Ethnopolitical Conflict in Estonia
The pervasive crisis of the state socialist system in the Soviet Union and its satellites during the 1980s permitted the underlying conflict between the totalitarian political system and the historical needs of diverse, ethnically based communities to become manifest. Despite repeated attempts at forcible integration, the Baltic nations succeeded in preserving their identities, languages, and ethnically based cultures throughout the period of Soviet domination. The absence of alternative, nonpoliticized civil structures or democratic institutions made ethnic groups, and the nationalist movements that sought to represent them, appear to be the only possible basis for political action in the 1980s. As a result, ethnically based political movements played a decisive role in articulating and mobilizing the populace's collective anti-totalitarian and anti-imperial interests. Since the initial stages of the democratization process also favored an expansion of solidarity on the basis of ethnicity, most issues, whether social, political, or individual, rapidly became "ethnicized." 1
Contemporary Estonian ethnopolitical processes do not differ in any fundamental way from those that characterized the preceding, preindependence period. Instead, they represent the continuation of tendencies whose origins must be sought in Estonia's past. The history of ethnic conflict in the Baltic region as a whole is long and complex, with diverse economic, political, and cultural aspects. The key to this history, however, is the geopolitical position of the Baltic States. For centuries, the expansionist interests of neighboring Great Powers— Sweden, Poland, Germany, and Russia—collided on these territories. Over the past 250 years, Russia dominated the area, with the exception of German occupation during World Wars I and II and a twenty-year period of independence between those two conflicts.
With the collapse of the Soviet empire, independent statehood was restored in the Baltic, but there is no reason to think that Russia's interest in maintaining its position in the Baltic, and its access to the Baltic ports, has ceased to exist. Nevertheless, changes in both the East European political scene and the contemporary international system offer grounds for hope that the Great Powers can manage their political, economic, and trade relations in the contemporary period