Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia

Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia

Authoritarianism was evident in Estonia when I was working in this country during the early 1990s (Bergquist and Weiss, 1994). It was manifest in the concern for reestablishing traditional and hierarchical models of authority—in the passivity of Estonian men and women as learners and as architects of their own personal and collective futures. Like many Eastern European countries (and many other countries for that matter) Estonia has traditionally been ruled by authoritarian hierarchies imposed from outside.

Some of the structural elements of communist ideological thinking are not far from traditional habits of mind in Estonia: authority (manifested in hierarchy), a strong positive valence placed on rational thought (scientism) and a tension between the rational/higher elements (associated with the West and Europe) and the dark, mysterious East’s impulses. I now turn briefly to the tensions inherent in these structural elements.

Authority and Freedom of Thought

Some of the Estonians I interviewed commented on feeling a new sense of freedom of thought after the liberation of their country. The thought police no longer controlled the public dialogue. The reality, however, is that the way in which people think and what people think about are influenced by forces more numerous and subtle than just the presence or absence of thought police. The cumulative history of habits of thinking precede the Communist era by at least four hundred years in Estonia. The historical narratives of this country are shaped by repeated invasions and occupations from both East and West.

These narratives, in turn, have a profound impact on the way in which political and societal discourse takes place and the content of this discourse. I asked the following question: Has your life changed since the political changes? The response was often: How much do you know about our history? And then our interviewees would often provide a brief summary of their history. The historical roots go so deep that they take on mystical and mythic overtones. Estonian thought is saturated with Estonian history–. as is the case in many (if not all) societies. While history and thought are often intertwined, I would suggest that there is some irony embedded in the Estonian narratives. They contain the seemingly contradictory themes of both individualism and collectivism.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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