Support for national minorities and compatriots

In addition to Estonians, there are almost 200 nationalities living in Estonia, although three quarters are in very small communities of less than 100 people. The largest ethnic groups are the Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Finns. According to the Population Register, there are 14 nationalities with more than 1,000 representatives living in Estonia.

In all the democracies around the world, the rights of national minorities are protected by law and international agreements. The Estonian Constitution provides: ’Everyone has the right to preserve his or her ethnic identity’ (§49). Estonia has acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international agreements protecting the rights of national minorities. The member states of the Council of Europe, including Estonia, have ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. By acceding to the Convention, Estonia undertakes to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.

In order to preserve their language and culture, people of the same nationality in Estonia organise national minority cultural societies or establish cultural self-governments. If there were 22 national cultural societies registered in Estonia in 1989, in 2020 there will be more than 300. Most of the societies are organised into umbrella organisations. The Finns (since 2004) and the Swedes (since 2007) are organised on the basis of the National Minorities Cultural Autonomy Act. Contact information for the cultural societies and umbrella organizations of national minorities is available on the Integration Foundation website.

The Ministry of Culture curates the activities of the Cultural Council of National Minorities and the roundtable of the East-Viru County National Cultural Associations, which are comprised of the representatives of national minority organisations. In addition, a separate Roma Integration Council has been set up to support Roma integration.

Activities and cooperation with Estonians’ kindred peoples (i.e. Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic peoples) is organised by the Non-Profit Organisation Fenno-Ugria.

Staying in touch with Estonian culture and homeland is also important when living abroad. In order to preserve cultural ties with the Estonians abroad, the Ministry of Culture supports Estonian cultural organisations abroad that wish to promote and keep Estonian cultural life active outside the country.

The number of people returning to Estonia has increased in recent years. The returnees, who often come with their children and families, contribute most directly to the development and sustainability of the Estonian population.

Last updated: 03.09.2021