Estonia: Identity and Independence

By Jean-Jacques Subrenat; David Cousins et al. | Go to book overview

Andrei Hvostov, Mart Laar, Harri Tiido


Historical Myth in National Identity
An exchange of ideas

Participants: Andrei Hvostov, Mart Laar. The discussion was chaired by Harri Tiido.

Tiido: When we speak of national identity, what is it we are actually talking about?

Hvostov: There exist two types of identity: a [me] identity and a [we] identity. Let us leave aside the [me] identity. The [we] type of identity can mean many things: the identity of the extended family, that of the tribe, or of the nation. In this context a nation is a product of thought. I am using as my point of departure Benedict Anderson and his book which appeared in the 1980s entitled [Imagined Communities.] In it he claims that our modern nations, as opposed to the traditional extended family or the tribe, are such a large body of people that even in such a small country as Estonia, it would be absurd to claim that one single person can know personally more than one tenth or even one hundredth of the population. The question arises as to what unites me with these other people whom I have never seen and presumably never will. It is a matter of the perception of the history and destiny which we hold in common. And in that case we are dealing with a construct.

Tiido:For me, having an identity is more a question of a feeling of [not us.] If a tribe lacks the awareness of the existence of another tribe, it will imagine itself to be unique, so the need for an identity will consequently be lacking too. When someone arrives who is not [one of us,] that moment forms the starting point of the shaping of an identity.

Laar: Looking at history, certain peoples have not come into being, despite the necessary circumstances being present, plus the them-and-us dichotomy. This is similar to the emergence of the feeling of ego in an individual when it opposes itself to other people. In the case of a nation we are often dealing with a psychological point in time, since at a particular moment a nation simply emerges from the growing awareness of itself. Of course, people have

-35-

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