
Jewish minorities and persons belonging to national minorities with a membership of more
than 3,000. Members of a national minority have the right:
to form and
support cultural and educational institutions and religious congregations;
to form ethnic
cultural traditions and religious customs if this does not endanger public order, health
to use their
mother tongue in dealings within the limits established by the Language Law;
ethnic language publications;
agreements of cooperation between ethnic, cultural and educational institutions and
to circulate and
exchange information in their mother tongue.
Thus, the Law
grants the citizens of Estonia who belong to a national minority the right, in particular,
to set up their own cultural and educational institutions and religious congregations and
use their own language in both private and official communication in accordance with the
Language Law. Moreover, it provides for the establishment of cultural councils by the
national minorities entrusted with the organisation and co-ordination of the activities of
cultural autonomy institutions.
The law also
guarantees to non-citizens, those who reside in Estonia and belong to a national
minority, the right to participate in the activities of the national minoritys
cultural and educational institutions, thereby reducing, in practice, the difference
between citizens and non-citizens.
in October 1993 of the Law on Cultural Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities has had a modest
effect so far, due to other laws providing those rights in more detail. By 2003 more than
70 different associations had been registered. The Estonian Union of Nationalities, an
umbrella organisation for over 30 cultural societies represents 21 ethnic minorities
As a result,
Ingrians are pioneering here currently, holding elections for cultural self-government
There are also
other mechanisms supporting ethnic maintenance and inter-ethnic tolerance. In order to
promote mutual understanding and dialogue among different groups, as well as provide
access to political decision-making, representatives of ethnic minorities were invited in
July 1993 to join a permanent roundtable consultative body under the aegis of the
President of the Republic.
Foreign language regime
language usage is regulated in the Constitution and, in more detail in the Language Law.
The governing principle is based on mutual agreement, based on the choice of language
suitable to all parties. Exceptional cases are delegated to the Government, providing
flexibility: Governmental Decree No. 32 from 29 January 1996 deals with two cases,
for transmitting information, and for communication during employment. For employees this
means the requirement of competence in the foreign language concerned. The domains
specified are international transport and tourism, customs, information bureaus, export
requirements and international events.
The main challenge
to normalisation of the language environment and effective nation-building has been the
non-integrated Russian-speaking community in Estonia. The legal status of this population
group is connected with the question of succession of the Russian Federation to the rights
and duties of the former Soviet Union. The Minsk Agreement of 8 December 1991 and the
Alma-Ata Protocol of 21 December 1991, which founded the Commonwealth of Independent
States (below: CIS), did not solve the fate of Soviet citizens outside the CIS. The
successor of the USSR the CIS, decided to change the naturalisation laws from jus
sanguinis to jus soli, thus depriving citizens of the former Soviet Union of
their previous citizenship and leaving them "stranded".
republics forming the CIS, succeeding the Soviet Union, Estonia is (like Latvia),
according to its Constitution and international law, the rightful and legal successor of
the Republic of Estonia, declared on 24 February 1918 and forcibly annexed to the Soviet
Union on 6 August 1940. Estonian citizenship is based on ius sanguinis principle,
according to which a child by birth acquires the citizenship of their parents. With the
restablishment of Estonia's de facto independence came the de facto
restablishment of its citizenry.
followed a consistent inclusive policy to integrate those residents, who are not Estonian
citizens. Since 1992 Estonia's governments have held to a firm position on the right of
these people to choose their citizenship, and have maintained the belief that citizenship
cannot be forced on anyone. Estonian citizenship is not based on ethnicity. All persons,
including those belonging to ethnic minorities, who held Estonian citizenship before 16
June 1940, and their descendants, received Estonian citizenship automatically. According
to 2000 census there were ca 170,000 non-citizens in Estonia and 83,000 Russian citizens.
The number of both groups is diminishing at a rate of 6,000-9,000 annually.
In 1992, the
Estonian Supreme Council passed a Decree On the Application of the Law on Citizenship,
(1) which reactivated an amended version of
the Citizenship Law of July 1, 1938. This divided the population into two groups:
citizens, i.e., those who were citizens of the pre-war Republic and their descendants, and
everyone else. Others could obtain it through a naturalisation process, with a short
residence requirement and basic proficiency in Estonian. The Decree lists those who have
no legal right to naturalisation: active duty, foreign military personnel, former
employees of Soviet security/intelligence organs, individuals convicted of serious
felonies or repeat offenders, and those without a steady income.
The Law on the
Estonian Language Requirements for Applicants for Citizenship (2) was adopted in 1993, and the current
citizenship law in 1995. Under this Law one is expected to have Estonian language
proficiency at A2 level. It also provides for special examination guidelines for persons
born before 1 January 1930, and persons who are considered to be permanently disabled or
who were unable to complete an examination in the usual way due to their disability. The
current Estonian language curriculum in Russian-medium basic schools fully covers the
Estonian language requirements established for citizenship applicants.