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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As Leili, a seventy-year -old former work camp inmate, observed, “Estonians are inclined to live inside themselves [and) always hold themselves back.” This introversion is coupled with the unique culture of Estonia to create a pull toward isolation and a defense of national boundaries. The Estonian culture is very old, and Estonians are particularly concerned that their deep cultural heritage and language may be lost or at least ignored. This is particularly the case if Estonia is occupied once again by outsiders who insist on imposing their own culture and language on the Estonian people.

It is also important to note that the isolation of Estonia and outside ignorance regarding its history and heritage might be exacerbated by the challenge of language. Estonians speak a language that is spoken by very few other people in the world. During my interviews, the question of language was often posed: how do we get people to understand us if they can’t speak our language? Do we abandon our own distinctive language and always speak their language in order to communicate?

This concern was quite legitimate, given that Estonians were required to speak Russian during the Soviet era–which was very offensive to everyone. Alternatively, they could speak English—especially if they were to interact with their neighbors in Latvia and Lithuania. In what much of the world refers to generically as the Baltics, these three countries have languages that are quite different from each other. National identity was (and still seems to be) very important to Estonians because of their distinctive language, as well as their rich history and heritage (as conveyed through such venues as their music, dance, dress and architecture).

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