Home Societal / Political Freedom Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia

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

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In the wake of socialism’s collapse, dissolution of the Soviet Union, and cold war’s end, the rise of nationalism was hardly surprising—much to the chagrin of political progressives and centrists. No one objects to expressions of love of country or a positive national identity. Those are essential ingredients of self-esteem. Concerns arose during the 1990s because the baggage that typically accompanies such patriotism includes xenophobia, aggressive posturing toward neighboring countries, and an updating of the catalogue of historical wrongs.

The possible outcome of such a dynamic is a quasi-amicable divorce, such as the one that occurred late in the 20th Century between the Czechs and the Slovaks, or a descent into barbarism, such as the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina (and many countries in Africa and more recently in the Mid-East). Once a process of nationalism is set in motion, it often takes its own course. People who have been denied any expression of national pride may well be carried to extremes when the prohibition is lifted. The paradox here is that freedom is the element that allows the revival of dormant passions; once revived, the passion of nationalism has been known to drown out the rational, slow thinking (Kahneman, 2011) that is essential for freedom.

Nationalism and Identity

National identity and autonomy were extremely important in Estonia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The citizens of this country were concerned about recognition by other countries and about the establishment of a clear and distinctive national identity. Self-esteem for men and women in this country was directly linked to national recognition. During my interviews, Estonians talked about the frequent invasion of their country and about other people’s lack of respect for their boundaries. their deep cultural roots, and their intellectual resources. They felt like they were on the outside, looking in, when being considered on the world stage. These concerns have continued to be voiced by Estonians during the first two decades of the 21st Century, as they have established their place in the European community.

This lingering concern for recognition in Estonia may be quite legitimate, given its long history of being overlooked and dismissed as a legitimate country, Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania are indeed located on the “outskirts” of Western Europe, and their inhabitants view their country as isolated and peripheral to major European events. I offer the following example from the 1990s of this overlooking of major affairs in the Baltic states by the rest of the world (or at least the American press).

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