Nov. 30, 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of the youth organization of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), Sinine Ӓratus ("Blue Awakening"). Blue Awakening was founded and is currently led by Tartu city councillor and EKRE board member, Ruuben Kaalep. Although EKRE is a relatively new party, founded only in 2012, they are growing rapidly and have come in third in Estonia's monthly party ratings.
Their symbol is the North Star, a reference to ancient Estonian seafarers, who used it to navigate the seas. This fits with the group’s ideology and vision for Estonian nationalism. According to one member, this symbol belongs to every living Estonian because through it their ancestors live within them.
Nearly 30 people gathered at the Kaarsild in Tartu on Nov. 30 last year to mark the group’s anniversary. Torches were distributed, and members formed a line along the bridge, using the torches for illumination, while awaiting a boat which brought Kaalep, along with Remi Sebastian Kits, and a third member of Blue Awakening down the Emajõgi. From the boat, the three gave speeches over a loudspeaker highlighting the unique and individual nature of Estonian nationalism and a call for a new national awakening.
The three speeches highlighted similar themes, yet each had its own unique touch. Ruuben Kaalep’s speech emphasized the special and individual path for the Estonian nation – one that is between the West and the East (A Brussels-driven Western Europe and the Russian Federation, respectively). The main point of his speech was that Estonians should no longer be divided by factors such as social class or age, but that Estonians should unite as one nation–“we are all Estonians,” he proclaimed over the loudspeaker.
The new Estonian national awakening was described in the speech of the third member. According to him, the new national awakening connects the ancient past with both the present and the future. The connection between past, present, and future, as articulated in this speech, is through ancestors who pass on the “flames of the Estonian spirit” and, accordingly, politics should represent ethnos, not peoples. This is in keeping with the idea that the nationalism advocated by Blue Awakening for their vision for Estonia, will continue on into the distant future; or as Ruuben Kaalep stated from the Emajõgi, “enter the 22nd century and still live for thousands and thousands of years”.
The speech given by Remi Sebastian Kits stressed that the goal of Blue Awakening transcends politics–it is national, and career politicians are not needed. According to Kits, what is needed is fanatics, in the vein of Gabriele D’Annunzio, and poets who are able to successfully engage in meta-politics and on all fronts of the culture war.
Innovation and creativity is evident all around Estonia, including in the themes of the speeches given. They were poetic and individualistic. It was evident that Estonia’s rich history, including strong resilience in the face of occupation, has shaped the character of the country and has further contributed to the uniqueness of Estonia. This is also evident in the new path which Blue Awakening calls for Estonians to follow–their own.
During a group meeting after the torchlight ceremony, members discussed nationalism in Poland, Estonia and the whole of Europe. One thing that these young nationalists have in common is each other. The internationalization of politics and party activism is an emerging trend in Europe, especially amongst young nationalists. Transnational networks are growing between nationalists in Europe, and Blue Awakening is very much a part of this. This past autumn, Ruuben Kaalep, and Remi Sebastian Kits joined other nationalists from across Europe in a march commemorating Poland’s National Independence Day, which drew between roughly eighty and one hundred thousand people.
For four years in a row, Kaalep and Blue Awakening have organized torchlight marches in Tallinn to commemorate Estonian Independence. The marches keep getting larger each year and attract many political activists from outside of Estonia. In 2019, both national and European elections will take place in Estonia. EKRE is on pace to further solidify themselves as Estonia’s third-largest political party and the second most popular amongst ethnic Estonians.
Blue Awakening is involved with and is quite instrumental in transnational networks of European nationalists. For example, Ruuben Kaalep, along with the Secretary General of the Latvian National Alliance, Raivis Zeltīts, are two of the leading figures behind Intermarium for contemporary Europe. This is a geopolitical strategy with the aim of uniting nationalists in Central and Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Uniting nationalists from different countries in the region is, seemingly, no easy task. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of Europe’s migrant crisis beginning in 2015, some younger nationalists are finding allies in other nationalists across broders. Blue Awakening has been a driving force behind this. The torchlight march commemorating Estonian independence has been one event which has brought several nationalists together. Ruuben Kaalep has taken part in several events in both Europe and the United States, where he has outlined his vision for the new nationalism, or, what he terms, ethnofuturism. Ethnofuturism is a nationalist concept for a Europe which is based on identity and roots, the themes from the speeches of the three Blue Awakening members.
As several leaders and prominent members of nationalist parties have come up through their respective party’s youth organizations, it will be telling to see how many of these young Estonian nationalists will one day hold political office and shape the future of Estonia. Although it is impossible to foresee the future, one need not look much further than Europe’s youngest leader, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Kurz is not only the first millennial head of government, he also represents a new form of politics which is the result of changing political cleavages throughout Europe. Sociocultural differences encompassing issues such as migration and radical Islam are slowly replacing socioeconomic cleavages in importance. Various elections, such as that of Donald Trump, the Alternative for Germany, and Sebastian Kurz’s newly-formed coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria signify this development.
Perhaps we are witnessing the adolescence of a future political class in Estonia, like the rest of Europe–educated, young, and nationalist, ready to challenge the establishment and the post-war generation of thinking. While it might not be safe to say that this form of politics is necessarily taking over, they are certainly growing in numbers and influence. Furthermore, they are successfully engaging in politics with skillful use of social media and the internet and Blue Awakening is no exception. EKRE recently ran a MEME campaign during the 2017 Municipal council elections. Becoming ‘likeable’ on Facebook is an emerging trend in scholarship on nationalist parties. EKRE leads all Estonian parties in Facebook likes (Reform is a close second, but there is a fairly large gap between them and all other Estonian parties).
In Estonia, the young members of Blue Awakening seem ready to eagerly advocate for their vision of Estonian nationalism and have long-term plans. It is quite likely that we will see some of the members of Blue Awakening representing EKRE in Brussels and the Riigikogu come 2019.
Louis Wierenga is a PhD candidate at the University of Tartu's Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies and a member of the Party Leaders Database project. The project aims to expand knowledge on the selection of party leaders as well as other aspects of party leadership, such as position, social and demographic factors, and intra-partisan democracy.
The starting point of the current project has already been marked with a completed project: Party Leaders in Post-Communist Countries. This analysis focused mainly on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Editor: Dario Cavegn