Civil society in the new and old Europe


Estonian researchers found out that Finnish civil society organizations have a far bigger influence in the Estonian civil society than the Estonian organizations have in Finland. This is a problem in all former socialist countries, as long as the civil societies remain underdeveloped, the relations between the new and the old Europe are necessarily asymmetric.

Brotherly countries Estonia and Finland

The political structure of the two neighbouring countries Estonia and Finland is very similar. Both being democracies, members of EU; Estonia and Finland have an equally large number of nongovernmental organisations, associations, and labour unions. But there is a big difference between Estonia and Finland – namely, Finnish people value their civic society and citizen organisations more than Estonians do.
Finnish citizen organizations have long traditions. Finnish people have used civil organizations to establish contacts between people with similar interests, to find jobs, to lobby in the spheres of social and political life etc already since a hundred years. In Estonia, on the other hand, the civil society is a relatively new phenomenon and therefore still underdeveloped. There are a lot of non-governmental organizations in Estonia, too, but most of them have been established in order to get money from EU funds or support from the Estonian state. Personal relations are still much more effective and valuable than citizen organisations. That is why some Estonian social scientists wonder if nongovernmental organizations represent Estonian civil society at all.
Most Estonians are seriously surprised when they are told that their attitudes towards non-governmental associations have an impact on the political and economical possibilities of these associations.

Organisations, church, school

Finnish people living and working in Estonia have founded a club of Finnish entrepreneurs, Finnish Chamber of Commerce, several clubs for Finnish women. They also have also a church congregation and a school in Tallinn. In this way the Finns have established their presence and have a certain influence on the Estonian society through their citizen organizations.
At the same time Estonians living in Finland have nothing like a club of Estonian entrepreneurs or Estonian women organization, Estonian church congregation, or Estonian school in Finland. Estonian people in Finland rely mostly on diasporic contacts - colleagues, current and former study-mates, relatives etc are more important than participation in the Finnish society through citizen organisations. A few Estonian white-collar workers value active Estonian citizenship in Finland. For example Estonian doctors have tried to establish contacts between one another. But most Estonian people in Finland only meet other Estonians in order to celebrate midsummer, Christmas and the Estonian Independence Day. They have also organized an Estonian-language summer school.

An underdeveloped civil society inhibits integration

In Finland social networks are mostly based on active citizen organisations, while in Estonia, they are based on personal relations. This means that Finns have more influence on the Estonian civil society than Estonians have in Finland. But at the same time Finns in Estonia cannot get fully integrated into the Estonian society. Since Estonians set personal relations before cooperation on the level of civil societies, Finns who do not have Estonian friends and acquaintances cannot enter into Estonian society at all. Most of the Russian-speaking people in Estonia are not well integrated into the Estonian society because they lack good acquaintances in the Estonian society.