Survey: Right-wing populism ex pat Estonians' main negative image of home

A crowd gathered in Tallinn (photo is illustrative).
A crowd gathered in Tallinn (photo is illustrative). Source: Rene Suurkaev / ERR

Estonians living abroad cite right-wing populist politics as one of several negative aspects about Estonia, according to a recent survey. Perceptions of the Estonian national character were also referred to, in a negative light. Of more positive sides to Estonia mentioned, the e-state, the natural environment and various noted people from the fields of culture and sport featured prominently.

The survey was commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of its global Estonian diaspora project, and posed the question: "Please could you name one person or fact related to Estonia which characterizes Estonia for you, in a positive or a negative way." 

Answers could be couched only in a short comment, with one positive and one negative aspect.

2,250 positive answers were received, compared with 1,850 negative responses, and the surveyors organized the answers into different categories.

Among the negatives, more than a third (39 percent) or respondents expressly named populist and/or right-wing politicians and politics, with two or three politicians specifically named in the responses, ERR reports.

The responses saw a smaller range in the negatives, meaning the most dominant aspects in respondents' minds – such as the politics dimension noted above – held a much larger share of the total than did any of the positive answers.

The authors of the study said it was: "Noteworthy that, while in the topic block of negative facts there was a large share of politics and factors relating to the political field, the share of positive factors was rather more diverse."

Additionally, 13 percent of respondents referred to "politics" more broadly, and referenced, again, specific politicians, political parties, and policies on, for instance, Covid, and education.

The remaining negative answers constituted less than a tenth of the share, though 9 percent referenced Estonian people's: "Rudeness, carelessness, self-centeredness, envy, narrow-mindedness, intolerance," and other negative character traits.

Racists attitudes and intolerant attitudes to LGBT+ persons were also referenced specifically.

Other negatives included "low salaries" and other economic factors, alcoholism, the cold climate, the proximity of Russia, and the activities or existence of other, non-political public figures.

(including significantly at least in the positive category, and above all politicians), and two to three percent of the answers reflected a negative attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community and alcoholism.

Positive aspects found a much broader range

As noted, respondents to the survey presented a much more diluted selection of answers when it came to positive perceptions of their home country.

These ranged from some political figures – most notably the current head of state (appeared in 11 percent of positive asnwers) as well as his preecessors, the e-state, including facets such as e-residency, cyber security and Estonia's international reputation as a digital powerhouse, and the beautiful natural environment and its forests, islands and Baltic coast.

Composer Arvo Pärt, many other figures from the world of music, literature, art, sport, science, national and folk culture and even politics, education, innovation, the startup culture and general memories of the homeland were also referenced.

Some positive character traits, such as hard work, ambition and resourcefulness were also mentioned, as well as the fact of being a sovereign, independent republic.

The study, entitled "Estonian foreign communities: Identity, attitudes and expectations towards the Estonian state" was conducted by the Institute of Baltic Studies on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture, while those polled were of Estonian origin and resident in: Finland, Russia, Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Turkey, the US and Australia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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