Authority, Identification and Nationalism: The Future of Freedom in Estonia
This harsh version of identification with the aggressor is the extreme form of the projective identification process I presented in an earlier essay (Bergquist, 2020b): one reassigns one’s own unique strengths and potentials to the leader and, as a result, diminishes or even destroys one’s own sense of self-worth and one’s own distinctive identity. The leader’s persona is assumed by all those who are under this person’s power. The old realities are confiscated, and the leader’s new “truth” becomes normative as the dominant social construction of reality. The identity of the aggressor thus become the identity of those who have been oppressed by the aggressor. This hard authoritarianism might have been operating in Estonia during the early 1990s – and perhaps is still operating in Estonia. This very ugly hard authoritarianism is certainly operating in many other societies today – especially those in which there is profound personal and collective stress and uncertainty.
Identifying with Consumption
It is not only the aggressor to which we are often pulled when living under conditions of societal stress. We are also pulled to a much less harsh, but ultimately just as alienating, form of identification. We are absorbed into the world of goods and services. We come to identify ourselves with what we own and turn to authoritarian rule if this rule promises that the goods and services will continue to arrive at our front door. This is soft authoritarianism. We lose ourselves while shopping. Our sense of self is shrunk, via marketing, to the size of a touted box of cereal or new, miracle cleaning fluid.
What about in Estonia? Was soft authoritarianism prevalent in the 1990s version of Estonia and is it still present? As Berne Weiss and I noted in our 1990s assessment of life in Estonia and Hungary (Bergquist and Weiss, 1994), this type of soft authoritarianism seemed to be manifested in the Estonian (and Hungarian) valuing of very concrete and highly tangible goods and services.
Given the elusive character of truth during the Soviet era, men and women in Estonia and Hungary seemed to rely on the goods and services that they could see, feel, and taste. They looked for the purchase of products manufactured in the West—having been lured to these products by the radio and television broadcasting that emanated from non-Soviet countries (despite Soviet attempts to block this communication). Freedom now meant that goods could actually be delivered and consumed rather than just promised via the latest five-year Soviet plan.