4.5 Initiatives promoting social inclusion and raising awareness
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According to the national umbrella strategy „Estonia 2035“ („Eesti 2035“), one of the strategic goals is to guarantee that Estonia’s society is caring, cooperative and open-minded. The strategy declares that „We will ensure participation opportunities, joint activities and the availability of various cultural events both for Estonians and people with other mother tongues, promoting cooperation, flexibility and creative solutions of various institutions and organisations, such as job offers, flexible transport, teleworking, cooperation with the private sector, etc.“ Hence it is evident that support to intercultural awareness and inclusion of people with different origins concerns various policy fields. Concerning initiatives targeted at youth, the role of youth sector and youth work is recognised.
The Ministry of Culture, particularly the Department of Cultural Diversity, is responsible for the integration policy supporting the cultural societies of national minorities, kindred nations and compatriots and helps to promote their cultural life and activities. The report of the latest strategy „Integrating Estonia 2020“ confirms the steady progress in the area of integration and social cohesion. Over seven years, nearly €81 million were allocated for the implementation of the activities related to the development plan; 15% of which came from the European Social Fund and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. The Youth Field Development Plan 2014-2020 played significant role in achivement of youth-related objectives of the strategy : “Students with a native language different from Estonian actively participate in youth work and have close contacts with Estonian-speaking peers.” via youth events, youth meetings, camps etc.
The Ministry of Culture has prepared the draft of „Cohesive Estonia Development Plan 2021-2030“ (Sidusa Eesti arengukava 2021-2030) (tbc).
The vision of the civil society programme until 2030 which is part of the Civil Society Programme 2021-2024, prepared by the Ministry of Intrerior Affairs, includes a wider use of the participation cafés approach among Estonian- and Russian-speaking youth as a recognised consultation format developed for the youth field. The programme also refers to the youth as the precursor of the sustainability of the civil society – it is important to integrate the work of youth organisations, NGOs and schools in order to support youth participation. The popularisation of volunteer work and a more playful approach in the fund-raising system with the help of the youth field allows to improve the activity options at youth organisations and to create additional opportunities for expressing one’s opinion and enlarging intercultural awareness, partaking in joint activities or showing initiative.
A specific national initiative Noortekohtumised (Youth meetings) that supports 11-19 years old young people living in Estonia from diverse ethnic backgrounds to develop and undertake common projects has been described in Chapter 4.4.
The general framework for the government-level initiatives in the area of youth rights is regulated mainly by the Child Protection Act. The Act also defines (§5) principles of ensuring rights and well-being of children, such as every child has the inherent right to life, survival and development; every child has the right to equal treatment without any discrimination; every child has the right to independent opinion in all matters affecting the child and the right to express his or her views.
Youth participation is a prominent strategic goal of the Youth Field Development Plan 2021-2035 (Noortevaldkonna arengukava 2021-2035), adopted 12.08.2021, declaring the ambition that „the protection of youth rights in the state is consistent and active youth participation is supported.” The strategy foresees maintaining the level of already achieved positive outcomes such as existing participation formats (79 in 2021) and ratio of local governments out of all local governments that have a functioning youth council (89,9% in 2021) while also proposing new initiatives such as „creating a national youth council advising the prime minister and a youth roundtable at the President’s office to give young people increased opportunities to express their opinion.“
Since 2015 in Estonia young people are eligible for voting at local elections since the age of 16 years (first elections with the new regulation took place in 2017) that is seen as perspective to positively influence on youth citizenship and active participation in matters closest to their life reality on local level, also to respond to the interests and needs of young people to have their say. However, there is a need to continue activities that support better awareness of youth in order to realise the maximum potential of their voting rights. Several training and information campaigns are being run as initiatives to support youth awareness related to their participation rights, for example annual Youth Participation Cafes where youth meets with policy makers in order to discuss most urgent issues and possible solutions (overview of the national Project in 2020, available in Estonian).
A state supported Youth Participation Fund is coordinated by Estonian National Youth Council funding projects that focus on creating new opportunities for participation, developing existing forms of participation and networking in the field of youth participation.
In order to support awareness raising among youth, a national portal called “Teeviit” (in English “Sign Post”) is an important youth information tool, combining active social media content, thematic events, campaigns etc in co-operation with youth volunteers, experts and social media influencers. COVID-19 period has reinforced the need for trustful youth information even further and since 2020 the portal operates both in Estonian and in Russian languages.
There is no specific programme or activity initiated on the governmental level to address specifically the issue of prevention of radicalization and violent extremism of young people, however, the violent extremism and radicalisation in Estonia is at policy level dealt with under the internal security policy, which is the area of responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. In the framework of combating terrorism, it is stated, that activities in Estonia and international cooperation should aim to stop radicalisation, the financing of terrorism and the smuggling of strategic goods. The government sets the policies for combating terrorism in the framework document on combat against terrorism approved in November 2013. In this Document, the prevention of terrorism and radicalization, and prevention of recruitment to terrorist organizations is highlighted as an issue of importance. It is drawn out, that Estonia is paying particular attention in order to prevent the activities of movements and people who spread racial, cultural, religious or affiliation hate in Estonia. The earliest signs of radicalism must be prevented, because – as shown by international experience – the growth of radicalism into extremism and then into terrorism is probable and therefore also an undisputed threat to the security of the state (Fundamentals of Counter-Terrorism in Estonia).
The Internal Security Development Plan 2020–2030 prepared by the Ministry of Interior highlights the positive impact of youth work on the development of the social skills of young people and the importance of preventive work organised in cooperation with different partners (including from the youth field).