Free at Last: Challenges Facing Those Who Are “Liberated”

Free at Last: Challenges Facing Those Who Are “Liberated”

The Experience of Freedom: Estonia

Many of the more reflective and thoughtful people I interviewed in Estonia acknowledged that they and their fellow citizens were frightened by the prospect of freedom—and were concerned about how they should respond to this new-found freedom. I wonder if similar concerns would be found among those who celebrated the “Arab Spring” more than a decade later. We know now, quite sadly, that many participants in and those opposed to the Arab Spring did not comport themselves very well. There were not only riots and destruction of property, but also political reprisals (including imprisonment and executions).

It seems that the challenge of freedom in Estonia and in the Arab countries produced quite different results. Why was this the case? Are there cultural differences (which could easily lead us to stereotyping and racial/cultural biases)? Perhaps, there were major, underlying religious (Muslim) schisms in the Arab countries that we don’t find in Estonia. This is an unlikely reason for the differences in reactions to freedom—given that Estonians come from both Protestant and Eastern Orthodox backgrounds. There is a long history of major tension between these two Christian churches. What, therefore, might be the reasons for these different societal reactions?

Estonians in the early 1990s acknowledged that they often express skepticism and pessimism –because they cannot yet cope either individually or collectively with the challenges accompanying freedom. For many years (and frankly many centuries) the Estonians have been subject to invasion and control by other countries (most recently, the Soviet Union). One of the Estonians I interviewed put it this way: “we {Estonians] don’t really think about or plan for the future, for the future of our country has long been in the hands of those who invaded and took over control of our country!” Now, things were potentially changing, as Estonia gained its independence.

The old rules were abandoned and the old structures collapsed. If anything endured, it was ephemeral: the values of a collective well-being and the sense of a shared destiny. The void in structures and laws had not yet been filled. Many of the men and women I interviewed recognized that they must now assume responsibility for their own actions. They could no longer look to or blame the leaders or bureaucrats that in many instances had been imposed on them from outside their country. To offer a bit of psychology at this point, we can point to a very important shift from an externa locus of control: “I don’t have much to say about my fate.” There was now an internal locus of control: “My fate is now in my own hands”. This shift requires a major cognitive and emotional shift in one’s psyche. This shift is often accompanied by retreat to an external control—an escape from freedom.


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About the Author

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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