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 1991, over half a million citizens of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the egregious German-Russian (Ribbentrop/Molotov) agreement that gave these three countries to Russia in 1942 by forming an unbroken human chain across the three countries. This was a major event, both symbolically and in terms of the enormous effort and devotion it required. Yet virtually no one in the West heard much about this event, even though communications with the West by this time were vastly improved. The invasion of Crimea was covered extensive in the American press—would this also be the case today if Estonia were invaded once again by the Russians?

I personally witnessed the impact of ignorance and overlook on one of my colleagues from Estonia who was a successful physician. During the late 1990s, she decided to attend an international health care conference held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I accompanied her as she was checking in to the conference. The conference planners thoughtfully assigned participants to rooms at nearby hotels by nationality and first language (so that participants could easily communicate with one another in the evenings and at breakfast). Unfortunately, my colleague was assigned to the Russian group—since Estonia was once a part of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

My colleague was upset—quite angry—and was about to leave the conference and return to Estonia. I talked to those assigning the rooms and provided a brief history regarding the animosity among many Estonians about the Russian occupation of their country. Subsequently, my colleague was reassigned to rooms in a hotel that was populated by a group of English-speaking physicians from several Western European countries. She and I talked for a long time about how this ignorance of history and politics is to be found even among educated conference planners. The lingering sense of being ignored and being considered unimportant on the world stage was (and I suspect still is) a major concern in Estonia.

While Estonians have been concerned about this situation, they don’t seem to have done much about it and their inaction might contribute to the isolation and ignorance. At a fundamental level, the Estonians with whom I met during the 1990s, wanted most of all to be left alone. Unlike my colleague, Berne Weiss, who met a highly extraverted culture in Hungary, I met a culture in Estonia that was highly introverted (Bergquist and Weiss, 1994). The “Estonian dream” has long been to own and live on a farm that gives them the opportunity to devote most of their attention to their family and a few neighbors who live at a reasonable distance from their farm.

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