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The Road to Tolerance

The Economist's Edward Lucas moderating the discussion
The Economist's Edward Lucas moderating the discussion Source: Photo: Jacques-Alain Finkeltroc

"When will Estonia get its first black member of parliament?" read the subject line of the press release promoting the British Council's seminar formally titled "Estonia's Road to Tolerance."

Black Like Me

While the seminar did not directly raise the question which headlined its press release, Postimees columnist Abdul Turay's presentation examined the topics of blacks in Estonia in general.

"Estonia behaves like it has a huge black population, but it doesn't." Turay referenced a 2010 public service advertising campaign which asked Estonians to consider how they might feel if their daughters married a minority such as a Muslim or a black. "It is more likely," noted Turay, "that your [Estonian] daughter would be eaten by a lion" than marry a black man.

"In many ways," said Turay, "Estonians are more black than I am," pointing out that Estonia's history of slavery was one longer than that of the United States.

Turay argued that Estonians have a right to "identity politics" and drew a comparison to a tribe in the Amazon worried about preserving its culture. "Nobody would challenge that tribe." He characterized Estonians as people "acting in a normal way given the situation they're in and the history they've had."

"Whether Estonians are in denial about their situation about where they stand in the world" is the wrong question, he said. "The issue is how can other people be more tolerant and understanding toward Estonians."

Children of a Lesser God

Indrek Teder, the Estonian Chancellor of Justice, in his presentation, outlined his position of a zero-option for children of stateless people in Estonia - allowing automatic naturalization of children born to stateless parents in Estonia without the parents making formal application - though admitted he was "not very optimistic" about a change in the law which would allow it. 

"What message would this send to non-Estonians?" asked Teder. He said he feared that the message would come too late, "but better late than never." 

"The state of Estonia has become strong enough," said Teder, to send the message that "'We want you to be part of this state and nation.'" Teder said he thought tolerance in Estonian society would grow by the state taking "more than rational steps" and demonstrating "generosity." 

Small is Beautiful

Reacting to the issue of the shrinking influence of Russian-language media in Estonia (raised by Viktoria Korpan, Editor-in-Chief of the Russian-language edition of Postimees), social scientist Marju Lauristin argued that Estonia's small number of Russian-language television programs is not a reason to kill them but a reason to improve them and to market them.

Asked what she'd do to stem the influence of Russia's media on Estonia's Russian minority, Lauristin remarked that research has indicated that the problem is not political but psychological. "It is unbearable to be a minority. People say, 'we want to feel ourselves part of a bigger world.' What we need to do," said Lauristin, "is to convince them that small is beautiful." 


Scott Diel

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