Many European cities have been the destinations of economic migrants and refugees from conflict zones of the world for more than half a century. Their experience, in general, is one in which most of the newcomers need time to adapt to the labour markets in their new host countries. Their income levels often remain lower compared to the host population and this in turn causes inequalities in the housing market, for example living in more affluent neighbourhoods often tends to remain unachievable for immigrant populations. The resulting residential segregation has been an urgent and persistent problem in many European cities. Most importantly, living in different places discourages communication between people with different cultural backgrounds and in this way endangers social cohesion in urban societies.

In Estonia, two larger groups – Estonian- and Russian-speakers – shape the ethno-linguistic landscapes of cities. Although the societal circumstances of how the relatively numerous Russian-speakers’ community was formed here were principally different from the immigration context of Northern and Western European welfare states, here, the two groups function as parallel societies despite already having lived next to each other for many decades.

During the Soviet period, the position of the Russian language became remarkable in society. Priority development, given to industry, as well as military facilities established here and administrative jobs, related to the occupation regime attracted migrants from Russia and other regions of the former Soviet Union. In many workplaces, developing a good command of the Russian language was a necessity, or became unavoidable. In strategic fields like public administration, maritime, aviation and military affairs, banking, etc. the main communication language was Russian; as it was all over the Union. It was self-evident for Estonians to learn Russian to be able to communicate in work-related and other daily situations, immigrants from Russia mostly remained monolingual (spoke only Russian), other ethnic minorities, however, experienced Russification, for example their children mostly went to Russian-language schools in Estonia.

After the social changes in the early 1990s, the Russian-speaking population in Estonia and many other former Soviet republics found themselves in a new situation. The position of the Estonian language was now restored, it was not sufficient anymore to only be proficient in Russian to be able to adapt to the labour market changes and societal expectations. The reactions and identity changes of Russian-speakers were very different (Zabrodskaya 2015). While some tried to learn Estonian and maintain their position in society in this way, others remained completely away from the now Estonian language dominated public life. Today, the two groups have already lived together in the independent republic for a quarter of a century. During this period, the number of people without citizenship of either country has decreased, more and more of the Russian-speakers prefer to apply for Estonian citizenship, and the Estonian language proficiency among the Russian-speaking community in Estonia has considerably improved (EIM 2015). A new obstacle that is discouraging communication between the two ethno-linguistic groups is now the decline of Russian language skills among younger Estonians (Verschik 2008).

At the same time, many studies confirm that interethnic contacts favour social cohesion. Leetmaa et al (2015) demonstrates how the Estonians in Tartu prefer residential environments where the neighbours are also Estonians. However, those Estonians, who have experienced sharing their home neighbourhood with Russian-speakers (for example in Annelinn and Jaamamõisa neighbourhoods), show greater tolerance in relation to living with Russian-speakers in their subsequent residential preferences. In addition, Rannut (2005) shows that Russian-speakers living in those regions and settlements where the proportion of other Russian-speakers is relatively lower have better language skills and are more motivated to learn Estonian. Consequently, the ethnic context in the residential environment may either favour or hinder integration in the society.

The residential patterns of Estonian- and Russian-speakers that are observable today in the Estonian settlement system and within cities actually emerged in Soviet years. Immigrants settled mostly in major cities where large industrial enterprises, military facilities and administrative institutions were also located. Within the cities, these immigrants were mostly accommodated in new, large housing estate apartments (in Tallinn: Lasnamäe, Mustamäe, Väike-Õismäe and Pelguranna; In Tartu: Annelinn and Jaamamõisa). Until today, a Russian-speaking population forms the majority in the industrial Ida-Viru County; in the capital city, Russian-speakers are slightly in the minority. In other cities, for example in the second largest city - Tartu (a regional centre) and Valga (a rail-related county seat) the proportion of Russian-speakers is high enough to enable internal communication within this group. Yet, in rural districts, the Russian-speaking population lives scattered among Estonians.

In the subsequent analysis - Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is in focus. Here the sizes of the Estonian- and Russian-speaking communities were approximately equal in the late Soviet years after the decades-long immigration. In addition, ethno-linguistic segregation was clearly visible in Tallinn – older urban districts were mostly Estonian-dominated, whereas, in the panel housing districts the proportion of Russian-speakers was relatively high. In the most recently built large housing estate, Lasnamäe, the Russian-speakers even accounted for the majority. This article asks whether these ethnic differences in residential patterns have started to disappear in post-Soviet decades. Firstly, based on Census data, the proportion of Russian-speakers in their places of residence in 2000 and 2011, is compared with those who lived in Tallinn in 2000. In other words, if the migration to other Estonian regions and residential mobility within the city or urban region has directed Estonian- and Russian-speakers into a more Estonian or more Russian-speaking linguistic milieu compared to their former (2000) neighbourhood in Tallinn, is examined. Secondly, the trends of residential segregation are presented by comparing ethno-linguistic and socio-economic residential patterns at the times of the three last censuses (1989, 2000, 2011). To understand the essence of segregation based on language lines in Tallinn, ethno-linguistic and socio-economic residential segregation patterns are juxtaposed. The analysis is concluded with an overview of residential choices of new immigrants who have arrived in Estonia during the post-socialist period.

Ethnic segregation in other countries and ethno-linguistic communities in Estonia

Experiences of ethnic residential segregation in European cities

At first glance, the comparison of immigration to a former Soviet republic to the immigration to European cities seems inappropriate, since the factors behind these migration processes were fundamentally different. Nevertheless, despite many differences, some lessons seem to be so universal that they can help with understanding the essence of ethnic residential differentiation in this context. As follows, the logic of how ethnic residential segregation has been evolving in the cities of European welfare societies is briefly summarized (the overview is mainly based on the following countries: the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK, Sweden, France, Belgium, and Germany).

Living in a country for a long period strengthens the ties of immigrants with their host country in general. They learn the local language, become accustomed to local customs and make new acquaintances. When living in a country for more than one generation, the second generation (children) integrate with the society in their school environments. As the educational systems and labour markets in their home and destination countries are different, it is quite usual that immigrants are not able to benefit from their professional backgrounds sufficiently, immediately after their arrival. Success in the labour market, however, shapes the options in the housing market. The gradual assimilation with the host society brings about similar residential choices or so-called spatial assimilation (Bolt et al 2008). Immigrants originating from countries where the culture, educational system and labour market more resembles that of the destination country usually adapt better in their new environment (Bauer, Zimmermann 1997). Delay in integration, inequality in labour market, and residential segregation tend to be an issue for immigrants whose cultural background is remarkably different compared to the host population.

Besides differences in economic opportunities, immigrants sometimes voluntarily cluster into the neighbourhoods where people with similar backgrounds already live (Bolt et al 2008). People with different backgrounds have the opportunities to meet each other in various situations. For example, while in school, pupils with different cultural backgrounds learn together, in work places, typically, occupational segmentation and work place segregation divide people. For example, ethnic entrepreneurship is relatively frequent in immigrant rich urban societies, i.e. entrepreneurs hire other people with similar ethno-cultural backgrounds or their target groups are compatriots. This occurs because a daily ‘own-culture’ environment enables them to keep the traditions of their home country or to support each other in becoming accustomed with the host society.

In addition, institutional factors shape residential choices of immigrants (Dill, Jirjahn 2014). For example, in some countries a distribution policy has been applied to allocate refugees into certain cities and urban districts (Damm, Rosholm 2009) or the immigrants’ free choice in a housing market is restricted – as some landlords prefer not to rent apartments to people with different cultural backgrounds. Indirectly as well, a so-called avoidance-behaviour in the host population favours segregation, which means that people may leave or avoid the districts where the share of residents with different culture has reached to a certain threshold (Bråmå 2006).

While the proportion of newcomers is relatively low, the local host culture remains prevailing and immigrants assimilate culturally. However, the decades-long immigration history has changed many urban societies in Northern and Western Europe to become more culturally diverse today. Immigrants have enriched local kitchens, as well as music, and sports, and unfamiliar religious traditions are even tolerated relatively well. Some cities use the keywords of “diversity” and “tolerance” in their urban marketing, for example, suggesting that some worldwide events could be organised in their city, or in attracting a high-quality workforce globally. In fact, ethnic and cultural diversity tends to be an unavoidable feature of economically attractive cities, but due to the reasons mentioned above this inevitably is accompanied by residential segregation (Musterd 2006).

Residential segregation of ethno-linguistic communities in Estonia

The ways in which the relations of two ethno-linguistic groups in Estonia have developed so far, differs remarkably from this story. The biggest difference was that migration within the former Soviet Union (that conditionally could also be treated as international migration) did not bring along challenges in the labour market for migrants. In a state controlled economy, industrialisation and militarisation of certain regions caused migration. Mostly, the people who moved also started to work immediately within their destination, and often even advanced in their career with the move.

Migrants also enjoyed relatively good living conditions at their destinations. Cities where the large industrial enterprises or military facilities were located, were also the targets of intensive housing construction programmes. For example, in Estonia Russian-speaking immigrants were prioritised in newly built housing estate apartments compared to local Estonians. The cities grew fast and the housing shortage was drastic, in these circumstances the housing estate apartments were a desired dwelling for everyone. Thus, although immigration and related housing allocation principles shaped the clear patterns of ethnic residential segregation in Estonian cities, the latter here was not geographically related to socio-economic segregation because the process was not supported by the logic of spatial assimilation.

Yet, the logic of ethnic clustering in urban space, also known from Northern and Western European cities, was visible also here. The cities in the industrial Ida-Viru region became dominated by Russian-speakers. In Tallinn and Tartu, large housing estates became mixed language environments where Russian- and Estonian-speakers lived side by side and educational infrastructure for both language groups was established. It is also known that those immigrants who were initially allocated to smaller more Estonian-dominated settlements preferred to move to larger cities later on because their own-culture community was larger there (Marksoo 1990).

Due to intensive immigration, the language milieu of cities had now become uncomfortable for ethnic Estonians. The population of Tallinn increased from 127 000 inhabitants in 1945 to 480 000 inhabitants in 1989. While the capital city was almost exclusively Estonian-speaking city after the World War II, according to the 1989 Census the Russian- and Estonian-speakers’ groups were almost equal in size. In the late Soviet period Estonians started to prefer rural areas instead of living in Tallinn, partly due to relatively better salaries and apartments being offered in rural settlements, but also because of the fast changing urban spatial and ethno-cultural environment (similar to the logic of avoidance-behaviour in other European cities).

In addition to these common and specific features regarding how ethnic segregation develops in cities, the size of immigrant groups seems to be particularly important. In Northern and Western European cities, where the proportion of immigrants (although the group itself is internally heterogeneous) is high, there has been a clear imprint on the local urban culture today. In Estonia, the share of people with an immigrant background is also large, but here the immigrants’ community is also relatively homogeneous - culturally and linguistically; for these reasons, parallel societies have developed. Both language groups are large enough to manage without developing contacts outside their own group. In addition, younger Estonians are not proficient in the Russian language anymore, which in turn diminishes communication opportunities compared to the Soviet decades. Thus, although the two ethno-linguistic communities have lived side by side for three or four generations there have not been the favourable conditions for the dissolution of the existing parallel societies.

Changes in the ethno-linguistic composition of the Estonian population during post-socialist years

The ethno-linguistic composition changed in the early 1990s when the large immigration flows from other parts of the former Soviet Union ceased, military forces left the country and, together with the latter, many Russian-speaking families decided to return to Russia. The population of Tallinn decreased from 480 000 to 400 000 in the period 1989-2000 and out of it, 60 000 was due to negative external migration. Despite that, the Russian-speakers’ community remained remarkable in many cities. In Tallinn, the proportion of Russian-speakers was 43% by the year 2000.

New immigration became more active once again in the mid-2000s (figure 3.3.1.). In the early 2000s the number of new immigrants (without return migration) remained below 1 000 annually, this figure increased to slightly more than 1 000 by the late 2000s and in 2011 a sharp increase to 2 200 immigrants took place. The majority of these new immigrants (59%) came from the former republics of the Soviet Union (figure 3.3.1). These people were usually proficient in the Russian language, which gave them a good opportunity to start working in sectors and companies where a good command in the Russian language is sufficient. Slightly less than one-third (32%) have arrived from other European countries; among those, in turn, one-third arrived from Finland. The proportion of immigrants from other countries (outside Europe or the former Soviet Union) was only one tenth. In total, 12 677 new immigrants arrived to the country in the period of 2000-2011. Analyses on recent years (Tammur 2017, this Report) have demonstrated that the proportion of those arriving from the countries of the European Union is gradually growing.

Figure 3.3.1. Annual numbers of new immigrants* in the period of 2000–2011

Source: 2011 Census

* Country of birth or country of residence in 2000 was not Estonia

Table 3.3.1. New immigrants in the period of 2000–2011 according to the country of origin in 2011

Number of immigrants Percentage
Former Soviet republics 7468 58,9%
European countries 3992 31,5%
Other countries 1217 9,6%
Total 12677 100,0%

Source: 2011 Census

* Country of birth or country of residence in 2000 was not Estonia

Place of residence as a language milieu

It seems that although formal indicators like choice of citizenship and proficiency in the official language (Estonian) have improved among Russian-speakers in the course of post-socialist time, the two ethno-linguistic communities still tend to live parallel lives in the country. Changes in deeper layers of integration develop rather slowly. For example, the other ethnic groups participate in political and societal life less frequently than Estonians. Encounters with ethno-linguistic groups mostly occur in the domains of life where communication tends to be superficial (commercial services, public space). The two-school system, with Estonian or Russian as the teaching language, still exists today and places children into two different language environments from the second year of their life. Occupational segmentation and segregation resists in work places: Estonians mostly work in work places where the main communication language is Estonian, with only a few Russian-speaking co-workers; Russian-speakers, however, very often work in settings where most employees are non-Estonian (EIM 2015).

The segregation is also reinforced by residential geography. Most Russian-speakers still live in the settlements where they arrived initially (figure 3.3.2.). Depending on which language environment the person lives in, his or her probability of meeting somebody from other groups differs. In their place of residence people communicate with their neighbours; parents of children of similar ages meet more often; and contacts are created through the services, public spaces and leisure time activities that offer opportunities to do so. If residential segregation persists, the opportunities for ethno-linguistic communities to communicate remains limited.

Figure 3.3.2. Proportion of Russian-speakers in the neighbourhoods of Tallinn and elsewhere in Estonia

Source: Census 2011

Changes in residential geography

Residential choices of Estonian- and Russian-speakers living in Tallinn in 2000

We start with analysing the residential choices of those people who lived in the capital city of Tallinn in 2000; by tracking those people who changed their place of residence in the period of 2000-2011 within the city, moved to suburban zones or to other Estonian regions, or who did not move (technically meaning that their neighbourhood did not change). The moves in 2000s are especially relevant to follow because migration intensity increased considerably in this period. The 1990s were a period when, due to fast social and economic changes, people rarely moved. Half of the Estonian-speakers but only one third of Russian-speakers living in Tallinn in 2000 changed their place of residence in the 2000s (table 3.3.2.). The probability of changing the place of residence within the city was equal for Estonian- and Russian-speakers, whereas moves to suburban municipalities and other regions were more likely among Estonian-speaking inhabitants of Tallinn. The proportion of Russian-speakers was already remarkably higher in the capital city than elsewhere in the country (except the industrial Ida-Viru region). This means that, for Estonians who lived in Tallinn in 2000 but left the city later on in the 2000s, the language milieu in their new residential surrounding became more Estonian. Meanwhile the capital city itself became more Russian-speaking.

Table 3.3.2. Migration intensity in the period of 2000-2011 among Estonian- and Russian-speaking inhabitants who lived in Tallinn in 2000

Migration intensity
  Population size1 No. of migrants % 2000–2011 Annual average
Estonians 132404 65609 50% 496‰ 42‰
Russian-speaking population 105813 36374 34% 344‰ 29‰
Movers within cities
Estonians 132404 36778 28% 278‰ 24‰
Russian-speaking population 105813 28506 27% 269‰ 23‰
Estonians 132404 20076 15% 152‰ 13‰
Russian-speaking population 105813 6007 6% 57‰ 5‰
Movers to other parts of Estonia
Estonians 132404 8755 7% 66‰ 6‰
Russian-speaking population 105813 1861 2% 18‰ 2‰

Source: Mägi et al 2016

* Research population: at least 18 years old in 2000, living in Tallinn in 2000 and in Tallinn or elsewhere in Estonia in 2011.

The detailed analysis on the places of origin and destinations even demonstrates that the home environment became more Russian for almost all Russian-speakers (table 3.3.3.). The change towards a more Russian milieu was extremely remarkable for the Russian-speakers who moved to satellite towns around Tallinn (mostly Maardu) or Ida-Viru County. Only those few Russian-speakers who moved to suburban-rural municipalities around the capital city or to more remote rural districts, found themselves in a more Estonian environment after their moves. It is also noteworthy that the residential environment became more Russian even for those who did not move – their neighbourhood changed because of the moves of other people.

At the same time, Estonians who lived in Tallinn in 2000 mostly lived in a more Estonian environment in 2011. Again, only for those who did not change their place of residence, the proportion of Russian-speakers in their neighbourhoods increased. For those Estonians who moved to satellite towns or who changed their neighbourhood within Tallinn, the proportion of Russian-speakers in their new surroundings changed only slightly more Estonian. Estonians moving to rural suburban municipalities or to other Estonian (and Estonians-dominated) regions found themselves in a remarkably more native environment.

Table 3.3.3. Proportion of Russian-speakers (%) in the neighbourhoods and settlements where people lived in 2000 and 2011

  Neighbourhood 20001 Neighbourhood 20112
Movers within the city 36,53% 31,98%
Movers to towns near Tallinn 39,75% 37,88%
Movers to rural municipalities surrounding Tallinn 37,74% 11,80%
Movers to other towns of Estonia 37,01% 15,54%
Movers to other rural regions of Estonia 37,17% 4,10%
Non-movers stayed in the same neighbourhood) 35,02% 36,72%
Russian-speaking population
Movers within the city 49,65% 53,63%
Movers to satellite towns 53,75% 68,61%
Movers to rural suburbs 51,66% 17,23%
Movers to other towns of Estonia 48,21% 62,75%
Movers to other rural regions of Estonia 49,27% 24,52%
Non-movers stayed in the same neighbourhood) 52,78% 56,98%

Source: Mägi et al 2016

As well, the geography of residential choices illustrates these results (figures 3.3.3. to 3.3.5.). Within the capital city, Russian-speakers tend to move between large housing estates or other mixed ethnic districts (e.g. Lasnamäe, Väike-Õismäe, Mustamäe, Pelguranna), where the proportion of Russian-speakers is relatively higher and where Russian-language schools and child care is also available. Estonian who move within the city prefer Kalamaja, Kadriorg or other similar gentrified districts or the city centre. Relatively more often, low-density older detached housing areas within the city are also selected by Estonians as their new destinations; and due to the large proportion of housing estate apartments in the total housing stock, panel housing districts are also frequent destinations (although the largest housing estate district Lasnamäe is less popular among Estonians).

Figure 3.3.3. Destinations of movers within Tallinn in the period of 2000–2011 (among those living in Tallinn in 2000)

Source: Mägi et al 2016

In the suburban zone of Tallinn, Estonians arriving from Tallinn prefer to settle in new residential settlements close to the city border or in former summer home districts where they adjust houses for year-round living (e.g. in Harku, Saue, Saku, Kiili, Rae and Viimsi municipalities). Russian-speakers, however, prefer their own-language environments in suburbia as well when they move to the satellite towns (often former industrial small towns, e.g. Maardu) or to former summer home areas (mainly Muuga, also belonging to Maardu administratively).

Even more clearly are the differences in destination choices that occur when former inhabitants of Tallinn move to other Estonian cities and regions. Russian-speakers mainly move towards the industrial Ida-Viru county or to other cities (Paldiski, Tapa, Loksa, Tartu, Pärnu), further away from the Tallinn urban region where the Russian-speaking community is relatively larger compared to the surrounding rural settlements; at the same time Estonians move more evenly to other county centres or to rural municipalities.

Figure 3.3.4. Destinations of movers to suburban zones in the period 2000–2011 (among those living in Tallinn in 2000)

Source: Mägi et al 2016

Figure 3.3.5. Destinations of movers to other Estonian regions in the period of 2000–2011 (among those living in Tallinn in 2000)

Source: Mägi et al 2016

Such differences in choosing new residential environments certainly, at least partly, reflect own-group preferences among both ethno-linguistic communities. Yet, in addition to that, the choices are probably also related to the prestige of different neighbourhoods in Tallinn and the suburban zones. Over this course of time, clear changes have occurred in how different neighbourhoods are valued. In the context of the Soviet-era housing shortage, an apartment in a housing estate district was a desired dwelling for everyone. Today, the districts with older but smaller (often wooden) apartment houses and low-density detached housing districts, new apartment houses close to the city and green suburban settlements are preferred. Estonians in general are more successful in the labour market, for this reason they can also afford living in more prestigious settlements and neighbourhoods. For the most part, the language environment in these settlements also tends to be Estonian, and is therefore less attractive for Russian-speakers. The same could be said about Ida-Viru County, on the one hand, this region has been less economically successful during the last decades, but it also is a more comfortable linguistic environment for Russian-speakers.

Changing residential patterns of ethno-linguistic communities in Tallinn in the years 1989–2011

We also analysed how the ethno-linguistic segregation patterns in Tallinn have been reshaped during the post-socialist decades by comparing residential patterns at each instance of the last three censuses (1989, 2000, 2011). We compared the ethno-linguistic segregation patterns with the patterns of socio-economic segregation in urban spaces (occupational categories according to ISCO – International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 – was used in this analysis).

While a remarkable ethno-linguistic segregation emerged as a result of the Soviet-era immigration and housing policies, the immigrant population did not live in less prestigious neighbourhoods or in worse living conditions compared to the host population at that time. This situation has recently begun to change. In part, this is the result of the relocations described above: people working on higher occupations have higher salaries and can afford living in neighbourhoods that are more attractive and in better dwellings. Yet, this combines with the changes in how different residential environments are subjectively valued in the housing market. Panel housing districts with a Soviet background and image are both physically and overall-comprehensively obsolete by today standards. Public investments into those residential districts have also been scarce during post-socialist decades. Even when a person did not change their place of residence previously, they could live prestigiously in a district with a poor image today.

Figure 3.3.6. confirms that people with higher occupational statuses have mostly lived in the same urban neighbourhoods people working in lower occupational positions did in the late Soviet years (1989), only a few neighbourhoods could be classified as high-status urban districts at this time. By the end of the 1990s, some neighbourhoods had clearly improved their image (figure 3.3.7.): the city centre, coastal areas and neighbourhoods with older detached houses located within the city border. By 2011 (3.3.8.), the residential landscape of Tallinn was already more diverse. Kopli, in the district of Northern Tallinn (inner city district but not affected by gentrification processes yet), and the largest housing estate area – Lasnamäe, were now clearly the areas where the proportion of people with lower socio-economic status tended to live. Other housing estate districts (Väike-Õismäe and Mustamäe), remained socio-economically stable. The most remarkable result, however, is that by now the patterns of ethno-linguistic segregation clearly overlapped with the patterns of socio-economic segregation (compare the figures 3.3.6., 3.3.9., 3.3.8. and 3.3.11.) – the trend observable in most of the Northern and Western European cities.

Figure 3.3.6. Socio-economic status of the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 1989

Source: 1989 Census

Figure 3.3.7. Socio-economic status of the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 2000

Source: 2000 Census

Figure 3.3.8. Socio-economic status of the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 2011

Source: 2011 Census

Figure 3.3.9. Proportion (%) of Russian-speakers in the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 1989

Source: 1989 Census

Figure 3.3.10. Proportion (%) of Russian-speakers in the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 2000

Source: 2000 Census

Figure 3.3.11. Proportion (%) of Russian-speakers in the neighbourhoods of Tallinn in 2011

Source: 2011 Census

Places of residence of new immigrants in Tallinn

Recently new immigration (return migrants are excluded from this analysis) has also begun to reshape the settlement system of the country and the residential landscapes of Tallinn. The majority of new immigrants who moved to Estonia, between 2000-2011, settled in the capital city (according to the 2011 Census). This is in accordance with the trends in other countries where the destinations of immigrants are also major cities. Although the population of Tallinn forms less than one-third of the total population of Estonia, 47% of newcomers in the 2000s settled in Tallinn. For the people originating from countries of the European Union and the rest of the world, Tallinn was even more attractive.

The analysis shows that the residential patterns of the compared groups of new immigrants are different. The residential choices of immigrants from the areas of the former Soviet Union reflect the important role of the Russian language environment in attracting people to Estonia (figure 3.3.12a.). This group mostly prefers neighbourhoods where the proportion of Russian speakers is already high, for instance – Lasnamäe, Väike-Õismäe or Pelguranna. The people from other European countries choose to live in the city centre or gentrified inner city districts, for example, Kadriorg or Kalamaja. The destinations of immigrants from other countries generally resemble the latter, since they also come from more developed countries of the world (figure 3.3.12c.). Until today, the new immigrants moving to Estonia are rarely from less developed regions, or the conflict zones of the world. Therefore, it is early to predict how this group will reshape the settlement system and segregation patterns in cities in the future.

Figure 3.3.12. Destination neighbourhoods of new immigrants arrived to Tallinn in the period 200-2011 (%)

Source: 2011 Census

Linguistically; the city centre, Kalamaja, Telliskivi, Kadriorg and other inner city districts experiencing fast gentrification have now become multilingual. The role of the Finnish and English languages in the daily life of these neighbourhoods is increasing. In addition, the status of the Estonian language rises, whereas the economically less successful Russian-speaking population is pushed to less attractive urban neighbourhoods. Many of the current activities in the gentrified districts reflect the ongoing cultural diversification process in these neighbourhoods, for example, a new Kalamaja Open School is currently being created, which plans to apply a three-language curriculum. The plans are to consciously create culturally diverse school classes. Also, other activities that aim to improve the life quality in these neighbourhoods are mostly dominated by Estonians, for example the neighbourhood associations that actively participate in local planning discussions, tend not to include Russian-speakers also living in these neighbourhoods.


The analysis has demonstrated that the change in places of residence has not brought along the change in ethno-linguistic segregation inherited from the Soviet years, vice versa, for Estonian-speakers who lived in Tallinn in 2000 the neighbourhoods where they live in 2011 had become more Estonian; and for Russian-speakers, their residential environment had turned more Russian. The persistent ethnically based networks, for example – school systems separated by language lines (Estonian and Russian language school tracks in Estonia), as well as labour market segregation, and the differences in economic opportunities of households extend the spatial distance of two ethno-linguistic groups even more. Even when, historically, the reasons why the large immigration population was formed in Estonia was specific; the position of people with an immigration background in Estonia resembles to that of immigrants in the cities of Northern and Western Europe, today. The residential choices of immigrants are shaped by their socio-economic status that, when compared, tends to be lower than that of the host population, and by their preferences to live in the neighbourhoods where other people with similar cultural and linguistic environment also reside.

There is concern that Russian-speakers in Estonia are spatially marginalized, in other words, they tend to move to the residential environments where the proportion of people with lower socio-economic status live. The fact that the geographic patterns of economic inequalities and ethnic segregation lines overlap in the urban space and settlement system, is a source of social tensions in many contemporary European cities. Although there is evidence that Russian-speakers assimilate culturally and politically, for example they choose Estonian citizenship and they learn the Estonian language, this analysis indicates that, spatially, two language communities still live segregated in Estonia and this segregation tends to persist.

In recent years, new immigration has also started to change the ethno-linguistic landscapes of the Estonian settlement system. New immigrants mostly arrive to major cities, to Tallinn in particular. In regard to the residential choices of Tallinn, two groups of new immigrants could be distinguished. First, people who come from other countries of the European Union or from other more developed countries resemble younger and economically successful Estonians. They amplify already ongoing gentrification processes with their residential choices. The second group, those arriving from the areas of the former Soviet Union, however, follow the residential choices and patterns of Estonia’s Russian-speaking community. As in certain segments of the labour market in Estonia, the Russian language is accepted and a Russian language school system still functions today, migration to Estonia is an attractive option for this group. These immigrants are usually relatively less affluent and this also directs them into less prestigious urban neighbourhoods, and at the same time turning the neighbourhoods where the share of Russian-speakers is already high, even more Russian.

The ethno-linguistic segregation in Estonia should be treated as a significant challenge for Estonian society. It should be asked how to favour contacts between Estonian- and Russian-speaking communities in a way that would help these two groups to become socially closer in all daily activities, including living together. The sources of segregation, however, seem to hide themselves in deeper institutional layers. For example, the limited Estonian language skills of Russian-speakers restrict their choices in labour market and thus indirectly also exclude them from better choices in the housing market. Although the subject of parallel school tracks in Estonian and Russian languages is a politically sensitive topic; in the Estonian community, indirectly, the reasons of why the parallel societies have turned out to be so persistent hide themselves in an arrangement where children with Estonian and Russian mother tongues are already separated in early childhood.

This could be a starting point for the discussion of what the challenges of the current world migration crisis for Estonian society are. Although public discussions are already heated, economic migrants from less developed world regions and refugees do not yet shape the ethnic and cultural landscapes of our cities. Yet, it is expected that if the immigration from these sources increases, and the newcomers start to enter to the labour market from lower positions, they will inevitably find themselves from a Russian-speaking work environment. Also, as regards housing, mixed-ethnic large housing estate apartments are affordable for them in our market-led housing market. Adding to this that, as a language, Russian is more widespread in the world than Estonian; many of them may already have some command of Russian before migration. Assuming that parallel societies in Estonia persist, the question should be asked, whether new immigrants start to communicate more with the Estonian- or Russian-speaking community in the future?


The analyses presented here have been carried out with the support of the following research programmes: personal grant of Estonian Science Foundation ETF-9247, ERC grant DEPRIVEDHOODS, institutional research grant IUT2-17, and the research project SCOPES. I would like to thank the following colleagues for their support in the different research stages: Kadi Mägi, Tiit Tammaru, Annika Väiko, and the students Kalju Kratovitš and Kerstin Uiboupin.


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