The IMAGINE Estonian workshop focuses on some of the most salient issues of the Estonian belonging to Europe or “somewhere else” – the forever liminal space between the East and the West and its repercussions for both Estonia and Europe. It takes a multidisciplinary and historically broad approach to the construction of selfdom and otherness, identity and borders and their impact on both national and European understandings of sovereignty. It also asks the questions of contemporary constitutional practice and its understanding of sovereignty as necessarily shared and non-absolute. What might be the reasons and sources of such an understanding? Might postcolonial or post-soviet theory explain some of these developments? What are its ramifications for Estonia and lessons to Europe? These are just a few of the multitude of questions the IMAGINE Estonian workshop seeks to answer by gathering some of the most notable Estonian thinkers of the field.
Introduction to the workshop
Dr. Birgit Aasa: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, iCourts, University of Copenhagen
Keynote speech: “ The debate on the future of Europe: Why retaining national constitutional orders would be better both for Estonia and for the stability in Europe ”
Professor Anneli Albi, Professor of Comparative Constitutional and European Law, University of Kent Law School
Sovereignty and small-nation cognition
Hent Kalmo, Research Fellow, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, Legal Adviser to the Estonian President
Discussant: Julia Laffranque, Justice, Supreme Court of Estonia, former judge at the ECtHR
The presentation addresses the question of the extent to which perceptions of statehood and sovereignty in Estonia have been influenced by the experience of Soviet occupation. I argue that in order to understand the constitutional culture of Estonia, it is important to take into account the deeper roots of the historic imaginary, which can be summed up by taking inspiration from Hans Kruus as a “small-nation cognition”. This explains why there has been a double attitude towards sovereignty in Estonia: on the one hand, sovereignty is valued as a shield of national culture and the state, and on the other hand, there is a readiness for pragmatic compromises for the transfer of sovereignty. The presentation takes as a guide the idea based already in the first Estonian constitution that the Estonian state is “independent” and “sovereign”. I will show how this expression has been interpreted and how the experience of the 1940s and 1980s added to it the affirmation that Estonia’s independence and sovereignty are “timeless and inalienable”. I will try to explain why this seemingly very souverainiste provision was not seen as an obstacle to Estonia’s accession to the European Union. I also examine why the Estonian Supreme Court has not tried to create restrictions on the application of European Union law. I argue that the emphasis on sovereignty observed not only in Estonia today, but also in Central and Eastern Europe more broadly, is not a sign of a post-communist or souverainiste culture, but is rather explained by a peculiar sense of danger associated with small-state cognition.
Vicarious sovereignty: Becoming European the Estonian way
Maria Mälksoo, Senior Researcher, University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science
Discussant: Hent Kalmo, Research Fellow, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, Legal Adviser to the Estonian President
Vicarious identification, or ‘living through another’ refers to the way actors appropriate the achievements and experiences of others to gain a sense of purpose, self-identity and self-esteem (Browning et al. 2021). This paper proposes that vicarious identification with ‘Europe’ has been constitutive for Estonia’s pooling of important aspects of its sovereign power with the European Union (EU) while retaining a strong nominal commitment to absolute sovereignty in its national constitution. Accordingly, the delegation of the sovereign authority of the state in essential aspects to the EU emerges as a generally accepted trade-off for a sense of ontological security attained through membership in a key Western polity. Put differently, submitting oneself to the ‘EU rule’ is widely deemed to make it possible for Estonia ‘to be’ in the first place (cf. Ringmar 1995: 38). The paper links the social-psychological concept of vicarious identification with the recent International Relations (IR) debates on late sovereign practices and ontological security-seeking, drawing on the empirical example of Estonia’s post-Soviet ‘home-coming’ in Europe, and its related anxiety management mechanisms vis-à-vis shared practices of sovereignty. I conceptualise vicarious sovereignty and illustrate the reconciliation attempts of ideal-typical sovereign state subjectivity with the evolving empirical reality of the EU. This is done via tapping into the visions of Europe, as articulated by the defining Estonian constitutional ‘map-makers’ at the time of the Convention on the Future of Europe (2001-2003): namely, Lennart Meri, Tunne Kelam, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Altered Otherizations: Significant Others in Estonian History Textbooks
Heiko Pääbo, Lecturer, Head of the Centre for Baltic Studies, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
Discussant: Maria Mälksoo, Senior Researcher, University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science
In Estonian history, the important Others of Estonians are Germans and Russians, against whom the identity of Estonians is constructed. Our significant non-national mirror images have been constantly changing since the 1990s. In this paper, I focus on the image of Germans and Russians or Germany and Russia in Estonian history textbooks at the high-school level, with a focus on the latest generation of textbooks. The presentation points out that the image of the Germans has become less and less negative and at times it resembles our national narrative, while the image of the Russians is also softening, but it has remained more negative than that of the Germans.
Postcolonial Constitutional Thinking in Europe: The Phenomenon of the Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities in Estonia
Piret Peiker, Research Fellow, Tallinn University School of Humanities
Discussant: Marju Luts-Sootak, Professor of Legal History, University of Tartu, Faculty of Law
My research offers to look at Central and Eastern European legislation from the perspective of postcolonial theory. The reason is the desire to emphasize that the concept of statehood in this region has developed differently, much more precariously from the “Old Europe” and therefore the legislation must be viewed in the context of this political as well as intellectual history. The focus of the paper is the question: what happens after independence? Postcolonial studies focus predominantly (albeit with significant exceptions) on the colonial period and the well-being of colonial diasporas. It is my interest to study how a newly sovereign state builds a constitutional state after liberation from foreign rule and what the typical problems are. War is won, but how to win peace? The solution for national minorities that has emerged as a result of years of debate in Estonia differs from the usual ones in Europe after the Versailles conference.
From “Self-Management” to “Sovereignty”: The Power of Concepts in the ESSR (1987-88)
Juhan Saharov, Research Fellow in Political Theory, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
Discussant: Kaarel Piirimäe, Associate Professor of Contemporary History, University of Tartu, Institute of History and Archeology
During the period of middle perestroika (1987-88), the concept of „sovereignty“ emerged as the most powerful legal weapon for Baltic republics for declaring their laws` primacy over Moscow`s rule. Edward D. Walker has even said that “sovereignty [as a concept] killed the Soviet Union” (Walker 2003: 1). It was highly acknowledged by Boris Yeltsin, according to whom “as soon as the word “sovereignty“ resounded in the air, the last hour of the Soviet empire was chiming” (Yeltsin 1994: 112). Thus, besides the well-known „Gorbachev factor“, there was an influential „sovereignty factor“ behind the disintegration of the Soviet empire. While the importance of this factor on the empire`s dissolution has been acknowledged by now, some of the questions remain unanswered. Why did the sovereignty declaration happen first in Estonia and not in the other Soviet republics? And how did the concept of „sovereignty“ rise to prominence in Estonia in late 1987 at all? For answering those questions, the presentation highlights the important role of preceding conceptual processes in the ESSR, especially the invention of territorial „self-management“ (isemajandamine) in September 1987. More generally, the presentation shows the benefits of the conceptual history approach for tackling the 1989 revolutions.
Changes in Estonians’ European imaginaries: From the Soviet period to the present day
Epp Annus, Associate Professor, Tallinn University School of Humanities; Lecturer, Ohio State University, Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures
Discussant: David Ilmar Lepasaar Beecher, Lecturer in Political Thought and Cultural History, University of Tartu, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
This presentation proceeds from a multi-scalar understanding of culture: cultural meaning-making unfolds through the interaction and reciprocal impact of the local, regional (USSR, European), and global scales of sociopolitical realities. During the Soviet era, the cultural scale of Europeanness was to a certain extent deactivated: instead of “Europe,” the imaginary category of “the West” provided a counterpoint to “Sovietness.” At the same time, cultural analysis reveals a hazy category of tacit, internalized Europeanness, perceivable mostly in its contrast with certain imaginaries of Russianness. This tacit imaginary of Europeanness included class and cultural competency, knowledge of European cultural traditions, yet it was only weakly correlated (if at all) to the latest cultural developments in Europe: it lacked a dialogical dimension.
The argumentation is supported by examples from Lilli Promet’s travel novel “Primavera” (1971) and makes use of life-writing in various formats. The question of Europeanness is linked to the complex issue of Soviet modernity-coloniality.