Cultural diversity

There are representatives of around 194 nationalities living in Estonia. Out of the total population, 69% are Estonians by nationality, 25% are Russians, 2% Ukrainians, 1% Belarusians, 0.8% Finns and many other smaller groups.

The task of the Ministry of Culture is to ensure integration process within Estonian society between Estonians and the representatives of national minorities, and support the cultural life and societies of the Estonian minorities to preserve their cultures and languages in Estonia.


One of the main activity areas of the Ministry of Culture is integration. The ministry is in charge of the coordination of the strategy of integration and social cohesion in Estonia  “Integrating Estonia 2020” and the integration measures of the European Social Fund for the period of 2014–2020. The Ministry of Culture is the representative of the state exercises the founder’s rights of the Integration Foundation.

In 2008-2013 the ministry co-ordinated the activities of the “Estonian Integration Strategy for 2008-2013” and was the implementing body of the programme “European Fund for the Integration of Third-country Nationals for the Years 2007–2013” 

The purpose of integration is to foster a situation where other nationalities living in Estonia, as well as Estonians themselves, are ensured a cohesive and tolerant society where everyone can feel comfortable and safe – to work, study, develop their culture, be a full member of the society.

In Estonia, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for the realisation of the national integration policy. Integration is a broad-based societal process involving many different areas of life. Besides the Ministry of Culture, other ministries also contribute to the pursuit of a more cohesive society, mainly the Ministry of Education and Science,  Ministry of Interior Affairs, Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The Integration Foundation,  the Foundation Innove, local municipalities and civil society organisations play a central role in the integration activities.


Integration and the European Union

One of the big challenges for the European Union is its aging population. One of the EU’s five objectives up to the year 2020 is to increase the employment rate of people aged 20-64 to 75% in all parts of the union. To retain and increase economic competitiveness while doing so, more diverse groups must be engaged in the employment market, also with regards to less integrated permanent residents and foreign workers.
The integration screening of Estonian society conducted in 2011 by scientists from the University of Tartu revealed that the unemployment rate of new immigrants and lesser integrated people was higher than that of other residents of Estonia. Commonly acknowledged issues in the area of employment are less advanced command of Estonian language, fewer social contacts, and poor or not as easily available information on the opportunities related to the job market and other areas of society. 
This is why the integration of lesser integrated permanent residents of Estonia is supported by the European Social Fund and national structural aid in the total sum of EUR 10 million in the period between 2014 and 2020.


One of the source documents in the area of cultural diversity is the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity, with more than 100 countries signed up to it.

In Estonia the Ministry of Culture is responsible for the implementation of the convention.


National minorities


Besides Estonians, there are representatives of 194 nationalities living in Estonia. The larger national groups are Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Finns.

In all democratic countries in the world, national minorities are protected by law and international agreements. Member states of the European Council, among them Estonia, have adopted the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
The provisions of the convention address the minority nations’ use of language, acknowledgement of their names, education, media, prohibition of mandatory assimilation and the protection and development of culture. It is also stated in the Estonian constitution that “Everyone has the right to preserve his or her national identity” (§ 49).
In order to preserve their distinctive cultural and national identity (customs, practices, language), people of different national groups belong to associations of national culture in Estonia.
While in 1989, there were 22 associations of national culture in Estonia, by 2014 there are more than 300. Most of them are interconnected through umbrella organisations. 

Compatriots and kindred people


The Ministry of Culture supports the maintenance of cultural relations between compatriots and Finno-Ugric kindred people and Estonia, thereby helping to preserve the cultural identity of these compatriots and kindred people both in Estonia as well as beyond its borders.


Around 14% of Estonians are living outside Estonia. It is important to maintain their ties to the Estonian culture and homeland even when living abroad. In order to preserve cultural connections with expatriate Estonians, the Ministry of Culture also supports the cultural organisations of Estonians living abroad in their efforts to develop and preserve Estonian cultural life outside the national borders. 
For the period of 2014–2020 the Estonian Government has approved the Compatriots Programme to support educational institutions, culture, archival systems, and return of expatriate Estonians.  The Ministry of Culture supports the cultural projects of Estonians living abroad to facilitate contacts between expatriate Estonian centres and societies and the Estonian state, local municipalities, cultural organisations, and non-governmental organisations. Support is also provided for having expatriate Estonians participate in major cultural events and educational programmes held in Estonia, as well as networking between representatives of the communities in the east and the west and Estonia.
The Compatriots Programme is co-ordinated and financed by the Ministry of Education and Science. The Ministry of Culture takes part in the work of the council of the Compatriots Programme and supports the maintenance of cultural relations with the community outside Estonia.

Kindred people 

The Ministry of Culture supports the co-operation with Finno-Ugric kindred people and is funding the activities of the NPO Fenno-Ugria Asutus, developing the connections between Finno-Ugric people and supporting the development of the culture, education and science of Finno-Ugric people. Support has been provided for conferences, work groups and seminars dedicated to the co-operation between Finno-Ugric kindred people, but also youth camps, culture festivals, exhibitions presenting the results of exhibitions, was well as the distribution of educational materials. The NPO Fenno-Ugria is a competence centre for developing connections between Finno-Ugric people and supporting the development of the culture, education and science of Finno-Ugric people. 

Old Believers

The Old Believers (староверы старообрядцы in Russian) is a religious movement which separated from the Russian Orthodox church in the 17th century. 

The first Russian Old Believers inhabited the Mustvee and Kallaste areas on the west coast of Lake Peipsi at the end of the 17th century. At the beginning of the 18th century, an Old Believer’s monastery operated in Räpina for a while. At the end of the 18th century, a number of Old Believers from the Vitebsk area and the Governorates of Novgorod and Tver, mainly of Pomorian and Fedosseyevian origin, inhabited the fishing villages of Peipsiveere. Several houses of worship were built, church books and other liturgical paraphernalia were brought along. The Association of Old Believer Parishes of Estonia was abolished in 1940 and restored only in 1995 under the name of the Union of Old Believer Parishes of Estonia.
The Old Believers’ movement started to regain its momentum in 1991 when Estonian independence was restored. In the schools on the shore of Lake Peipsi, the church Slavic language and religious studies were introduced into the curriculum. In Kolkja and Varnja, museums presenting the cultural heritage of the Old Believers were opened; the celebration of church holidays was started in Mustvee, Kallaste, and Piirissaare. There are roughly 5,000 Old Believers living in Estonia. 
Today, it is appropriate to view the Old Believers as an ethno-confessional national group with their own history, culture and dialect. Many identify as Old Believers not so much by religious affiliation, but by birth.
The Ministry of Culture supports the heritage and national culture of the target area through the Peipsiveere cultural programme aiming to preserve the culture and identity of the historic Russian lakeshore villages and the Russian Old Believers and to raise public awareness of the topic. The Pepsiveere cultural programme is organised by the Folk Culture Centre.

Aleksandr Aidarov
Adviser of Cultural Diversity Department

Phone +372 628 2226

Last updated: 27 September 2018