Nikita was born in a Russian speaking family in Kohtla-Jarve. His parents met each other while studying medicine in the city of Petrozavodsk in Russia, and eventually moved to Estonia. Being born and raised in Estonia, he is deeply attached to his motherland. He does not like to talk about this, however, from time to time he feels unwelcomed here.
I graduated from a Russian school, and grew up surrounded by Russian speakers. So, of course, I soaked up some values and views from Russian culture and literature. However, when my parents divorced, my mother married the Estonian man, so I spoke the language with him and my skills were improving.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in a remote village in southern Estonia, where our relatives live. They do not speak any Russian there. So, little by little I overcame the language barrier and began to speak Estonian. I also started watching movies and reading books in the Estonian language more often. In high school the language program that they taught us was not sufficient by itself. Yet before graduation, I passed the state language proficiency test at the highest level. So after school I was able to apply for the Tallinn Technical University, where I was the only Russian in the group.
I think our country has a deep divide between Estonians and Russians
Those who do not speak the state language are not accepted and remain isolated from Estonian society. Many are not able to work or find a profession. The penalty for not knowing Estonian in the public service can be to pay a fine or even lose your job. For example, my Russian language and literature teacher in school was fired for not having an Estonian language certificate. My mother used to pay the fine, but she contributed a lot to learning the language and passed the state exam. For those who have worked using only Russian for most of their lifetime it is a big challenge to pass this Estonian language test at a sufficient level.
The ability to speak the state language is one of the most important steps of integration that we, as Russian speakers, have not fully overcome yet. If a kid is born in Estonia it does not automatically mean that they will speak perfect Estonian, which is one of the hardest languages to learn. For some, speaking Russian is enough. Most of those from the northwest part of the country live in Russian speaking communities, consuming media, working and studying in Russian, so they do not really have any motivation to learn Estonian. A lot of my classmates and friends speak a little Estonian so they can express themselves in a grocery store, but would hardly be able to read a book or watch a movie in Estonian.
I believe that learning the state language should be mandatory. I've visited different places and witnessed how migrants commit themselves to study the language of their new home country.
But one thing is important to distinguish is when people change their country following their own choice, since it is an entirely different thing being a native resident and just happening to grow up speaking a different language.
Speaking the state language is not yet a guarantee to be fully integrated in Estonian society. Some public statements by our politicians are calling the Russian speaking population migrants and the Russian language as a language of occupiers. This might touch upon national feelings having negative consequences on integration and widen the gap between the two communities. It once again shows that Russian speakers cannot be fully accepted and accommodated in Estonian society.
My generation is full of people without a motherland. I do not feel myself either Russian or Etonian. Estonia is my home country, the place where I was born, where my parents have lived for most of their life. But my country does not accept me. I'm not Russian either, because in order to be one I should consider Russia as my motherland. But, Russia is a foreign country for me. I have never lived there, do not possess a Russian passport, and do not know much about the place. The only link to Russia that I have is language and culture. In a way I fall somewhere in-between these two nationalities and cultures. I consider myself as a Russian-speaking Estonian. There is a big difference between Russians and Estonians here, but at the same time there is a discrepancy between people in Russia and Russian speakers in Estonia.
Sometimes I feel unwelcome in the Estonian community. Despite the fact that I speak fluent Estonian, I studied for my bachelor's degree in Estonian, served in the military here and hold an Estonian passport, I have noticed that people may avoid having an interaction with me if they have an ethnic Estonian as an alternative. I think in order to be fully accepted in the society we should give up the Russian language and culture, because one's native language to some extent determines the way you perceive the world around you. Quite often I feel more comfortable among Russian speakers, because I'm equal among them, while in the Estonian community I remain a foreigner.