“Nationality is Ethnicity:” Estonia’s Problematic Citizenship Policy

Estonia’s citizenship policy evolved in tandem with the restoration of the independent Estonian state. Estonian statehood is founded on the legal principle of restorationism, which interprets the Soviet era as a period of illegal occupation. Restorationist independence guaranteed citizenship only to those citizens of restored pre-Soviet Estonia (and their descendants), not all Soviet citizens living on Estonian territory. The country’s citizenship policy also prioritized the legal principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on blood, ancestry, or birthright) over jus soli (citizenship based on soil or place of birth), while also denying dual citizenship. Estonian citizenship policy produced a large Russian-speaking stateless population, which today remains the tenth largest in the world by state. Although naturalization is an option, international organizations remain skeptical, and the Migrant Integration Policy Index considers it one of the most restrictive in Europe. While the Estonian state emphasizes ethnic heritage, it has amended and altered its policy, often because of international pressure. The recent political shifts in Estonia provide an opportunity to revisit Estonia’s citizenship policy and how it engages its Russian speakers.

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