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  • Estonia:Old Maps and New Roads
  • Vello A. Pettai (bio)

On 5 October 1992, the seventh Riigikogu (State Assembly) of the Republic of Estonia met in the capital of Tallinn after a 52-year-long "recess" A declaration issued that day proclaimed that the "constitutional authority" of the Republic of Estonia had finally been restored after more than a half-century of Soviet rule. Nationwide elections held two weeks earlier had revived the Riigikogu as Estonia's highest political authority, just as it had been during the country's first period of independence, which lasted from 1918 to 1940. Banished now in their turn from the political lexicon were the Soviets, Presidiums, and Central Committees that had ruled the country since 1940.

The restoration of the prewar parliament was but one of many legal steps that Estonia took in 1991-92 to try to deal with the legacies of Soviet rule. In October 1992, the neighboring Baltic republic of Lithuania also restored its old parliament, the Seimas, while Latvia scheduled new elections for 1993. A striking divergence developed between Estonia and Lithuania, as Estonia voted in a staunchly anticommunist majority, while Lithuania restored to power the ex-Communist (but pro-independence) Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party. All three states, however, remained committed to leaving behind their Soviet past, founded on the notorious 1939 deal between Hitler and Stalin that handed the tiny Baltic states over to Soviet control. Yet if the appeal to right "one of the last unresolved problems of World War II" resonated powerfully both at home and abroad as an argument for restoring independence, its implications for the structuring of postindependence society and democracy have proven more problematic. [End Page 117]

In claiming for itself the legitimacy, foundations, and (in some cases) assets of the prewar republic, Estonia has been able to draw upon a much more usable past in the post-Soviet era than most other former Soviet republics. Yet having an old roadmap to help chart the country's exit from communism has not necessarily made that journey any less complicated. As is becoming apparent in Estonia, the legacies of its prewar experience must also prove tenable in the present.

The official results from the September 20 elections indicated that 68 percent of eligible voters took part. The word "eligible" has particular significance here, for in these "restorative elections" only original citizens of the prewar republic and their descendants were allowed to vote. Excluded from the poll were all those who had settled in Estonia during the Soviet era, meaning mostly (though not exclusively) ethnic Russians. Thus the true electorate amounted to only 660,000 people out of a voting-age population of over 1.1 million and a total population of 1.6 million.

The decision to bar all Soviet-era immigrants from automatic citizenship in the restored state was based on the technical argument that these people had settled in Estonia illegally while the country was under Soviet "occupation and annexation." On this view, consistency demanded that the immigrants be "naturalized" according to specific residency and language requirements. These requirements were in turn derived from Estonia's 1938 Citizenship Law, which was formally reenacted in February 1992. This law set down a minimum two-year residency requirement (retroactive to 30 March 1990), along with a 1500-word language-test requirement. In addition, the law required a one-year waiting period for processing any citizenship applications dated after its passage. It was this one-year waiting period that made it impossible for most immigrants to gain eligibility by the time of the September 20 elections.

The elections themselves—as distinguished from the rules governing who could vote—were judged "fair and free" by observers from the Council of Europe. The contest for the 101-seat Riigikogu yielded a center-right government dominated by the Isamaa (Fatherland) coalition of conservative, promarket reform parties (see Table 1). The left-leaning Popular Front, together with the Secure Home bloc of former members of the communist nomenklatura, constitutes the principal opposition. Two smaller coalitions also succeeded in surpassing the 5-percent popular vote minimum needed to gain representation. On the right, the Estonian Citizens' Bloc appealed for stricter adherence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 117-125
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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