We explore drivers and impediments to inter-ethnic cultural convergence in Estonia, where nearly 30% of population are native Russian speakers, mostly ethnic Russians. With rare exception, the Russian-speaking population of Estonia comprises migrants and their descendants who arrived to Estonia when it was part of the Soviet Union.

We present evidence drawn from seven consecutive rounds of the European Social Survey from 2004 through 2016, which reveal a persistent inter-ethnic values and attitudes divide in Estonia with the Russian-speaking minority being less liberal, more paternalistic, less trusting national institutions, such as parliament and courts, less satisfied with the Estonian democracy, and sensing discrimination. The latest data show a modest rise of trust in Estonian institutions among the ethnic Russians.

We isolate the impact of ethnicity from its correlates and show that it remains a significant factor of values and attitudes in and of itself, especially with regard to the perception of the Estonian society, placement on the autonomy to paternalism scale, and attitudes to state and political institutions.

We also show that day-to-day contact of ethnic Russians with ethnic Estonians, proxied by the percentage of ethnic Estonians in a municipality, has a consistently strong impact on the ethnic gap, noticeably reducing the effect of ethnicity on values and attitudes. The sense of discrimination expressed by ethnic Russians becomes noticeably weaker in municipalities with larger indigenous population, which suggests that such feeling is at least in some part based on stereotypes rather than reflecting reality.

The seminar is based on a study conducted by Leonid Polishchuk, Piret Ehin, Greg Nizhnikau, and Alexander Rubin.

Piret Ehin, Tartu University, Tartu, Estonia

Greg Nizhnikau, Finnish Institute, Helsinki, Finland

Leonid Polishchuk, IRES, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

Alexander Rubin, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia