Recently the Oranization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in its report “Society at a Glance – OECD Social Indicators”, has named Estonia as the most intolerant of its member states.
Of the 34 current members, only five are situated in central and eastern Europe and have suffered repressive communist poilicies in the past. The remainder of the countires are longstanding established liberal democracies. The accession process is rigorous and human rights practices are carefully scrutinized before membership is confirmed. The OECD mission statement emphasizes the promotion of policies that will improve the economic and scoial well being of people worldwide. Estonia was only the second former Soviet dominated country to be accepted. Neither Latvia nor Lithuania has acceeded.
Measuring intolerance in a society must of necessity be subjective. One would be hard put to design research instruments that could objectively measure levels of tolerance by empirical method. Thus one may question the keeness of the OECD’s perception of the situation in Estonia or for that matter in countries it deems free of intolerance. One is also reminded of the eagerness with which Russian speaking groups such as the Russian School Association in Estonia and the Legal Centre for Human Rights have disseminated erroneous facts and inacuracies about Estonia to European organizations.
Many non-Estonians who have moved into the country from the west suggest that the issue is not one of intolerance, but rather the preservation of a language and culture of a small nation withstanding a massive invasion of foreign influences. All Estonians are familiar with the attempts from the past – to Germanize, to Russify – and how crucial it was to eventually nourish a national awakening simply to survive.
It would be grossly innaproriate to compare Estonia with what the OECD considers to be the two most tolerant countries, Canada and Australia, both with vast uninhabited spaces - destinations needing immigration and absorbing a growing workforce. One could say that their social and economic raison d’être is to accommodate newcomers.
Violence in Estonia arising from perceived ethnic, racial or other type of intolerance is practically non-existent. The brief riots following the re-location of a Soviet statue to a cemetery in 2007 were organized and ideologically, not racially motivated. Estonia is not home to anti-immigration organizations or nationalistic extremists, groups that have demonstratively flexed their political muscle in practically all of the western European countries. Witness the strident surge of anti-Moslem movements in many regions. One can also state that these are actually protests against instances of Islamic intolerance – a parallel that can be drawn with interpretations of ‘intolerance’ in Estonia.
If one were to trace the tolerance/intolerance cultural trait of Estonians, then the Jewish Chronicle, published in London in the 1930’s, states flatly that of all the pre-war European nations, one would be hard put to find any traces of institutiuonal or societal anti-semitism in the country.
It would be naïve and untruthful to suggest that intolerant people do not live in Estonia. Many non-Estonians familiar with the Estonian cultural landscape explain that one person’s intolerance is another’s caution. They explain that since Estonians have experienced slavery, foreign occupation and brutal exploitation, then caution, rather than intolerance, is the key factor governing trust of new-comers. It’s commonly noted that Estonians are reserved maybe even stand-offish in forming new and warm relationships. But to jump from these observations to labeling an entire nation intolerant defies academic credibility and fairness.
OECD: Estonians are intolerant!? (1)