Language – an important part of integration in the Baltic States

Having a national minority is something which every European country has to face today. What makes integrating difficult is different religions, culture and most importantly different languages.

The biggest minority of Estonia is Russians with 25% of the whole population. Language barrier is getting worse year by year. The younger generation of Estonians don’t speak Russian and the younger generation of Russians doesn’t speak Estonian language well. This is the main reason, why the communication between Estonian and Russian youngsters is very little. If necessary to communicate, often English language is used. To increase the knowledge of Estonian language amoung Russian youth and to decrease the difference between the number of highly educated Russians and Estonians, the government has decided to introduce Estonian language in Russian high schools in Estonia. At least 60% of the subjects has to be taught in Estonian for year 2012. The situation is even worse in North Eastern cities like Narva, where more than 90% of the population are Russians, Estonian is never used, even not while communicating with Estonians.

Latvia has also a very large Russian minority with nearly 28% of the population.  Latvia has all the same problems, but even in larger scale. In the capital, Riga, Russian is even more used than Latvian. Both in Estonia and Latvia, the reason of language barrier is the lack of interest in learning the official language of the country. Instead of that, having Russian as an official language is preferred.

Knowledge of the official language is needed for getting an Estonian or Latvian passport.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union only these people got automatically the citizenship of Estonia who had it before June 1940 and their descendants. People who came to the Baltic States during the occupation have the possibility to obtain the citizenship through naturalisation. Which means that knowledge of the official language and the constitution is tested. Because of that, both in Estonia and Latvia, there is a large group of people who does not have a citizenship. An important reason why many non-citizens of Estonia and Latvia do not apply for the citizenship is the possibility to work or visit Russia without visa.

Although the language barrier between Estonian/Latvian and Russian youngsters is the biggest ever, especially in Estonia. The official languages are getting ever more popular amoung the Russian youth because it enables better education, to be competitive on the job market and free movement inside the European Union. The future looks bright, because the possibility to integrate people who have born after the collapse of the Soviet Union is bigger.

Andry Silla (Estonia) – November 2010

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