Friday, November 18, 2011

Estonian Egalitarianism (= success)

One of the most attractive features of Estonian society is the complete lack of anything that could be described as social hierarchy. Even in countries smaller than Estonia a great deal of pomp is given to the political leaders- large numbers of bodyguards, police outriders on motorcades, government jets and all the toys of the powerful. In Estonia the ministers fly commercial and the level of security is minimally discreet.


Talking last night to a friend who is the head of one of the largest local banks, he remarked on the fact that Estonians do not feel constrained by different levels of wealth- money is not a social barrier. There are creative people who have very little money, but they may still socialize with business leaders, indeed artists or writers have their own clubs, and an invitation to visit is quite prized- and is not a function of price in the slightest.


I suppose this egalitarianism is a function of the long periods when Estonians were an undifferentiated mass of peasantry, and even when some were able to become freeholders or even move into the professional classes in the 19th century, they kept their roots in the land. Of course the occupation too undermined the political power of the wealthy, mostly by stealing most things of value. 


Even still, the open access that Estonians have to their political and economic leaders is appealing. I saw the Prime Minister out practicing his skiing before the snows come- though I was not aware he injured himself. 


This egalitarianism is a very stubborn root, and clearly is a part of Estonian political culture that nurtures the highest democratic values. Whether it comes from Lutheranism, from education or indeed from "peasant values", it is one reason why corruption is generally held in check. The kind of blatant theft that is obvious in Russia could not be tolerated in Estonia. Though, doubtless there are plenty of self-serving and venial politicians in the Estonian political class- the vast majority are not. Where a political figure comes under question, there is a clear question of disgrace and shame: not, most assuredly the case in many other countries.


So Estonians are educated, open minded and egalitarian. It certainly helps explain the radicalism of Estonian Liberalism- and its electoral success.


After I penned this article I noticed the latest piece from the excellent Eastern Approaches blog from The Economist. 

2 comments:

Jüri Saar said...

Just because something takes a different form doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I urge you took look more carefuly at how Estonians talk and socialize with the local Russians. This also seems to have unfortunate implications for the liberalization of immigration policy and the ability to keep younger Estonians expecting more variety for leaving for greener pastures.

Cicero said...

Fair point, I think that Estonians do respond differently to Russians, and also to me, as another non-Estonian, but I don't think that changes how they interact with one another. So while I think you have a point that Estonian society is not notably diverse, it IS notably anti-hierarchy, and that is really the point I am making. Compared to Lithuania, which is quite a hierarchical country,built on Catholic rather than Protestant principles, Estonia has a pretty small emigration. I think those two issue are closely linked. At least in Estonia the young still play a big role in society, even if that role is not as big as it was, say 20 year ago. In Lithuania the emigration is more like 30% than 5%, because the younger generation do not feel that they can control their own destiny, the way young Estonians can and largely do.