Will the British study lead to action?


In recent months, a lively debate has begun in Estonia on the impact of the Kremlin’s propaganda messages. In December the PBK event was highlighted but last week however, the focus was on a British study, which gave an alarming picture of the attitudes of the Russian speaking population in Estonia.

How did the study become public?
An earlier reference to the study was seen in an October 2017 article of The Guardian . According to Postimees, the survey was introduced to selected Estonian governmental communications experts at the United Kingdom embassy in December 2017.  Andres Jõesaar was the first to reference the study in his ETV broadcast „Suud puhtaks“ (clearing the air) on the 10th of January. The Eesti Päevaleht started tracing the footprints of his statements and the initiator of the study, reaching the initiator of the study as well as the performer but could not get access to the content. It seemed that the topic would be the secrecy of the study, but after the study reached the media, attention was drawn to the content.

What is the study talking about?
The survey has not been published in full, only the main findings have been made available to the public through the media. Based on these, there is a large separation between the Estonian and the Russian speaking communities. Russian speaking people in Estonian are watching a lot of Russian propaganda and their attitudes reflect the messages spread by the Kremlin. A more detailed overview of the findings of the study can be read in the Postimees or on Delfi.

Are the findings of the study true?
In an Eesti Päevaleht interview with Professor Triin Vihalemm, the impression is that the main conclusions of the study are in a broad context, correct.

An overview of the Estonian Russian speaking community has also been presented in a study conducted by the Bergen and Tallinn Universities in the autumn of 2017, where the findings found overlaps in part with the British study. It is also possible to refer to the so-called Eastern Virumaa secret memo published in Eesti Express in 2016, which also seems to confirm a number of conclusions in the British study.

On the other hand, the opinion given in the Kuku radio broadcast Kirillitsas Eesti was that some of the conclusions of the study were interpreted falsely. Since there is no access to the contents of the study, it is not possible to say that the disclosed findings are true.

How has the study been reflected in the Kremlin propaganda media?
The Russian media has written only a couple of stories on the topic this week. Regnum touches on the subject with only a few sentences, where attention is given more to the secrecy of the study and with it trying to show as if the British want to secretly change their attitudes toward the Russian-speaking people of Estonia. Gosnovost’s comments on the study are heard on Sputnik by Alisa Blintsova.

It seems that the Kremlin does not want to spread the message very widely that its influence on its neighbours has been successful. The same impression was given in the case of the already mentioned secret memo, where Russian propaganda media tried to lessen and refute the conclusions of the memo.

Have there been any actions after the study?
It is positive that one of the key issues in Estonian security is being actively discussed. Are there signs that there are any actions resulting from the study?
So far, there has been no reduction in the influence of the Kremlin propaganda channels.  PBK continues to work in exactly the same way as before the discussion began, mixing Russian propaganda with local news and entertainment.  The channel is not marked as a propaganda channel, although it would be useful – many Russian speaking viewers are not aware that they are viewing propaganda on this channel.

There has been no major progress made in reaching the Russian speaking population with favourable messages about Estonia. Professor Mati Heidmets’ commentary describes how to build a positive message. Marju Lauristin, however writes that the attitudes of the Estonian speaking community are some of the biggest problems to integration and their attitudes should be changed if we wish to change the situation.

Pictures: screen shots from the articles reference in the story.