Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Social Contradictions Shadowing Estonia's "Success Story"

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Social Contradictions Shadowing Estonia's "Success Story"

Article excerpt


On 23 April 2001, the Estonian media publicized an appeal drafted by twentysix Estonian social scientists titled "Two Estonias." The main message of this dramatic document asserted that:

   Estonian society [has] run into [a] political, social, and ethical
   crisis. Governance is alienated from the people to the extent that
   we have to speak about two different Estonias. Two-thirds of
   Estonian children grow up in poverty, people suffer from the lack of
   basic security, many young people want to leave the country ... as
   long as most of the steam is used to create for foreigners a
   glamorous illusionary image of Estonia as a successful developed
   country, social problems will not find solutions. (Postimees)

Despite Estonia's comparatively good economic indicators of GDP growth and its position among the most advanced reform EU candidate countries, April 2001 opinion polls reported the lowest level of trust in the center-right government in the entire decade of independence (28 percent). Arnold Ruutel, a candidate with a Communist past, won the September 2001 presidential election. His success was interpreted as a victory of the "second Estonia." In the beginning of 2002, his government resigned. The new government included left-of-center populist forces, but it introduced no major changes in social policy. The parliamentary elections in March 2003 showed that the majority of voters expected major changes in the policy of providing more security. A political newcomer, the conservative party "Res Publica," promised "new politics" with the keywords of "order," "responsibility," and "security" from its highly populist campaign.

A decade of liberal reforms turned a devastated post-Soviet country into a nation highly regarded in international standards of freedom, democracy, and Marju Lauristin is a professor of political communication in the department of journalism and communication at Tartu University. Her main research area covers political and cultural factors of post-Communist transformations. From 1988 to 1994, she played an active role in Estonia's political changes as one of the leaders of the Popular Front, deputy speaker of the Parliament, and minister of social affairs. From 1999 to 2003 she served as a member of Parliament. market economy (see Hansen and Sorsa 1994; De Melo, Denizer, and Gelb 1996; Michalopoulos and Tarr 1996; Feldmann 2000; Norgaard 2000; Karatnycky, Motyl and Schnetzer 2001; Panagiotou 2001). The social cost of this transition appeared as a focus of the domestic political agenda. Estonian reformers succeeded in the field of economic stabilization and growth, but they were not able to maintain a high level of public trust in reform policy. Estonia is not the only reform country in Central and Eastern Europe to face this issue. Kolodko (2001) mentions the slow rise of the living standard and increasing social dissatisfaction compared to the economic growth as a general feature of the post-Communist countries: "despite a high rate of growth, the living standard in the region was not improving fast enough ... (at least from the perspective of people's expectations), improvement in the standard of living was too slow and was causing increasing social dissatisfaction, which in turn led to a further loss of momentum.... the socio-political system of the CPEs got out of balance, despite a not-that-low rate of overall production growth [where economic achievements have not been followed with the same level of success in social areas]."

The social cost of reforms in Estonia had been very high indeed, and World Bank analysts recognized this fact (World Bank 1997; Milanovic 1998). Estonia's GINI index (0.38 in 2001) had grown to the highest level among Central and Eastern European EU candidate countries, indicating income disparities (Aslund 2002, 311).

Until 2002, social justice was a secondary priority of the successive Estonian governments compared to the primary national goals to "forever" secure national security by joining NATO; to lay the fundamental structures for economic growth through hard monetary policy and full market liberalization; and to achieve a stable political and economic environment in the prosperous family of Western countries by joining the EU. …

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