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

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

Distorted Identification

There is much more to be said about the nature of authoritarianism. As Edward Shils (1954) suggested, authoritarianism is quite complex. He reminds us that political movements and authoritarian regimes are never made up of people with specific personalities. Rather, they are constituted of people with many different motives, aspirations, and personal characteristics. This is particularly important to bear in mind when examining Estonian society, for many Russians were exported to Estonia after World War II. By the early 1990s, they considered Estonia to be home–though they were still loyal to Russia and brought Russian culture to Estonia, including the Russian language (which was the official government-imposed language to be spoken in Estonia). This complex interweaving of cultures might account for some of the contradictions and sources of ambivalence I noted among Estonians during the early 1990s.

I suspect, however, that the ambivalence and contradictions I witnessed went beyond the competing perspectives of diverse constituencies. I believe that there were many intra-psychic contradictions at play—some of which I have just identified in turning to the work of Wilfred Bion. There was profound irrational swirling around Estonia at every level during the early 1990. The container for diffuse anxiety, that I identified earlier, was not consistently present. Even with a wish, at some level, for the old Soviet structure and security, there was the reality of a collapsing Soviet system.

Identifying with the Aggressor

Nothing was making much sense. Uncertainty reigned supreme. Conditions were ripe for an even deeper ambivalence regarding the Russian “aggressors.” This was not just because Estonians might have ultimately preferred Russian occupation over complete chaos – and may have historically preferred Russian occupation over German occupation (a difficult choice they had to make—who is the best “occupier”?). It goes much deeper than this. There may have been a psychological process in place that is known as identification with the aggressor. This very disturbing process has been described by Victor Frankl (2006) and others who have tried to make sense of the experiences of concentration camp survivors.


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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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