Integrating Estonia's Non-Citizen Minority

The Republic of Estonia is home to 1,565,000 people, according to the last census conducted in 1989. In that census 61.5 percent (963,000) identified themselves as Estonian; 30.3 percent (475,000) as Russian; 3.1 percent as Ukrainian (48,000); and 1.8 percent as Belorussians (28,000).4 Other groups include Finns, Jews, Latvians, and Tatars. The Estonians are a Finno-Ugric people and share linguistic and cultural affinity most closely with the Finns and the many Finno-Ugric peoples of the former Soviet Union.5

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Helsinki Watch has followed developments regarding the granting of citizenship in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union since 1991. In April 1992, Helsinki Watch issued a report, "New Citizenship Laws in the Republics of the Former Soviet Union." The report contains Helsinki Watch's official policy statement on granting citizenship in the NIS, which favors a "zero-option" approach, i.e., the granting of citizenship equally to all who were permanent residents at the time the state in question gained independence. Helsinki Watch maintains this policy and believes it to be both fair and practical. Although Helsinki Watch takes issue with Estonia's rejection of the zero-option, its August 1993 mission uncovered no systematic, serious abuses of human rights in the area of citizenship. Non-citizens in Estonia are guaranteed basic rights under the Estonian Constitution, including the right to unemployment benefits and social services. Problems exist, however, especially concerning the successful integration of Estonia's large non-citizen population, nearly forty percent of the country's 1.6 million residents. The Estonian language, which is required both for citizenship and employment, is possibly the greatest impediment to integration. Adequate representation for non-citizens and the development of a mechanism to express adequately non-citizen concerns represent another problem. While Estonia has made progress, especially in its mature handling of the Narva referendum and in its allowing the Council of Europe to review the "Law on Aliens," it still has far to travel if its society is to overcome its present bi-polarity. Finally, while debate has raged in the press and between governments concerning Estonia's citizenship and alien legislation, its influence on the thirty-nine percent of the population it affects has not been explored. This work hopes in part to correct that.
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