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

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

The Irony of Individualism

There was always an authoritarianism residing in the history and blood of Estonia. Nevertheless, Communist authoritarianism and the efforts of communists to build a governmental system ruled by the “workers” were always alien to Estonians. A strong Protestant emphasis on individuality and individual relationships with God (Weber, 1958), has always been dominant in this country.

Yet even with the strong emphasis on individualism and the Lutheran disdain for truth mediated through formal authority and hierarchy, there is still a solid tradition of authoritarianism in Estonia. A social critic, Tiit, whom I interviewed indicated that “many years of socialism have led us as a people to look for authority outside ourselves.” He also noted sadly how a Nobel nominee in his country sits passively in the Estonian legislature, relying on guidance of his political party leaders.

The tradition of authoritarianism can also undoubtedly be traced back to the frequent occupation of Estonia by other countries and cultures that are strongly authoritarian: Germany, Poland, and Russia. This is where history and thought intermingle in Estonia. While the Estonians I interviewed have long desired to be left alone to tend to their farms and families, they are accustomed to invaders who bring authoritarian structures with them. The invaders often provide the stable and efficient government and public services that Estonians themselves—with their dislike for collective action—appreciate.

Estonians have seemingly been glad to delegate authority to outside people—though obviously they would much prefer to delegate these tasks to their countryfolk rather than invaders with foreign customs and values. An outside observer, Alexander Theroux (2011, p. 37), put it this way:

Estonians, arguably, were—are—shyly obedient. Dutiful. Highly serious. Earnest beyond words. The concepts all tend to merge. . . . May one suggest that as a nation, the people [of Estonia] are too regulated, too orderly? The restlessness is certainly there, the pride, no question about the anger, but what about the concentrate discipline to revolt?


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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