The Paradoxes of an Active Citizen in a Post-Soviet Country
In 1991. Estonia changed over to market economy and the principle of rule of law, but the level of activity of citizen-associations did not rise but even fell. Only now eleven years later the development of citizen society is starting to take a more constructive nature. There are about 23 000 registered nongovernmental organisations and civil associations in Estonia at present. This isn’t little for a country of 1.5 million people. Alas many of these associations have been rather inactive and closed in themselves. They have organized small events, exchanged with associations in foreign countries, published books, dealt with adult education, charity etc.
Nevertheless most civil associations have not yet become to be equal partners to the state power, as is normal in civil societies.
More citizens' activity under the Soviet regime It may sound paradoxical but after the re-independence of Estonia in 1991 civil associations became even more passive than they had been under the Soviet regime. The Estonian Heritage Protection Society made claims that were often taken into consideration by the Soviet Estonian government. The founding of the Soviet Union’s largest phosphoresce mine in Estonia was cancelled following the requests of the Estonian Greens’ association. It is also a telling fact that most of the civil associations’ activists were elected to the parliament after the independence act of Estonia and some of them became ministers.
After Estonia’s independence its citizens’ activity lessened remarkably. Why, if the activeness of citizens is one of the main characteristics of a democratic society? One reason was in the most able and active members of civil associations going over to state work and their associations were simply left without leaders. Another and a more important reason was psychological. In an independent country the people also lost a discernible enemy against whom to organize oneself. It seemed as if the work of civil associations was done when Estonia became free. It had been very necessary to oppose oneself to the soviet power but opposition to your own government no longer seemed appropriate. At the same time even your own government is still a government and cooperation was not an option either. And thus came along a certain stagnation.
Little by little the realization came that the core of a free society lies in active and able civil associations and the Estonian civil associations began to get lively again.
Finally the Concept for the Estonian Civil Society Development (EKAK) was written following the example of the UK and Canada and this would support the active and aimed development of Estonian civil associations as well as enable partnership between the state apparatus and civil associations.
Towards a civil society In December 2002 the Concept for the Estonian Civil Society Development (EKAK) was approved by the Estonian parliament. From October 2003 the concept put in practice by a joint commission formed at the Ministry of Inner Affairs of civil associations and open sector. In reality this means that this commission is organizing the financial support of the more active civil associations and helping them to find activity partners. Expectantly we will soon be able to admit that Estonia has evolved into a civil society.
by Raivo Juurak