No. 27




Symbolic Power in the Ethnic Policy of Estonia

19 June 2013


RiTo No. 27, 2013

  • Raivo Vetik

    Professor of Comparative Politics, Tallinn University School of Governance, Law and Society

  • Sergei Ivanov

    Doctoral Candidate of Political Science, Tallinn University

The article deals with the representation of ethnic minorities in the governance of Estonia. The representation of ethnic minorities among the officials of ministries deceased abruptly in the beginning of the 1990s during the initial period after the restoration of independence, and has been decreasing ever since. Immediately after the restoration of independence, about two-thirds of the officials were non-Estonians, now they form around 2–3 per cent.

The theoretical bases of the research are the theory of representative bureaucracy on the one hand, and the theory of symbolic power of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu on the other hand. The theoreticians of representative bureaucracy are of the opinion that ethnic representation in public governance performs several important social and political functions, and the lack or weakness of ethnic representation is a sign of danger from the viewpoint of the functioning of the society and politics. These important functions are connected with better performance of politics, equality and inclusion of the minorities and effective governing of multicultural societies.

It is analysed how the political elite of Estonia perceives the reasons of under-representation and its impacts on the society, and what is their opinion in regard to if and how the state should intervene in order to increase the representation of minorities. 60 Members of the Riigikogu were interviewed, 15 from each political party represented in the Riigikogu. The interviews were conducted in August–October 2012. Most of the respondents consider such low representation of non-Estonians among the officials of ministries a problem. The respondents belonging to the government coalition think the reason lies first of all in the ethnic minorities themselves, the respondents belonging to the opposition think structural factors are the reason. The coalition is rather careful in regard to practical measures to change the situation – they should mainly be confined to better informing. Opposition is ready to try also more active steps. The representatives of the coalition think that the negative impact of under-representation of minorities is much smaller than it is in the opinion of the representatives of the opposition. The opposition considers such a situation one hundred per cent worrying or discriminating; from the coalition, none of the respondents regarded it as discrimination, 63 per cent of the respondents thought it was worrying and 33 per cent considered the situation normal. 80 per cent of the representatives of the opposition and only 13 per cent of the representatives of the coalition consider it necessary to increase the representation of non-Estonians in the public sector. Democratic governance can be based on participation and inclusion. Bourdieu presumes that the political field is divided into opposing subject positions that are defined not so much by the essential disagreements of different political parties as by their opposing of one another. The results of the empirical research that is the basis of this article confirm the presumption, showing the dominance of party policy considerations over the essential considerations both in the discourse of the coalition and the opposition.

Full article in Estonian