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7. From centre-periphery conflict to the making of new nationality policy in an independent state: Estonia

Klara Hallik

Klara Hallik

From country to borderland, from nation to minority
An ethnically divided society
The language issue
Who has been the minority since august 1991?

Having been subjugated by strong neighbouring countries, Estonia has had the status of being a borderland to others. At one time it was the easternmost province of an empire: at another time, the westernmost. In both cases Estonia was a peripheral entity whose existence depended on powerful centres beyond its own borders. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Estonia was in fact a double borderland. In religion and culture it was dominated by German culture as a Baltic-German subculture. Administratively and politically it was dominated by Russia. During the final decades of the nineteenth century, Russia started tying Estonia to the empire also through its policy of flagrant "Rustication." This was pursued even more vigorously after the incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union.

There was, however, one exception: the short period of Estonia's national independence (1919-1940). That period saw the reorganization of Estonian society, during which time Estonia's own administrative, political, economic, and intellectual centres were developed. The principle of the nationalist movement, "Let's stay Estonians, but become Europeans," was the dominant idea of Estonia's cultural policy during this period. A main thrust of the cultural and educational policy was aimed at liberation from the overbearing influence of German and Russian cultures. There was a notable approach to the Scandinavian countries and cultural centres recognized by Europe. The international ties of ethnic culture proceeded from the inner needs of Estonian development, including a need to withstand "foreign" cultures. This major change in cultural orientation stopped resettlement and put an end to the provincial status of Estonia's young ethnic culture.

Possessed of an independent ethnic culture system, Estonia was then able to preserve its cultural identity even under the later pressure of Sovietization. Looking at the broader implications of the Estonian experience, it is worth noting that during the 1920s and 1930s Estonia became a part of a multicentred Europe, and this favoured the preservation of its own identity. As today's united Europe remains culturally and intellectually multifarious, the example of Estonia suggests that other small nations may also be able to find an equal place there. There is also a reverse argument: as economic and political integration standardizes cultures, it is primarily the small post-socialist nations who will fall into Europe's cultural periphery.

This article deals with ethnic relations in the Estonian republic during the period of Soviet rule as well as when it gained its independence. It also takes up questions of ethnic relations and conflicts.

From country to borderland, from nation to minority

Taking into account international or even global tendencies of development, it may seem inappropriate to speak of a "nation-state" nowadays. The term has become an anachronism, an atavistic remnant of the last century, and a phenomenon of exaggerated ethnic narrowness. This criticism is definitely justifiable if a "nation-state" is considered to be an "ethnically pure" orientation country.

Methodologically, of course, we need to distinguish between specially systemized communities (the state as a system of political community).1 As a rule, nation and state do not coincide empirically. But, no matter how big the multinational state is, the ethnic centre will still be formed by one group- the dominant nationality in number or in strength. With independent statehood, nationalities have been able to develop multifunctional socio-cultural systems to guarantee their stability, their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and inter national impulses of development. In contrast, ethnic groups that lack a state oriented organization have often become "building material" for the multinational state, frequently leaving no visible traces in the culture of big nations. In this sense, all European state entities can be typified as nation builders. The fact that they are not ethnically "pure" does not lessen the share of the state in the consolidation of an ethnic sense. Empires never managed to create a single nation state with a single religion, language, and mentality. At first glance, it seems that the cause lies in an immanent undemocracy, because a "democratic empire" is a contradiction in terms.

Experience to date, including that of the Soviet Union, indicates that a new democracy may be achieved in relations among nationalities through the state or state like institutionalization of ethnic life. That is especially the case if ethnic separatism is also influenced by specific cultural differences: regional underdevelopment; ethnic history; competition among social groups (particularly the intelligentsia); and an ethnically discriminatory policy.2 Such factors force nationalities out of larger multi-ethnic communities, as has been pointed out by Anthony D. Smithy3 Here, we may note a vigorous nationality's structural and institutional incompleteness, which unavoidably leads to national separation in the creation of structural integrity.

Turning to Western culture, we must presume that Western democracy can, in the process of integration, create relationships and institutions which allow limitless freedom of development to local cultures and ways of life. This idea was not unknown among various Estonian-born scholars in the West, who thought it possible to guarantee the existence of nationality by primarily changing the character of relations with the central government of the Soviet Union. To quote Hain Rebas: "More important than gaining statehood is getting free from colonial exploitation..."4 Tónu Parming has expressed a similar attitude in stating: "In principle there is no reason why the Estonian nation could not live in the Soviet Union, or in some other federal state. But only if it is not accompanied by danger to the endurance and development of the national identity... A nation state, the other extreme, often leads to the stagnation of identity."5

Such a version of development may seem difficult to accept at first, not least for the Baltic nations, burdened by a different experience. The abolition of their national independence endangered the very existence of their nationality. The Soviet government started eliminating the country by breaking up the integral structures of local societies. In the course of a few months after annexation, the Soviet authorities got rid of the local army and the elected organs of local authorities were dismissed and replaced by officials appointed by the new regime. The legitimacy of statehood and local government ceased to exist with the abolition of the legal order of the Estonian Republic and the enforcement of the Russian Federation's code of law in September 1940.6 The enforcement of the laws of the Soviet Union (actually Russia) upon a sovereign Soviet Republic destroyed the last vestiges of Estonia's statehood, its distinct citizenship, and control over its territory and its foreign relations.

Pre-Soviet Estonian society had an admittedly brief experience of national and political democracy. But this was largely compensated by a well developed, many-faceted civil society which played a leading role in the nation's self-organization from the 1860s onwards. Many-sided economic relations between producers and consumers, culture, educational and religious clubs - all this formed a stable foundation which protected society from the shake-up of the political power of the young republic. In 1940, everything was shut down. Almost 16,000 clubs and organizations were subordinated to the Communist Party and the new government.

The break-up of civil society in Estonia broke the intranational connections and interrupted the organic social process of reproduction of nationality. Traditional social structures were replaced by a rigid state-oriented structure, which was given the task of interpreting the superior authorities' directives and guaranteeing their implementation.

To enable the centre's influence to reach as far "downward" as possible, Estonia's traditional territorial-administrative divisions were abolished, while the number of administrative units was increased threefold and that of the first rank (parishes) two and a half times.7 In pre-Soviet Estonia, local authority, national culture, and sports had been based on the support of voluntary cooperation, a very strong factor of national identity. Its positive and constructive role was clearly perceptible and understandable in forms which appealed to individual involvement. State control, regulated from the centre of an alien culture, killed off public life for a long time and led to alienation from broader social objectives. Only in the late 1950s, when the danger of direct repression came to an end, did the traditional substratum of Estonia's cultural life gradually start to reawaken from totally state-oriented forms of life.

Since, in the situation of international crisis in the 1940s, the Soviet Union's occupation of the Baltic countries did not provoke any demands for explanations or sanctions, it could start "rewriting" history without any hindrance. This touched the whole cultural heritage of the nation. Written documents were mercilessly destroyed. For example, out of the books that had appeared in Estonia from 1918 to 1940, ten thousand publications, plus five thousand issues of magazines and newspapers, were removed from public libraries and mostly destroyed.8 The history of the Estonian nation was henceforth to reflect only the empire's history. The 1918-1920 war of independence (in which every tenth Estonian carried a weapon) was degraded to the status of a civil war and Estonia's 20 years of independence were depicted as a period of socio-economic deterioration, ceaseless class struggle, and political dictatorship. A thorough revision also befell the earlier history of the Estonian nation, which attributed a certain messianic role to the Russian empire. Identifying the Russian conquest with the ancient lands of the Russian nation is among the most consistently used Soviet myths, kept alive by official ideology and propaganda till the last moment.

With this kind of geopolitical thinking, there could be no acceptance of the independence of nations which had been under the control of the empire, but only the established status of borderland. The abolition of Estonia's national independence for almost half a century changed the place of Estonians in the surrounding ethno-cultural area. The year 1940 saw the severance of cultural communication with the Europe toward which the young professional culture had become oriented and under whose influence it had modernized. Those of the intelligentsia who did not manage to emigrate in 1944 became victims of repression.

Estonia was transformed into a periphery of Soviet Russian-centred cultural hierarchy. One vivid example in this case is the "geography" of translated books. Of the books printed in Estonia from 1945 to 1955, translations from Russian made up over 94 per cent, with works from other languages (not Soviet nations) accounting for only 3.6 per cent. From 1945 to 1985 over 80 per cent of translated books printed were Russian.9 A similar development affected mass communication; the repertory of theatres and hobby clubs was Russian-directed as well. Thus, the Estonian ethno-cultural system lost its natural mechanisms of associating with other cultured nations and was instead forced to accept the transplantation of the elements of another culture system.

Estonia's fall into subordination to the most centralized great power was accompanied by a major demographic denationalization.

Ethnic composition of population in Estonia

  % of total population Rate of growth






1959-1989 (%)

Estonians 892,653 963,269 74.6 61.5 7.9
Russians 240,227 474,815 20.1 30.3 97.6
Finns 16,699 16,622 1.4 1.1 - 0.5
Ukrainians 15,769 47,273 1.3 3.0 199.8
Belarusians 10,930 27,711 0.9 1.3 153.5
Jews 5,436 4,613 0.45 0.3 - 15.1
Latvians 2,888 3,135 0.24 0.2 8.5
Poles 2,256 3,008 0.18 0.2 33.3
Lithuanians 1,616 2,568 0.13 0.16 58.9
Tatars 1,535 4,058 0.13 0.26 164.4
Germans 670 3,466 0.0 0.2 417.3
Others 6,112 15,124 0.56 0.96 147.4
Total 1,196,791 1,565,662 100.00 100.00 30.8

Sources: Itogi fsesojuznoi perepisi nacelenja SSSR 1959 goda. Estonskaya SSR. p. 94; The Population of the Counties, Cities, and Market Towns of the Republic of Estonia. 1: Collection of Statistics (ESA, Tallinn, 1990), p. 32.

During the last century, Estonia had traditionally about one million inhabitants. In 1939, 83.2 per cent of these were Estonians. Naturally, this number of inhabitants has influenced the balance of social and natural environment, the ways of communication between individuals, and their adaptation to one another. In 1945 there began a period of unprecedented colonization, which led to fundamental changes in the ethnic situation in Estonia. Suddenly, Estonia was inhabited by a large group of people who knew nothing about the indigenous people, their history, or their culture. Especially when we recall the fact that in the 1940s and 1950s, more than 40,000 people were deported from Estonia,10 while the immigrant flow from the Soviet Union was as much as 200,000 (1945-1958),11 the colonist character of such a population turnover is incontestable. In the course of 45 years of Soviet rule, the relative proportions of native Estonians to newcomers fell from 97.3 per cent to 61.5 per cent.

With the annexation of land for the establishment of Soviet military bases in Estonian military areas, the native inhabitants began leaving. For nearly half a century, much of the Baltic coastline and the islands were off limits to civilian inhabitants, or a so-called permit into a border zone was required. Denial of access to the sea and the ban on fishing meant the death of the centuries-old coastal culture and way of life, which had been a factor in the traditional "horizontal" ties between the different parts of the nation's territory and the units of local subcultures.

Nowadays, immigrants of other nationalities inhabit strategically important areas. Half of them are centred in and around the capital; over one-third are in the metropolitan area of north-east Estonia; while in the "border towns" of Narva and Sillamae (in several workers' settlements there, as in the town of Paldiski) practically no Estonian population has remained. 12 The result is that three-quarters of the non-Estonian population are concentrated in towns, where they make up an ethnic majority. This fairly compact alien enclave has pressed the Estonian republic's little settled area between "palisades" and forced it to draw closer to regions bordering Russia and away from the western border, away from areas rich in natural resources and important centres of communication.

Research still in progress may indicate whether this breakup of the ethnic territory of Estonia was in line with the conscious aims of the Union centre's policy. But surely it is not coincidental that the biggest concentration of immigrants was in places forcibly occupied by the Soviet military as demanded in the ultimata of 27 September 1939 and 16 June 1940.13 The units of the Soviet army in Estonia have methodically adopted the civil structures of alien inhabitants, in some cases organically uniting into closed micro-societies.

No matter what the pragmatic aims of the Soviet Union's central powers were - directing the inhabitants of other Soviet republics into Estonia or favouring migration - the result was typical settlement colonization. Foreign immigration supplemented the urban population (and over 90 per cent of the immigrants are townspeople). Almost three-quarters of the aliens live in either multifunctional or industrial towns with more developed urban facilities, for these towns have enjoyed priority in social policy. By contrast, almost 40 per cent of Estonian town-dwellers live in small towns with relatively limited functions. The heavy concentration of non-Estonians has meant a fundamental change in the ethnic mosaic of cities. As a result, over half of the townspeople of Estonian nationality became a minority in their own areas.14

Estonia has actually never been closed to other nations, not even while under Soviet rule. Its geographical position kept Estonians in the stream of development of the neighbouring nations - whether voluntarily or forcibly. But the events from 1940 onwards marked such an abrupt turning point, indeed a return to pre-civilization, that overcoming their consequences is tantamount to establishing a new society.

An ethnically divided society

In stable industrial societies, class integration should dominate ethnic integration. But, as has been noticed in countries with active immigration, the boundaries between ethnic and social differentiation very often coincide, especially with the first generations of migrants. Estonia's employment system bears the clear stamp of ethnic differentiation. The main reason is typically Soviet: namely, the subordination of nearly 90 per cent of the industrial economy to an all union department. Even though Estonia does not have industrial raw materials and has scant labour reserves, several labour- and material intensive enterprises were constructed. From the beginning, the authorities planned for the use of foreign labour.

Within the Soviet Union there was a general practice of dispersing millions of people from different groups among different regions. Ethnic variegation of labour groups was seen as a measure for internationalism and friendship among nations. For Estonia, however, this policy conclusively destroyed the country's ethnic balance and created the economic basis for colonization. This is not to deny the importance of an industrial economy for the socio-economic development of Estonia. However, we need to point out the very contradictory consequences which Soviet industrialization has had in the social and ethnic spheres. In a rational economic system, capital is seen to move to areas of relatively lower-level development, where opportunities for growth are greater. This has been the case in the capitalist countries of Europe, where, in some instances, uneven technological progress has been compensated for by capital flows to less developed regions. This has a tendency to increase development in less-developed regions and to speed up the growth of new technologies and of a highly qualified labour force.

In the Soviet Union, these processes were very often the opposite. From more developed regions in Russia, economic sectors were relocated into the periphery, while retaining their administrative adherence to all-Union departments. Once in place, these units became alternative social structures and "pumps" drawing in constant migration. At the same time, in Central Asia, Moldova, and Kazakhstan, this kind of cultural division of labour acquired a hierarchical - and in the Baltics, at first, "segmental" - character. Estonian society was able to withstand this structural expansion for 10 to 15 years, but not after the abolition of the Councils of National Economy in 1965 and after the polarization of employment among groups of nationalities became more pronounced. Thus, by 1988, the share of Estonians in industry had fallen to 40-42 per cent (in 1948, it had been 69 per cent), railway transport to 20 per cent, shipbuilding to 0.12 per cent. However, in agriculture, culture and the arts, the percentage of Estonians was 85 per cent, and in state leadership over 70 per cent.15

In principle, such a distribution of labour among nationalities does not necessarily represent a source of conflict. That, however, presupposes that the economy constitutes an integral entity situated in one territory, with all the enterprises performing according to uniform rules of management. In Estonia the situation was different. The segmental division of labour grew into a hierarchical division of labour between two language groups because of the preferences exercised by all-Union enterprises, especially in the military industrial sector. Incidentally, between 1945 and 1985, capital investments in Estonia of industrial plants closed to the public made up nearly 40 per cent of the basic investment in enterprises under the jurisdiction of the central authorities. Large-scale enterprises engaged in the defence industry have for decades been such collectives, where Estonians are either totally absent or their share is infinitesimal. These are branches of the economy requiring relatively high craftsmanship, where, in general, a greater number of engineers, technicians, and professionally educated workers are employed than the average in civilian industry.

The drop in the number of Estonian nationals in main branches of industry was caused by the imbalance of economic life as a whole, as well as its isolation from local sources of labour. Also relevant were the adaptational difficulties Estonians experienced in labour collectives with heterogeneous cultural and communication structures. Labour was recruited throughout the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the near-total ax-territoriality of the central departments brought about a situation where even some specialists of trades and professions taught in Estonia were recruited from outside Estonia under the central scheme of distribution of cadres from the other Soviet republics.

Furthermore, Soviet ideology promoted the preferential development of basic branches of industry. Industrial workers and particularly workers in large-scale industry and industry of basic branches were granted, a priori, the role of bearers of the main political values of socialism. This was reflected in the streamlining of the composition of the Communist Party, which was carried out up to the quite recent past. Thus, the workers at such enterprises became representatives of public interests, and people were under the tutelage of the state and the central power. All this meant that the ethnic communities in Estonia occupied different places in the social system; hence, the difficulties now involved in consolidating ethnic groups and achieving a rapprochement of interests on the basis of an Estonian-centred concept of further development.

The language issue

The national language has been of great importance for Estonian society. Historically, this derives from the fact that for centuries Estonians were disenfranchised, both economically and politically. To Estonians, the preservation of their own language and national culture has meant the preservation of the viability of the people. This awareness accounts for the rapid rise of national culture and the heightened cultural activity in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Soviet era also, regardless of the changes in the content of culture, the national tongue of that culture generally persisted.

This situation started to change in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when official schemes for the forced development of Estonian-Russian bilingualism threatened the integrity of the national tongue. The resolution of the Communist Party of Estonia Central Committee dated 19 December 1978, in reaction to the all-Union regulations "On further improvement of mastering and teaching Russian," became pivotal for local language policy in Estonia. This not only planned an improvement in Russian language instruction but also envisaged extensive measures to promote the propagation of Estonian culture. As a corollary to its move to spread the Russian tongue, the central government issued a decree raising the salaries of Russian instructors, as well as the grants offered to students of Russian philology.

All these developments took place in a situation where the official language policy of the Soviet Union and the ideological conditioning of the people were unambiguously oriented towards Russian-ethnic bilingualism, with the unlimited privileged expansion of the functions of Russian. Command of foreign languages has always been held in great esteem in the Estonian cultural tradition as an indicator of a high level of general culture and a necessary business asset. However, the over-politicized and ideologized propaganda of Russian, aggravated by administrative excesses, created widespread antagonism. The campaign was seen as a step back to the worst Russification practices of the Tsarist regime. Indeed, these fears were justified, because there had already been such a differentiation of the functions of the Estonian and Russian languages that the Estonian language had been relegated to a position of secondary importance. At a certain level of one's career it was essential to master Russian, whereas the ability to speak Estonian was not required. As a result of territorial localization, the Estonian and Russian languages were in different situations in the urban areas and in the countryside, compared to 100-150 years ago. Finally, these languages had become quite different in functional terms. Science, much official management and documentation, and the railway, trade, medical, and communication services used mainly Russian. The Estonian language started to recede into the sphere of traditional ethno-cultural usage and everyday life. This discrimination against Estonian is the main reason why Russians and other nationalities who had migrated have not picked up the local language. Second-rate and doomed to perish gradually, Estonian was not prestigious in either Russian schools or in the Russian community as a whole.

The situation of languages in Estonia today is anything but satisfactory. According to statistics gathered in the 1989 referendum, the Estonian language is spoken by 67.1 per cent of the whole population, but the share of those who have mastered the language shows a tendency towards a constant decline (72.8 per cent in 1970, 69.4 per cent in 1979, 61 per cent in 1989). Finnish immigrants have integrated with the Estonians most of all (33 per cent speak the language), then Jewish and Gypsy immigrants (26 per cent). Among Latvians and Hungarians, one-fifth state that they speak the language. The majority of the members of the small groups of nationalities have acquired Russian. There are, in fact, two rival languages in Estonia's language system, while the integrating force in alien tongued groups is nearly three times stronger than that of Estonian.16

The dominant position of Russian throughout the Soviet Union as the socalled language for communication between nationalities was established in every republic and even in private communication. Only 13.7 per cent of the Russians who live in Estonia have mastered Estonian. This situation is changing very slowly because of the difficulties in learning and teaching, as well as negative attitudes. For decades, people had been used to the complacency of Estonians regarding their own language. The language barrier was always crossed from the Estonian side.

Estonia was the first of the then Soviet republics to enforce a language act and give the native language the status of an official language. That step was conditioned by the necessity of protecting the national language. But attempts to reinstate the Estonian language strained relations among the various nationalities, leading to an unprecedented campaign in the Soviet press. After Estonia's independence, one of the most complicated problems in regulating language relations has been how to start "joining" the divided halves of society. Without this, it will be difficult to stabilize society and democratize state powers. "A society divided into two hostile classes is presumably ripe for a revolution, but a society divided into two hostile status groups - nations, for example - is threatened by secession.''17

Who has been the minority since august 1991?

Estonian society is leaving behind a situation in which Estonians were a minority of a great power without the legal protection afforded minorities in contemporary Europe. It is interesting to note that until recently, nations have competed with other nations for dominance or at least equality of status, whereas today the number of pretenders to the position of "minority" has increased suddenly. This indicates that the immanent qualities of all groups of peoples and the pluralism of culture are finding increasing acceptance. However, translating this phenomenon into the language of laws and standards demands more precise formulation - and this is no simple task, as is shown by discussions on defining the term "minority" in the Commission on Human Rights' Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.18 For Estonia this problem is of great importance, since the condemnation of settlement colonization - the UN General Assembly resolution of 8 December 1987 - has not yet been enacted. The European Convention on Minority Rights (Article 1) has defined minorities as "any group in a numerical minority within the population of the given state that is not in a leading position, whose members differ from the rest of the population by their ethnic characteristics, and who demonstrate a sense of solidarity oriented towards preserving their own culture, traditions, and language."

As in all countries where there has been extensive immigration, in Estonia it is important to distinguish between "settled" minorities and "recent immigrants" - especially since the republic had a chance to regulate immigration beginning on 1 July 1990. Another important factor needs consideration: in international practice migrant workers, refugees, non-nationals, and stateless persons do not belong to the category of minorities. But Estonia, like other former Soviet republics, lacked a legally-determined citizenry of its own. This explains many of the tensions between the two nationalities - Russian and Estonian - from the start of the movement of liberation in 1988.

The state of Estonia, having regained its independence, is only now starting to form its own citizenry according to the act of citizenship of the Estonian Republic of 1938, which was re-enacted on 26 February 1992. Only after determining a citizenry can one solve the problems of national minorities. On the psychological level, however, everything proves to be much more complicated.

Political developments during the past three years have increased the opposition of the two national-language communities, and that will have influence also in the near future. These clashes were generated by Estonian attempts to get rid of the status of a reigning minority in their own country, while on the other side much of the Russian-speaking community sought to maintain its position. The struggle against Estonia's regaining its independence was, in fact, directly led by the central power, especially the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This is no longer secret. The sad part of it is that through advantage being taken of the uncertainty, through the prejudices characteristic of great powers, and simply through ignorance, many non-Estonian residents were drawn into action against Estonia. Here we should stress the dependence of the Russian labour force on the administration of the enterprises, because several all-Union enterprises were the last ones to be reached by democratization. Although the Communist Party lost its actual power over Estonia in 1989-1990, in the local all-Union units it remained valid until the August 1991 coup d'état.

The "monolithic behaviour" forced upon the Russian community and weak differentiation enabled all-Union-minded movements and Communist parties to speak demagogically in the name of the whole Russian population, the working class or the "minority." In formal terms, the counter-Estonian movement was organized as an alternative to the Estonian National Front's perestroika-minded programme, but in essence it revealed the strategy of the central power of the Soviet Union towards the Soviet Republics in the arena of political competition. Estonia's striving for sovereignty was publicly set against the non-Estonian population for the first time.

This was expressed very clearly in the documents of the International Movement of Estonia. In autumn 1988 came a re-organization of the Estonian Supreme Soviet into a bicameral system- a House of Representatives and a House of Nationalities, where the number of Estonians and aliens would be equal and where both houses would have a right to veto.19 Parallel to the International Movement another movement emerged - a structure promoting all-Union interests. All Union enterprises belonging to different authorities formed the Joint Council of Work Collectives of All-Union Enterprises in Estonia. Together with its declared economic tasks, this council started to play the role of a political organization right from the start. One of its demands was the creation of a two-chamber body for self-government - with deputies from enterprises forming a separate chamber with equal rights to a chamber chosen through territorial elections.

This was the first time in the history of Soviet Estonia that the all union industrial enterprises came openly into the political arena and exposed their political functions in the national republic. From then on, the all-Union enterprises were the ones that enacted new local laws and steps towards decreasing the power of the central authorities in Estonia. The so-called militarized brigades of workers operated under the aegis of the Joint Council.

Why were tensions in Estonia never accompanied by physical violence? Perhaps because, relying on the well-known forbearance of Estonians, people built their hopes on the idea that the experiences of Lithuania, Latvia, and Moldova would not be echoed in Estonia. The Estonian scenario seems to have provided mainly organizational forms of silencing. The preliminary work had been done in Tallinn's enterprises of citizen-insubordination campaigns, and the period saw the creation of the Deputies' Inter-regional Soviet for all levels. This Soviet declared on 14 September 1990: "Until the Union contract is concluded and ratified by the new constitution of the Soviet Union, the Inter-regional Soviet will not observe the legislative acts ratified by the Estonian Republic, which violates the constitution of the Soviet Union in force, and the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

On 7 September 1990, the Soviet claimed that the policy of the Estonian Republic's political leadership was aimed towards liquidating the socialist social order, workers' socialist achievements, and the political rights and freedoms of the citizens. Therefore, the Soviet proclaimed itself ready to perform the will of those inhabitants of Estonia who saw their future and that of their children in a socialist Estonia, sovereign and of equal rights, in a family of fraternal republics united into a new Union.20 The alternative power founded in Estonia received unofficial recognition from the central authorities of the Soviet Union. This is evident in the fact that Soviet deputies took part in the all-Union sitting of the Deputies' Congress, as well as in the informal discussions that generally preceded the talks between the official delegations and experts of the Soviet Union and the Republic of Estonia (from autumn 1990 till July 1991). The important step of institutionalizing this alternative power was made at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Estonia, which had by then declared itself independent. This step also received acceptance from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with the secretary being elected as a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Supreme Soviet.

These steps combined to provoke the mutual alienation of the Estonian and Russian communities within Estonia. However, the Estonian democratic movement for independence, including the National Front, could not unite the considerable number of democratic and Estonian-friendly non-Estonians. Thus, much of the Russian community in Estonia found itself aligned with those supporting the unitarian centre. It is worth noting that although 69 per cent of the "Estonian-minded" were born in Estonia (according to the census of 1989), only 37 per cent "identify themselves" with Estonia.21 It is understandable, therefore, that the prospect of the breakup of the Soviet Union or the secession of Estonia increased uncertainty and solidarity with the central power. A public opinion poll taken in 1990 showed that only 16 per cent of non-Estonians supported complete national independence for Estonia. This proportion held good during the independence referendum on 3 March 1990, where only one-fifth voted in favour of re-establishing the national independence of Estonia. When we add to that the fact that in the Supreme Council of Estonia on 20 August 1991, all the deputies of the so-called Russian faction voted against national independence, the picture of the cleavage within Estonian society is clear.

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