The foreign chambers in Estonia have written an open letter in support of more efforts towards encouraging diversity and tolerance in Estonia with the aim of attracting and retaining foreign talent that fuels economic growth.
Foreign chambers commend the efforts of the government of Estonia to attract foreign talent and to address workforce shortages in various industries. In light of recent controversies regarding Estonia’s acceptance of refugees, however, the foreign community in Estonia, particularly people of colour, has witnessed increasing occurrences of verbal and physical harassment. Statements by a few political leaders that have condemned refugees and outsiders, combined with the lack of strong and consistent public statements denouncing such attacks, have emboldened extremism. The response towards the refugees and attacks against foreign workers and military personnel has begun to tarnish the reputation of a progressive nation.
Every government must face individuals and groups that express dangerous views that do not respect basic human rights. We applaud the statements of those in the current government who have recently spoken up on behalf of foreigners and marginalised groups. The leadership of a democratic society as a whole must, however, not remain silent, neutral or inactive when these individual cases of human rights abuses begin to expose widespread intolerance. Broad-based education on the importance of tolerance and diversity, as well as a more aggressive commitment to the legal protection of marginalized groups, is needed if Estonia will remain a viable destination for foreign investment, workers, students, diplomats, and military troops.
We urge the government to take decisive action to improve the acceptance of all foreigners and to protect marginalised groups in Estonia. We recommend the government consider the following:
- Public statements from various representatives from the government and parliament that denounce intolerance
- A powerful media campaign to make the public aware of the threat of intolerance to the image of Estonia and its ability to attract and retain talent that fuels economic growth
- Public service announcements that celebrate diversity and shame intolerance
- Possibility for all employers to receive state approved diversity training and state efforts to highlight the importance of diversity at a workplace (special state awards, etc.)
- State funding of a strategy to support diversity campaigns, conferences and trainings for businesses and teachers for the upcoming year
- Review of requirements by Keeleinspektsioon (the Language Inspectorate) in certain sectors and industries for the newly-arrived foreign workers and students to allow them a chance to contribute to the economy while adjusting in the country
- A comprehensive diversity education program to be implemented in the Estonian national primary, secondary and tertiary curriculum
- Review of legislation to protect citizens, workers and students from discrimination
We have welcomed the dialogue with the government on the issues of talent attraction and we are committed to work with various agencies to support diversity and acceptance in Estonia. Estonia took a “tiger’s leap” over a decade ago to emerge as a global leader in e-governance and technological innovation. In that short time, Estonia has achieved acclaim for its results. Strong national commitment to a generational change of attitude, where every Estonian displays the values of compassion and empathy, will help Estonia advance its international stature and leadership. Let “e-Diversity” be the image ten years hence with the actions taken today. It is time for the tiger to leap again.
With greatest respect,
Foreign Investors Council in Estonia
American Chamber of Commerce Estonia
British-Estonian Chamber of Commerce
Foreign Investors Council in Estonia members:
Danish-Estonian Chamber of Commerce
Finnish-Estonian Chamber of Commerce
ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA Office in Tallinn
German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce
Holland Business Club
Norwegian-Estonian Chamber of Commerce
Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Estonia
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
– Elie Wiesel
Cover: almost 7,000 people attended the Friendly Estonia concert at Tallinn’s Freedom Square on Sunday, 6 September, in support of a tolerant and an open-minded Estonia. Photo by Aron Urb.