In a piece written in connection with the upcoming Opinion Festival in Paide, nonprofit advocate Tatjana Lavrova says Estonia's Russian-speakers are interested in being civically active, more opportunities should be found for them, and if included properly, they could be Estonia's unique success story.
Lavrova, who heads Russian-language media relations for the "Let's Do It" civil action campaign, recaps some of the worrying sets of monitoring data from 2008 and 2011 indicating that the rift between unintegrated Russians and those who are at least partially integrated is widening.
In 2009, she writes, the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Associations started conducting outreach on civil society topics and opportunities in Russian as well.
"For many years, active Estonian inhabitants have been provided consultation by the Harju entrepreneurship and development center's Russian-speaking consultant (in addition to the longtime one in Narva). The new integration plan "Integrating Estonia 2012" is being prepared for the first time with large-scale, serious involvement of the target audience. It is late in the game, but it is great that involvement processes have started and are bearing fruit."
That change hasn't completely done away with populist complaints on the individual level, she notes. "At the same time, life is about the details and one can get a sense from talking to ethnic Russians that Estonians do not accept them or see them as equal members of society, and treat them as objects that are are only needed in a certain situation and up to a certain time.
"I often hear the questions: why don't Estonians want my grandmother to be able to read medicines information in Russian? Why do they call us 'the others?' Why does the media talk so much about Estonians and so rarely about the people of Estonia? Why aren't Estonian courses offered free or at a discount. We live here and raise children here - do we have to prove something to Estonians?"
"Everyone has their own problems, reasons for feeling hurt and complaining, but it would be more constructive to think more broadly about a common future. Please ask your acquaintances of other ethnicities - without prejudice to stereotypes - what they would like to improve, what kind of country they dream of. Ask about Russian-language secondary schools, and language exams, future for children and the elderly, nature conservation and more.
She concludes: "I am sure that you will see the same concerns and with your attentiveness you will get people to be more attentive and intelligent toward the Estonian community as well. Involving the Russophone population is Estonian society's 'Nokia.' At least one of them."