Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia
This shift represents a major source of irony in contemporary European politics and culture. While European countries have been engaged for the past three decades in an elaborate dance to lower the barriers between nations and have successfully laid to rest centuries of inter-nation antagonism, they have also rediscovered or reinvented nationalism—especially with the threat of massive migration from the troubled Mid-East. Right-wing and xenophobic politics is to be found in all European countries. Some people seem to covet the right to express ill will toward their neighbors. After forty years of being in a superimposed alliance with historical adversaries, like being bound to a chain gang, people are venting their frustration in nationalistic rhetoric.
The Russian Question
The Estonian community is certainly not immune to this nationalist and often racist pull. For Estonians, however, this pull is more complex than is the cases in most other European countries (especially those in Western Europe). As in many other Eastern European countries, Estonia was filled with those from other countries who were assigned to work in Estonia by the Soviet regime. In particular, there was the large Russian population in Estonia—primarily located in Tallinn. What was to be done with these men, women and children? Are they Estonian citizens or should they be considered unwanted interlopers (and even invaders)?
These former Soviet citizens often did not migrate to Estonia on their own free will, but were coerced, complying with the Soviet master plan of workforce reassignments. For many of these migrants, Estonia had become home by the time of Estonian independence. Their children were fully enculturated (though often still taught to speak Russian and learn about Russian history). At least 500,000 “Russiophones” lived in Estonia following the Soviet collapse—this in a country with not much more than one million residents.
The issue of citizenship and political participation on the part of the Russian population in Estonia was complex and subject to major controversy. In the midst of this controversy we see the interplay I described earlier between nationalism and distorted identification, on the one hand, and thoughtful, compassion rationality, on the other hand. Both were operating in this re-established country following the Soviet collapse and came to the foreground in Estonian politics of the early 1990s. The issue was citizenship. Should those who came from Russia (and other former Soviet countries) be granted citizenship?