Cultural autonomy of national minorities and cultural self-government in the Republic of Estonia

​The law on cultural autonomy for national minorities adopted in 1925 enabled national minorities numbering at least 3000 to establish a public law national cultural self-government. In order to qualify, the minority nationality had to be included in a special list of nationalities; the principle was individuals’ free choice in deciding their nationality. The bodies of cultural self-government were a cultural council (‘national parliament’), cultural government (executive and representative bodies) and local cultural boards of trustees.

The duties of the cultural self-government included the management and supervision of public and private educational institutions of the national minority, issues of culture, sport and young people. The public schools (up to upper secondary school) were financed from the state budget; maintaining private schools and cultural activities were covered by donations and taxes, which a cultural self-government could establish for its members. The decisions and mandatory regulations passed by cultural self-governments did not require confirmation by the Estonian government, although the latter had an extensive right to supervise the activities of cultural self-governments.

Cultural autonomy in the Republic of Estonia was enjoyed by Baltic Germans between 1925 and 1939, and by Jews between 1926 and 1940. The phenomenon was exceptional in Europe and earned a great deal of international acclaim.

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