Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

Eero Medijainen


Estonia and the World

The rise of new nations is one of the central issues in the contemporary world. It is, however, difficult to find a clear and unequivocal theory that would satisfy all, and exhaustively explain a process as complex as that referred to as the birth of nations. Nationalist thinking is considered to possess certain characteristic patterns of thought or even dogmas, the most important being the belief that the division of all mankind into nationalities is a natural phenomenon, and that nationality is even, in global terms, the most important factor. Nationalists believe that every nationality has its own special and unique character that should be highly valued. Their worldview reflects the opinion that every person must identify with a certain nationality, because such an identity is indispensable for the achievement of freedom and the realisation of one's potential. Nationalists are certain that the development and strengthening of nation-states is a precondition for the achievement of freedom and harmony.

In this worldview, nationality is not defined merely by external features (language, customs, food, drink, etc.). The nature of a nationality only becomes apparent upon closer examination, in the same manner that in the natural sciences the determination of an animal's species takes place, or, in linguistics, the investigation of different languages. Belonging to a nation must be a conscious act; one must awaken, and become aware of, and develop that membership. The 19th century is known as the century of national awakening and the formation of nation-states.

In the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, another important feature, or so-called ethical aspect was added to the list of factors that shape national identity. This meant that each individual not only belonged to a particular nationality, but also faced certain obligations arising from that affiliation. There developed a conviction that the nation-state was the precondition for the survival of the nation, and that loyalty to the nation-state stands above man's other obligations.

The origins of the idea of the Estonian nation-state can be found in the works of important figures from the era of national awakening, for instance Lydia Koidula. They are even clearer, however, in the poem [Lark's song] by Andres Dido from 1882: [… and now we awaken from the slumber of serfdom, and must together rush off to war, as freedom shines before us, illuminating the Republic of Estonia.] Unfortunately, Dido's fate was arrest

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