Modern technology and an increased mobility of people, make it possible for nations or states to keep in touch with the citizens who have left for other countries, perhaps even putting them to work in the interests of their home country. This has brought a new policy area into focus - transnationalism policy. Its aim is to create, maintain and strengthen ties between the state and the people who are living abroad either temporarily or permanently.

Transnationalism policies make it possible to take emigration, expressed in brain drain and workforce loss, among other things, and turn it into a benefit: the potential of specialists or entrepreneurs who leave for other countries is not lost but rather relocated in space. This can open completely new opportunities for success on foreign markets, for promoting one’s country and culture, for making the workforce more flexible and for bringing valuable knowledge and skills to the home country. That’s why we see more and more countries assembling taskforces and designing programs to communicate with their compatriots abroad and to support changing the image of emigrants: replacing the perception about emigrants as ‘traitors’ seeking for an easy life for an image of ‘making it’ and being a hero of the people.

Transnationalism policy is a topical issue for many small countries (but also larger ones) where every person with his or her potential contribution to the home country counts much more. New Zealand is often quoted as an example, with approximately four million inhabitants and a recently developed community abroad consisting of at least half a million, as is Ireland, where there are six million living in Ireland and almost a hundred million persons with Irish roots all over the world. Estonia could also be included in this list, as there are about 1.1 million ethnic Estonians, and one fifth of them live abroad.

The chapter will take a look at transnationalism policy, what it is and how it has been developed in Estonia, how local trends look in an international context, and what should be done next.

Transnationalism Policy in Theory and Practice

What is Transnationalism and Transnationalism Policy?

Transnationalism policy is not just a distinct policy area; it is a concept that can find expression in economic, foreign, and social, as well as cultural policies. In order to understand the essence of transnationalism policy better, we should first look at what transnationalism is itself and more specifically, migrant transnationalism, which is the subject of this chapter.

The concept of transnationalism is largely related to changes in migration in the contemporary world. Historically, a person’s decision to settle down in another country and society has often been irreversible, but in the present era of globalisation, new technologies make travel much more flexible. People go to work, live or study abroad, while the Internet and cheap flights help them retain tight connections with the society of their country of origin and their close ones. It also enables them to return more easily, or gives them confidence to move on to other destination countries. Similar tendencies can also be observed in other areas besides migration, such as business (see Kattel & Varblane in this volume). Thus transnationalism in a broader sense, and migrant transnationalism specifically, are cross-border and network-based phenomena.

As the nature of migration changes, so does the study of communities living abroad. Expatriate communities have classically been referred to as the diaspora. Yet, the concept of diaspora is more related to a classical view on migration (emigration being irreversible); and maintaining cultural identity plays an important part in it (Cohen 2009). In the case of transnational migrants, however, their cross-border networks and connections (e.g. with their country of origin) play a more significant role, and the definition of migration is more flexible, including short-term migration and commuting (Faist 2010).

The difference between diaspora and transnationalism is illustrated well by the classical term ‘expatriate Estonian’ (välis-eestlane) which is mainly used to denote Estonian Second World War refugees and their descendants. We would not call an official who left to work in Brussels a couple of years ago an “expatriate Estonian”, nor a post-graduate studying in London, nor a commuter to Finland, even less would we describe an ethnic Russian who has left Estonia or an e-resident of Estonia this way. All of the above, however, as well as a refugee from the Second World War living in Canada and his or her descendants can be considered to be transnational Estonians. The condition is that they retain cross-border ties with Estonia.

Transnationalism policy penetrates various policy areas and therefore a state can organise its transnationalism policy according to its goals and migration contexts. Some countries have put together quite detailed development plans for this area, while others act rather randomly. In some countries, such as India for example, there is an entire ministry dedicated to overseas communities, in others, the leading partner is an NGO (e.g. KEA in New Zealand). More often, however, transnationalism policy falls into the responsibility area of a ministry (or an agency of it). In South Korea and Russia, for instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for their expatriate policy, while in Zimbabwe it is the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In Latvia it is the Ministry of Culture; in the Czech Republic it is the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; in Ghana it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and in the Philippines the Ministry of Labour. Usually, the policy is implemented as a collaboration by several ministries; the selection of a single ministry being primarily responsible just serves to indicate the emphasis.

Transnationalism Policy in Various Areas

One of the areas most directly related to transnationalism is a country’s migration policy itself (see also Figure 2.6.1). There is a growing trend of collecting information about people who have settled down abroad, which gives a better overview of the people currently staying abroad, making it possible to better consider their needs for public services. Several countries have also tried implementing various measures to facilitate short-term migration and brain circulation, like fixed-term grant and study programs, and developed measures for returning. Re-adjustment programs are provided for returnees as well as employment programs (connecting those that wish to return with potential employers), language courses, financial support and help with bureaucracy. Still, studies show that policy measures are usually not enough to motivate a person to return.

In a number of areas, however, a citizen living abroad can be useful without returning. In several countries, foreign communities are important because of financial remittances and governments have tried to design measures that could increase the incoming flow. For this, one-off campaigns as well as systematic programs have been implemented to attract financial remittances. Several countries (e.g. Mexico, India, Israel, and Ethiopia) also have investment programs to attract the money of foreign communities.

However, there are also other kinds of network-based economic initiatives. Various transnationalism policy programs (e.g. in New Zealand and Chile) support the development of networks of entrepreneurs and specialists to foster the movement of homeland businesses to new markets, there are mentorship programs (e.g. in Lithuania and Ghana) for raising future specialists and top executives, etc. Additionally, the communities abroad themselves can also be seen as a potential market for certain goods, visiting the country of origin as a tourist, etc. Ireland for example organised a large campaign titled ‘The Gathering’ in 2013, calling on everyone with Irish roots to pay a visit to Ireland.


Tax or Attract Donations?

Various plans have been devised to attract the money of foreign communities to respective homelands. The Nobel laureate, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, for instance, proposed a ‘brain drain’ tax in the 1970s that would be levied on people who had gone to work abroad, to be collected by the home country. But the idea was greeted by a discussion of its side effects as well as practical problems with collecting the tax.

The idea of collective remittances, however, has turned out rather successfully. Specifically, the Mexican Government started a program titled 3 x 1 in 2002, calling on Mexicans working in the US to form village associations and to donate money through them for infrastructure projects. For every peso donated, the Federal Government, the State Governments and the local Governments added another three pesos. Over 6,000 projects of this kind and other initiatives supported by the project were started in the period between 2002-2006. (Menocal)

Expat communities can also contribute to foreign policy. Classically, expat communities have participated in the implementation of a country’s foreign policy as ethnic lobby groups. One of the best-known examples is the Jewish lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in the US. AIPAC reportedly succeeded in interfering with arms deals between the US and Saudi Arabia in 1980. It is true that actions on this level usually become possible in the case of old and powerful diasporas, thus ethnic lobbying on solely state initiatives will generally not be successful. Additionally, the line between engaging the cross-border community of a country and interfering with the sovereign decision space of another county can be quite delicate with this measure.

Therefore, transnationalism programs tend to be about ‘softer’ initiatives within the realm of public diplomacy. For instance, the communities abroad can engage in public diplomacy and in nation branding, introducing their country of origin as a tourist destination, a living or investment environment, or as dispensers of knowledge about the culture, society or politics of the country. This could help balance images that can often be based on sensational events or are formed by international media and can be distorted as a result of information operations.

Still, implementing these measures means that the foreign communities have to be motivated to contribute to the development of the country. Measures designed to keep up constant and positive contact with communities abroad, to increase their contribution and to grow their sense of belonging could be called a policy of recognition. It can be used to express the government’s openness to collaboration and to increase the support of the society towards expat communities that are often resented otherwise. India and Morocco for instance celebrate a day of expatriates, New Zealand acknowledges outstanding compatriots living abroad at award ceremonies, and compatriot conferences are organised in Lithuania and Mexico. The aim of all these actions is to increase awareness about communities abroad and their contribution.

These measures of symbolic levels are also supported by offering more practical participation opportunities. Thus, several emigration countries begin multiple citizenship discussions at some point, enabling their citizens to acquire citizenship of their country of residence without losing the citizenship of their country of birth. For instance, the holding of multiple citizenships for ethnic Latvians was recently legalised in Latvia. Although this step also carries symbolic importance, citizenships for compatriots living abroad also retains their political and economic rights, among other things, as well as their participation opportunities, enabling a seamless return if desired. Studies have also shown that the citizenship of the country of residence ensures a feeling of security needed for returning to one’s country of origin.

Critics of the idea of multiple citizenship have pointed out, on the other hand, that it gives holders of multiple citizenship an advantage over people with one citizenship; they question the loyalty of multiple citizens or consider the solution inappropriate for ideological reasons, as it does not fit in with their understanding of the sovereignty of a state. Therefore, some countries offer a quasi-citizenship status instead of a citizenship to their emigrants: for instance Turkey (the pink card system) and India (PIO, OCI) have granted people with such status certain rights equal to those of citizens, but not all of them. People who have forfeited their citizenship have no right to buy land in India for instance, which is understandable considering the population density and land deficit, and the income levels of the overseas Indian community.

Several countries have implemented measures to enable members of communities abroad who have retained their citizenship to participate in the life of the country, e.g. providing an opportunity for voting abroad. Some countries, on the other hand, have provided alternative platforms for participation; in Finland, for instance there is an Expatriate Parliament, acting as an organisation protecting the interests of Finns living abroad, while in Italy certain seats in the national parliament are allocated for the diaspora. It is true that the functioning of the representational organisations depends largely on how inclusive the governance culture of a state is and how topical the issue of emigration is in a society at a given time. Even in Finland, for instance, which is a country with a very inclusive governance culture, the Expatriate Parliament often faces difficulties in advocating their interests (Vierimaa 2011). The work of representational bodies, however, can be supported by a policy of recognition.

The aim of maintaining transnational connections with the communities abroad is also partly served by cultural and educational policy, although it is also used for maintaining cultural memory and traditions in order to develop a diasporic identity (Gsir & Mescoli 2015). Countries of origin support the cultural, sports and professional associations, religious bodies, charity groups, etc., of communities abroad with this aim for instance. The same goals are supported by organising language and cultural courses, supporting cultural events and collectives, celebrations of national holidays (the government of Thailand, for instance, supported the celebrations of the King’s birthday abroad), sending educational materials and periodicals, supporting the activities of religious organisations and despatching clergymen. Additionally, in the case of historical diaspora communities the gathering and recording of local heritage is also quite important, as well as supporting the media of expat communities, etc.

In recent years, the previously mentioned activities have also been considerably supported by the development of the new media - for instance, various states offer language courses online; and the internet has also changed the role of diaspora journalism significantly, as homeland news can be observed through other channels constantly. This in turn opens the new area of digital culture for transnationalism policy, especially with regard to cross-border accessibility of media content (see also Ibrus in this volume). However, integration can also be seen elsewhere, for instance, cultural events organised abroad may not be targeted exclusively towards expat communities but also serve the wider goals of cultural diplomacy or cultural export.

In the field of education as well, some states have activities that are significantly more ambitious than simply learning the language. Some countries offer specific courses on particular aspects of their cultural heritage; others offer general education abroad according to their national curricula; yet others organise practical trainings to provide their expat communities with useful skills in the labour market of their country of destination. While these programs are primarily meant for children and youths; Bolivia, for instance, is supporting the organisation of courses for the elderly. Several countries have extended their school networks across borders. Some countries, like India, Tunisia and Finland, teach according to their national curriculum in those schools, creating more flexible migration opportunities for families with children. The international school network of Iran consists of as many as 126 schools in 76 countries with a total of approximately 14,000 students. The teachers working there are seen by Iran as diplomats of a kind (Iran Daily 2016). Additionally, there are also several countries, such as India and Latvia, that offer grant programs to bring youngsters from communities abroad ‘back’ to study or work in the country of origin; in order to reinforce the connection and to attract them to resettle.

Figure 2.6.1. Transnationalism policy areas and generations

Source: Compiled by the author.

Different practices in Designing Transnationalism Policy

The overview presented above is certainly not exhaustive, the goals can vary, and every state implements and fine-tunes its own specific measures according to the more general goals it has set with regards to transnationalism (see also Figure 2.6.1). For instance, what are often thought of as ‘developing countries’ stand out by trying to engage their foreign communities primarily as vehicles for the economy. These states have often experienced a surge in population recently, which is why the states have taken a more active role in arrangements concerning emigration policy (e.g. by participating in guest workers programs) and in supporting foreign communities. In the Philippines, for instance there is a versatile social support program for citizens working abroad, covering issues from the protection of rights to pensions. In the ‘obligations’ column of expat communities, there are policies related to financial remittances and investments, and programs related to knowledge transfer.

The situation is different in developed countries, where transnationalism policy is decidedly centred on producing a sense of engagement for the expat communities and focuses on networking. For instance, the ‘Global Irish’ strategy of Ireland is focused on keywords like ‘connecting’, ‘supporting’, recognising’ and ‘facilitating networks’.

In Central and Eastern Europe, but also in China for instance, cross-border relations with expat communities seem to be based mostly in the cultural sphere, hence their policy choices resemble the diaspora policy model. The transnationalism policy of the Czech Republic for instance focuses on retaining the native language and culture in foreign communities through organising language courses and offering grants to young people. Several countries of the region (e.g. Lithuania, Hungary) have started to broaden the scope of their transnationalism policy, adding economic measures and policies or recognition gradually.

Transnationalism Policy of Estonia

The foundational document of Estonia’s transnationalism policy is the Compatriots Program (RKP), which has already been designed for three periods: 2004–2008, 2009–2013, and 2014–2020. The program is supported by basic laws such as the Constitution, the Citizenship Act, and the Riigikogu (Parliamentary) Election Act, as well as by EU law and international treaties, but also by some initiatives that preceded the Compatriots Program. There have been changes in these areas - and the overall sphere - over the last 25 years, but it has still remained surprisingly stable.

Developments in this sphere can be divided into three periods. The first one is a kind of prequel, mostly concerning the 1990’s and describing the birth of the laws that later became the basis for a more systematic policy design process. The second one could be viewed as the evolution of a ‘classic diaspora policy’ in the 2000’s. The notional third period started in the 2010s, when the concept of transnationalism was gradually being introduced. It is hard to draw specific lines between the periods in time, however, as the transitions have been very gradual (see also Figure 2.6.2).


The demographic situation of the western diaspora had reached a breaking point by the 1990’s: the number of people born into Estonian families (i.e. the families where both parents are Estonians) had decreased significantly and the number of Estonian speakers was also decreasing. Considering the fact that many Estonians descendants had a very multicultural background, the question of whether and how the Estonian identity could be made into something interesting and worth retaining, became important (Kulu 1997: 284). Thus, there was a clear need for a policy of transnationalism and diaspora.

The design and implementation of measures was accelerated by the conflict in Abkhazia in 1992, where Estonian villages in Abkhazia were right in the centre of the conflict. The rescue operation, initially designed as a one-off action, allowed hundreds of compatriots to resettle in Estonia. Later, it grew into a program for supporting the returning of compatriots. It was a clearly humanitarian program focusing on helping compatriots in conflict regions. Basic livelihood was provided for those resettling: along with free residential space and two average monthly salaries. The aim of the support was to ensure subsistence until the residential permit was processed.

A significant foundation for eventual transnationalism and diaspora policies was also laid out in the Constitution, the Citizenship Act, and the Elections Act. The most significant influence on the development of citizenship rules in Estonia was the need to regulate the legal status of people who had immigrated to Estonia during Soviet times, not so much the communities of Estonians abroad (see e.g. Saarts 2009; Kallas in this volume). However, the laws still contain clauses that facilitated the connections between Estonian communities abroad and Estonia. More specifically, Estonia’s Citizenship Act is based on the logic of descendancy (ius sanguinis), according to which citizenship is automatically granted to all descendants of citizens of Estonia, regardless of their country of birth or residence. The ethnic Estonians whose ancestors emigrated before Estonia gained independence in 1918 are protected by a clause in the Constitution stating that all persons of Estonian origin are allowed to settle in Estonia. The Citizenship Act also let them apply for Estonian citizenship using a simplified procedure until 1995 (RKP 2004-2008).

Although the Estonian Citizenship Act prohibits multiple citizenships, there is a clause in the Constitution stating that Estonian citizenship cannot be taken away from a citizen by birth. This in turn brings about a situation where the prohibition of multiple citizenship does not take full effect on Estonian citizens by birth.


The Prohibition of Multiple Citizenships that can be Interpreted Differently

The double standard related to multiple citizenship is well illustrated by media coverage in the early 2000’s. For instance, an article was published in the Postimees newspaper on July 5th, 2001 about Estonia’s top-level officials who were retaining their citizenship of another country as well. The spokesperson of the Government Office commented on the fact, saying that multiple citizenship is ‘a personal matter for everyone’. However, when it transpired that the Italian Ernesto Preatoni, who was granted Estonian citizenship for special merit, had also retained his Italian citizenship, this was seen as unlawful conduct. (Jakobson, Kalev 2016)

The Elections Act also stipulates rather extensive opportunities for expat Estonians with Estonian citizenship to participate in political life. Unlike several other countries, Estonia allows voting outside its territory, which has made it possible for tens of thousands of Estonian citizens living abroad to participate in elections.

In addition, bilateral treaties were signed to protect the social rights of Estonian citizens living abroad. These treaties were especially important for re-settlers who were old enough to receive a pension (RKP 2004-2008). Cultural support for expat communities was also gathering momentum - for instance, Estonian language courses and cultural collectives received state support. The need for a systematic policy became clear after the ESTO days held in Estonia in 1996, when the Ministry of Education started to receive requests from cultural organisations for language study materials, musical scores, etc.

Evolving of the Diaspora Policy

The start of the Compatriots Program in 2004 can be considered a development towards a more systematic policy. It brought along a certain synergy between the ministries responsible for various policy areas the activities became more regular and obtained a clearer goal as well. Just like in the Czech Republic, the secretariat of the Compatriots Program is the Ministry of Education and Research (initially it was the Office of the Minister of Population), but the policy is designed and monitored by a council of the Program, where there are also representatives from the Ministries of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Culture.

The program was (and still is) characterised by a focus on culture, and the sustainability of diasporas, which is rather typical of a classical diaspora policy: the starting point of the policy was set at a feeling of national unity and full support of Estonian-ness as a linguistic and cultural identity (RKP 2004-2008). Choirs, folk dance groups and other arts collectives, as well as cultural events, were sponsored, as were Estonian congregations abroad, the preservation of the heritage of expat Estonian communities, and Estonian language courses. New opportunities to study the language emerged thanks to the Program: language and culture camps, as well as grants for youth were provided so that young people got a chance to come to Estonia to reinforce their connection with their roots. Returning to Estonia was continuously supported on the same principles, with measures added to facilitate the integration of returnees.

A characteristic trait of this period was its focus on the eastern diaspora, which was economically and socially worse off than the western diaspora, but much more active in the 1990s than before. Support was mostly granted to cultural associations and congregations in the east, and to studies and heritage gathering expeditions related to the eastern diaspora; as well as the establishment of internet connections to facilitate information exchange with Estonia. The grants program, and the teaching of the Estonian language and culture also mainly concentrated on creating learning opportunities in the east. Thus, language learning in Siberia, Crimea, Pechory, and Abkhazia was sponsored. A viable Estonian community was already withering or had gone extinct in several regions in the east by then, but these measures were still introduced with the hope of retaining the local Estonian heritage there.

In the second period, the Compatriots Program was supplemented by the digitalisation of archives, and in the third period, it was the volume of digitised collections that formed the most ambitious goal of the Program. The Compatriots Program for 2009-2013 initiated the development of online language learning platforms, which resulted in the ‘Keeleklikk’ platform for learning Estonian, which is meant for a much broader audience than just the Estonian diaspora. Development of the ‘Kultuuriklikk’ platform, about Estonian history, is also underway. The Estonian Institute has also compiled and made available a broader collection of e-learning materials.

Emergence of Transnationalism Policy

With the third (2014-2020), and partially the second (2009-2013) period, the goals of the Compatriots Program started to change. Although these were declared to be first and foremost programs for the protection of language and culture, and to a large extent continue with the actions set forth in the first period, they also contain elements of transnationalism. The third Compatriots Program (and partially the second) is no longer just aimed at the communities of the established diaspora, but thanks to the internet, is also aimed at Estonians dispersed all over the globe, including the new wave of migrants (see also the smooth transition segment on Figure 2.6.2). For instance, more support was given to schools in the new Estonian migrant destinations, where more children with a more immediate connection to Estonia are living. The Program also started to sponsor general education in the Estonian language in Finland and Sweden, and later also in European schools in Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Germany. The shift of focus to new emigrants also meant increased attention to the Estonian diaspora in the West, which, unlike the withering eastern diaspora had stabilised populations by then and had even grown quickly in some places, especially Finland (Tammaru et al. 2010).

Next, the Compatriots Program is slowly starting to produce more synergy with other policy areas besides the culture-centred diaspora policy: links with the development plans of other areas are slowly becoming more substantial, although the Compatriots Program remains rather centred on language and culture. Part of the reason for this may be related to the representatives on the council of the Program, where for instance the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is not represented, while some segments of transnationalism policy are being implemented in its agencies. Enterprise Estonia, for instance, has started the ‘Global Estonians Network’ initiative, which was also a part of the action plan of the Government who entered into office in 2015. It’s a contact network of Estonians and friends of Estonia living abroad. People in the network have business experience and connections that could help the entrepreneurs of Estonia extend their business abroad, finding foreign investors and other areas of business. However, the role of expat communities has not been expressly included in business or export development plans (e.g. ‘General Principles of Estonia’s Export Policy’, ‘Estonia’s Entrepreneurship Growth Strategy 2014-2020’).

Similar conclusions can be drawn about the e-residency initiative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, and the Ministry of the Interior, which could also function as a transnationalism policy. Right now, it is mostly seen as a branding measure for the state of Estonia (MKM 2013). The technology and practical solutions of e-residency would, however, make it possible to design a new-level of transnational networks with the transnational community abroad. If Estonia does not legalise multiple citizenship, e-residency could function as a kind of quasi-citizenship institution that enables the state to keep in touch, both symbolically and practically, with those whose Estonian citizenship cannot be retained.


The Connection Between e-Residents and Transnational Estonia

As of January 31, 2017, a total of 17,356 people have applied for e-residency and 16,022 e-residents have received a positive decision. Although the e-residency program is at present not related to migrant transnationalism in any way, the main countries of residence for e-residents are the same as Estonia’s primary immigration and emigration countries: Finland, Russia, the USA, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Germany, etc. This is a good indicator of the space where transnationalism related to Estonia has developed.

Unfortunately, however, the statistics do not show the connections an e-residency applicant has previously had with Estonia. Are these people who used to study and work in Estonia? Are there people among them who have Estonian roots, but are not citizens of Estonia? Or maybe they have discovered Estonia’s e-residency thanks to an acquaintance who acts as a citizen diplomat of Estonia? It is evident, however, that about one third of them have a stronger connection with Estonia as an e-resident now. These are people who want to move their business to Estonia (24%), or to live or travel in Estonia (9%). This is, altogether, approximately half of the number of ‘global citizens’ who apply for e-residency because their company is not location-based (41%), who are just fans of e-residency (15%), or who want to use the personal identification technology of the e-resident card (8%).

Detailed and updated data available on the e-residency statistics website.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has some initiatives that use transnationalism, like the network of honorary consuls and the acknowledgment of people’s diplomats on Citizen’s Day, there is also a cooperation occurring with the umbrella organisations of companies located abroad. The transnational activities of the state are doubtlessly facilitated by the freedom of movement principle of the European Union, treaties to avoid double taxation, social insurance treaties, and the population registry data exchange with Finland provide a better overview of the need for social support, school seats, medical help, and other services. The labour market policy of Estonia has also been continuing in a direction that is somewhat transnational: the labour migration program EURES is also there to alleviates structural unemployment, for instance. The ‘Talendid koju’ (‘Bring Home the Talent’) program begun by the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was an initiative to support the circulation of knowledge, based on ideas that are close to transnationalism.

Yet, the policy of recognition has not been practiced to the extent it should be. A total of 72% of Estonians living abroad do not feel that the state of Estonia needs them, and 43% do not feel that there is a positive attitude in Estonia towards Estonians living abroad (RAKE 2015). There is a series of radio broadcasts titled ‘Eesti lugu’ (‘The Estonian Story’), created as a part of the Compatriots Program, but which is mainly about the historical Estonian communities abroad. The Conference of Compatriots also has a slightly different goal in Estonia than events organised in Lithuania or New Zealand for instance. In Lithuania, awards are given at these events to outstanding compatriots and there is an attempt to use the intellectual potential of the transnational communities assembled there for solving practical problems. In Estonia, however, the Conference is expressly devoted to presenting an overview of the activities of the Compatriots Program, giving feedback and partly also to foster networking between the foreign communities.

Figure 2.6.2. The ‘staircase’ of Estonia’s transnationalism policy: initiatives in different stages of development, functioning until the present

Source: Compiled by the author.

In the context of policies of recognition, however, it must be said that the coalition contract of the government that came to power in 2015 contained a clause stating that on the Anniversary of the Republic, the Prime Minister will address Estonians living abroad. Although this may not have a significant impact on the transnationalism policy, it is evidence that Estonians living abroad are not forgotten. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves had also contributed to the policy of recognition by including meetings with local Estonian entrepreneurs in his foreign visits and by being the patron of the ‘Talendid koju’ (‘Bring Home the Talent’) program. These initiatives have not found significant wider resonance as the acknowledgment of the foreign community, however.

The Estonian educational system has also become more accommodating of transnationalism. Although Estonia does not offer opportunities to obtain a general education abroad according to the official state curriculum, the rights and opportunities of returning children and youths are better cared for. For instance, a right to study according to an individual curriculum has initially been guaranteed to returning youths, the procedure of ensuring a school seat has been clarified further, and there are more opportunities for e-learning abroad. More attention is also being paid to publishing information related to immigration on the website of the Ministry of Education and Research.


This chapter has introduced the concept of transnationalism, measures implemented in various areas and state strategies in making policy-related decisions. After that, an overview of the transnationalism policy implemented in Estonia was given. In the choice of measures, Estonia is not unlike several other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as a culture-centred diaspora policy approach has been dominant until the present. Still, recently there have been signs of a more network-based transnationalism policy. Estonia is still lacking a unified and broad-based strategy, although there would be a significant target group for that, considering the number of people who have opted for going abroad.

However, considerations of transnationalism have still not found a way to the horizontal development plans like Sustainable Estonia 21 or the competitiveness development plan, although the implementation of the principles of a transnationalism policy would make it possible to achieve the goals that have been set down in the national development plans of Estonia. Similarly, there is little reflection of transnationalism policy (or a transnational approach to policy in a wider sense) in area-specific development plans. So why don’t we acknowledge and develop the capacity of Estonians currently living abroad to contribute to the development of the state? Transnationalism policy could be integrated into various area-specific development plans, and including it into the general development plans could be considered, as transnationalism is a broader topic with significant potential.

Additionally, there is also little synergy between different policy areas at present. On the basis of the culture- and education-centred policy, it seems that the cross-ministry council of the Compatriots Program is functioning. Extending the council of the Compatriots Program by including a representative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications should be considered, as well as a broadening of the Program itself, bringing in people’s diplomacy and topics of economy. Although the target groups of the measures of each ministry differ slightly, this variety could be beneficial to the general visibility and wider acknowledgement of transnational Estonians in society.

We should not forget, however, that policies are not implemented by program councils or development plan designers, but by people. The potential of Estonian communities abroad is largely dependent on their motivation to contribute. The most substantial gap is in the recognition and engagement of Estonian communities abroad, which is not among the main goals of any of the programs that have been started. Without these, however, success in any other area is questionable. Therefore, we should learn from the transnationalism policy experience of what are also known as developed countries such as, Ireland or New Zealand, or look at what is being done in Lithuania and Hungary. It is also important to acknowledge foreign communities in a wider sense (not just the Estonian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley) and that it should be done in a consistent and visible manner.


Gathering materials for this article began thanks to a post-doctoral grant from the Estonian Research Council. The author would also like to thank Andero Adamson from the Ministry of Education and Research.


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