- Intersections of Feminisms and NeoliberalismPost-State-Socialist Estonia in a Transnational Feminist Framework
The first European Feminist Research Conference took place in August 1991 in Aalborg, Denmark. More than ninety women from Eastern Europe were invited as well, including several women from Estonia, for whom this was their first trip abroad and their first encounter with international academic feminist circles. In an emotional interview, a sociologist from Estonia recalled arriving at the conference center on August 19 to find Eastern European women crying.1 There was panic, fear and despair. She recounted that CNN was only showing news from Moscow and there was silence about what was happening in the Baltic states. The organizers were compassionate and trying to be helpful but did not fully grasp the circumstances. The contrast between the day and the night was indescribable: during the day, sitting among hundreds of European feminists, being taken aback by the variety of issues that seemed totally alien to her, and at night, sitting by the phone, trying to reach her loved ones back home in the heady days when Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union.
This scene from the oral history project that traces the various trajectories of Estonian feminisms since the 1990s evokes the turbulent context of postsocialist transformations in which feminism reemerged in Estonia.2 Building on this research, we are interested in exploring the changing position of Estonian feminisms within the post-state-socialist period, characterized by predominance of a neoliberal ethos in the political sphere.3 In particular, we anchor our discussion in the complex interplay of various localized feminisms and the country's neoliberal consensus. The neoliberal framework has also shaped the development of alternative social philosophies and movements, among them feminisms largely focused on individual rights of women in a context that has discouraged economic and class-based critiques. This creates interesting parallels with recent US analyses on the emergence of neoliberal feminism and its role in the erosion of social justice.4 For example, Hester Eisenstein [End Page 1] claims that feminist vocabulary of women's personal empowerment has been used to facilitate neoliberal globalization.5 In Estonia, we suggest, the neoliberal context has created feminisms that have gradually expanded out of the narrow confines of "feminism-by-design" that is aligned with the agenda of the neoliberal elites of the country toward eventually gaining a more radical voice to raise uncomfortable questions about economic inequality and global power relations.
As our opening story indicates, the reemergence of Estonian feminism is inextricably interwoven with the narratives of Estonia regaining independence from the Soviet regime, and it exists in a larger transnational context that both embraces and misreads it. We believe that focusing our discussion on the intersections of feminisms and neoliberalism in the Estonian context also raises a larger question of how to talk about issues at the level of the nation-state in the wider context of transnational feminist theory that has, from its inception, been committed to breaking from nation-centric visions of the world and to "destabilizing fixed geographies and seeing the intersections and hybridity of power."6 While feminist praxis in Estonia has been enriched by international academic and activist knowledge-formation, it has at the same time remained very Estonia-centered and Eurocentric. The prevalent focus on the nation-state and (Western) Europe has thus discouraged critical dialogues between Estonian feminists and transnational feminist theory. As a result, the failure to engage with critical transnational feminist paradigms has cut feminist discourses in Estonia off from productive critiques of coloniality and neoliberalism, at least until recently.
Another broader issue we engage with is that most transnational feminist analyses have tended to marginalize the perspectives from post-state-socialist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).7 They thereby become complicit in erasing certain parts of the world, and ways of life, from the realm of relevant knowledge.8 According to Jennifer Suchland, for instance, the critical language of transnational feminism recreates Cold War–era "three-worlds metageography" in its articulation of place, difference, and power, conflating the "third world" with the "transnational."9 Suchland sees the reasons for the...