Related in languages and neighbours separated by the Baltic Sea, Estonians form the one of the largest minority group in Finland. According to Finnish Centre of Statistics, more than 44,000 Estonians live in Finland permanently; almost 6,000 moved to Finland in 2013. Besides them, many Estonians have not registered as permanent residents, but are employed here, therefore the estimations are that up to 100,000 Estonians actually work in Finland. Sometimes Estonians call Finland their 16th county and in some Finnish areas, Estonian and Russian language are more commonly heard than Swedish.
Estonians carry on their culture across the Baltic Sea in several ways. One of them is the Estonian House in Helsinki, which hosts four Estonian organisations – but in total, there are about 40 other unions with around 3,300 members related to Estonia all around Finland – and various cultural events, like concerts or exhibitions to and by Estonians.
Grete Ahtola from the Estonian Institute explains that Estonian House is a home for a children’s song studio and a mixed choir. They also organise Estonian courses for Finns and Finnish courses for Estonians – and once a week all language-learners can gather in the Jututuba (Chat Room) where Estonians and Finns have the possibility to speak and learn both languages.
There is a special organisation for Estonian-language education (Vironkielisen opetuksen seura) which is focused on preserving Estonian language and culture in Finland by organising the likes of reading competitions for children and training days for Estonian teachers. The Estonian Institute has also started the project “Estonia Goes to School”where Estonians visit Finnish to introduce their culture, language and history and organise film and music events.
The Estonian diaspora in Finland is also active in Facebook groups, with the most populous having more than 25,000 members discussing various issues. There are also special webpages for Estonians who wish to migrate, offering a range of information.
Several Estonian traditions and holidays are celebrated in Finland, says Ahtola. These include Independence Day on 24 February, the National Language Day on 14 March and Teachers’ Day on 5 October.
Although Estonians and Finns are ‘relatives’ belonging among Finno-Ugric peoples, there are some differences between their cultures. Ahtola says that probably the greatest contrasts appear in communication: Estonians talk much faster and over each other and that’s not considered impolite, whereas Finns are calmer and slower in communicating and await their turn to talk.
The differences also appear in humour. “Finns don’t laugh at Estonians’ ironic and even sarcastic jokes,” explains Ahtola. “It takes time until a Finnish friend will understand their Estonian friend’s humour.”
But there are more similarities than contrasts, thinks Ahtola. The cultural spaces are related and this can be seen, for example, in food: you can find rye bread and blood sausage on both coasts of the Baltic Sea.
These close cultural spaces and the Finnish language which is easy for Estonians to learn help them to feel at home in Finland, Ahtola observes. “And of course it is comforting that Estonia is so close, only a two-hour ferry-trip away,” she adds. Ties with the homeland help Estonians acclimatise to Finland, sees Ahtola. “Almost every day you can visit a concert, exhibition or a literature event that’s related to Estonia or even held in Estonian.”