Katre Tatrik is the editor of the Estonian-language popular science portal Novaator.
Although Estonians and Russians’ preferences for a place to live have evened up during the last decades, those two ethnic groups have different chances to make their dreams a reality. As a result, city dwellers are becoming more separated by their ethnicity.
Which is your preferred nationality for neighbours? Estonian-speaking people answer: Estonians. The Russians in Estonia mostly don’t care about the nationality of their neighbours. Both would move into a more affluent neighbourhood if it were financially possible. Still, Estonians miss economically successful neighbours a little more than Russians. But these two ethnic groups differ in their outlook when it comes to achieving their dreams. That’s why Estonian- and Russian-speaking people live more and more separately from each other.
Such a conclusion could be made from an article published in a reputable geography journal and written by Kadri Leetmaa and Tiit Tammaru, both researchers of the Department of Geography at the University of Tartu, with Daniel Baldwin Hess of the University at Buffalo. Their study is based on the “Tartu and the Inhabitants of Tartu” surveys from 1998, 2008, and 2013, as well as the last two censuses. The analysis observes where and with whom people prefer to live and where they actually do live.
“Preferences have changed in last decades”, Kadri Leetma said regarding results of the study. In 1998, not long after the Russian military had left Tartu, many Estonians didn’t want to share their urban environment with Russians. The percentage of such people has decreased markedly, but Estonians still prefer to live in the vicinity of neighbours of their own nationality when possible.
Though rich neighbours, as well as those of the same nationality, are more important to Estonian-speaking people, people’s decisions about moving aren’t determined solely by attitudes, but by the family’s needs and chances as well. “Estonians don’t leave Annelinn because they want Estonian-speaking neighbours”, Leetmaa assured. She pointed out one opposing example documented in the study: “Estonians who live in Annelinn and Jaamamõisa find the existence of Estonian-speaking neighbours much less important, when compared to Estonians living in other districts. This means that they are accustomed to living in a mixed environment”.
In spite of this, studies about the areas housed with communal block buildings in Tallinn and Tartu show that Estonians move away from Annelinn, as well as the comparable districts of the capital city, more frequently than Russians. Because of the Estonians leaving, the percentage of the Russian-speaking population is increasing in these areas.
“Because Estonians have more successfully adapted to changes in the economic situation, they have better chances to realize their preferences about where to live”, Leetmaa said. Those Estonians and Russians who leave “meet” in their new destinations. In new suburban areas, for example, the segregation between Estonians and Russians is much smaller than in the more urbanized environment.
Leetmaa said that dwellings of the two ethnic groups in Estonian towns were already unevenly located at the end of the Soviet regime, but today’s trend deepens the nationality-based separation — segregation — even more. “In the last decade, both socio-economic and ethnic segregation has increased in Estonian towns”, she said. “This mirrors the inequality in the society — stratification in the society is entering the urban environment more and more. Spatial separation is bound to influence integration, because when two ethnic groups live apart like this, contacts and communication between them inevitably decrease”, human geography researcher Kadri Leetmaa said.
Leetmaa, K., Tammaru, T., & Hess, D. (2014). Preferences Toward Neighbor Ethnicity and Affluence: Evidence from an Inherited Dual Ethnic Context in Post-Soviet Tartu, Estonia Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105 (1), 162-182 DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2014.962973