The media’s emphasis on ethnicity feeds propaganda


Propastop has shown in several propaganda cases how one of the goals of the Kremlin’s propaganda is the creation and deepening of the gap between ethnic groups living in Estonia. One way of promoting this kind of a split is to emphasize the characteristics that distinguish people: when they speak different languages, they are of different ethnic backgrounds or nationalities.

Such language and nationality discourse is so deeply embedded that it is seen even in media statements that are not written directly for propaganda purposes. A good example is the way our Eastern neighbour’s media portrayed Elina Nechayeva when she won the Estonian Song Contest and her journey to the Eurovision Song Contest.

„ This year Estonia will be represented by a Russian speaking singer, „ reported. „Who is this Russian singer, representing Estonia,“ inquired The television channel Zvezda had as its opening piece in the news „A Russian opera singer represents Estonia at Eurovision.“ (As in the Estonian language, the Russian phrase „Russian singer“ has two meanings: if it is written with a capital letter, it means the singer is Russian, with a small letter then it is someone of Russian ethnic background.  If the word is at the beginning of the sentence then it is left up to the reader to decide which it refers to.) As the Song contest approaches, we expect to see this type of usage increasing.

For an Estonian reader, it may seem odd that in all of these reflections Nechayev’s nationality or language is emphasized. If this type of discourse were used by Estonian media, it would not have as much attention in this way. Fortunately, time has passed here. In 2007. the state institution that dealt with the national integration policy was strangely called „ The Foundation for the integration of Non-Estonians.“ Currently when Postimees published an article with labeling info graphics where a red star, a sickle and hammer symbolized a section of Estonians, they were highly criticized. However, there are still articles in the media where it is considered necessary to mention that a person involved in a swindling operation spoke in Russian.

What can help to stop the use of ethnic identification in the media?

  • If the ethnic background, language or nationality are emphasized only in cases where it has an important link to the subject matter. In other cases, however the appearance of such features should be avoided. People should not be named on the basis of the language they are speaking or emphasizing ethnicity and citizenship or even worse making conclusions about them based on stereotypes.
  • By using terms that unite the inhabitants of Estonia. Propastop likes the word „eestimaalane“ (countryman or compatriot of Estonia) which means the uniting of all of the people living in Estonia, regardless of nationality or language. One of the advantages of the expression is that an equivalent word also exists in Russian, эстоноземелец. How could this phrase be spoken in English? Write your suggestions on Facebook commentaries.

Additional reading:

  • A posting that denounces the use of national flags as a symbol of languages on web pages.
  • Daniele Monticelli’s article in Eesti Express on possible names for „eestimaalased“
  • Helen Eelrand’s opinion article in Eesti Päevaleht, which talks about the lack of empathy in national and racial topics.

Pictures: screenshots from the articles cited in the story.