Academic journal article Trames

The Changes in Attitudes towards Justice in Estonian Society during the Period of 1991-2005

Academic journal article Trames

The Changes in Attitudes towards Justice in Estonian Society during the Period of 1991-2005

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the matter of perceiving justice Estonia deserves heightened attention due to the eventful last decades. A transformation began in the beginning of the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed--within a short period of time Estonian society changed fundamentally. The former member of the Soviet Union had become a member of European Union, equipotent with other democratic countries. Hence the period from 1991 to 2005 is of great importance as it was the time of transition--Estonia shifted from socialist society to market society, different in many ways. Changes in societal level rarely occur without affecting people and their value judgements. Therefore the aim of this paper is to answer the question of whether and to what extent the attitudes towards justice changed during the period from 1991 to 2005. In addition to providing a descriptive picture of how justice beliefs and attitudes have been shaped in the transition years, people's socio-economic position on justice beliefs is also taken into consideration. Therefore the differences in attitudes among people with various socio-economic characteristics have been examined.

According to the conceptual framework of the International Social Justice Project (international research project about justice beliefs in 12 countries from 1989 to 1996, headed by J. R. Kluegel and D. S. Mason), egalitarian principles are common in former communist countries (socialist ideology) and inegalitarian principles represent the western way of thinking (capitalist ideology). Egalitarianism supports equality and the role of the state is very important. Inegalitarianism supports the principles of free market and competition. During the period of transition the duality of egalitarian and inegalitarian principles came forth more expressively in Estonia and other postcommunist countries. The conceptions and interpretations of the International Social Justice Project and their validity in Estonian society are tested in this paper.

The analysis relies on the data gathered under two different projects sharing a common conceptual framework. The International Social Justice Project is the source of the data for 1991, while the data for 2005 originate from the Estonian Science Foundation's project "Social Justice in Estonian society: changing perceptions of new generations".

2. Theoretical conceptions of social justice

There are many ways to define justice. This paper is based on a conception established by John Rawls, who sees justice as a policy of distributing goods--economic products, fundamental rights and duties (Rawls 1971:10). In political philosophy there are different conceptions of justice which are characterised by different distribution principles. There are four major theories of distributive justice: Karl Marx represents egalitarianism (equality and small differences in income), John Rawls stands for contractarianism (justice as fairness, equal opportunities, and inequality being fair just only to the extent that it benefits the least advantaged), the main representatives of utilitarianism are Bentham and Mills (the greatest good to the greatest number of people), and libertarianism is represented by Robert Nozick (the proportionality of rewards to effort) (Plionis & Plionis 2000:37).

The main concern of the above-mentioned normative theories of distributive justice is looking for an answer to the question of what makes a society just, what ought to be--what the society should be like?. Empirical justice theory and research, on the other hand, concerns the "what is" dimension and does not try to explain what a fair society should be like, describing the real situation instead (Kluegel et al. 1995:3). Still, the philosophical notions of justice can be combined with the justice beliefs people actually hold.

Modern societies have adopted distribution systems which include principles of egalitarianism, contractarianism, utilitarianism and libertarianism or combinations of these. …

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