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 in many other countries around the world, there was an excluded population (the “other”) that had no political power. While in some countries, such as Israel, the “other” population is the original occupant of the land, for Estonians (as well as many other Eastern Europeans) the “other” are people who “invaded” their homeland. Nationalism can flourish when this narrative of invasion is conveyed on a consistent and persuasive basis. The narrative can become one of the dominant myths identified by Gross (1980)—only it is a narrative that is specific to Estonia and other Eastern European countries.

Politics and Policy

For Estonians, the boiling point came in 1993, when a law was passed that regulated the status of noncitizens (mostly Russians) in their country. Russians in Estonia declared that the new law was discriminatory. Their outrage was shared by leaders of many other Western countries (including the United States and other members of the European Union). A Nationalities Roundtable was established with some outside funding. Thoughtful, compassionate deliberations were to overturn irrational, xenophobic nationalism.

Unfortunately, the roundtable had little impact. It was irrational political pressure that led to overturning of the law. It seems that political pressure has often won the day in Estonia (and many other Eastern European countries that have re-invented themselves after the Soviet collapse). While democracy is solidly established in Estonia, there is a great deal of volatility in the Estonian political process with the creation and dissolution of many political parties and shifting alliances among the parties that do exist. In part, this volatility resulted initially from the successful engagement of many young, inexperienced citizens in Estonian politics. Leadership was provided by 30 something women and men. While these young leaders brought in radical and often refreshing ideas about the environment and social justice, they also came to governmental services with little political acumen.

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