Many Estonians' most civilly active years date back to the era of the restoration of Estonian independence around 1991. Many, however, seemed to relive these glory days in 2018, political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson found in an opinion piece reflecting on politics over the past year.
We're down to the final hours of 2018, and in light of this, it would be appropriate to take a look back at the past year. What kind of year was 2018 politically? What can we learn from it? What should we take with us, what should we leave behind?
As is the case with politics, there is quite a bit we can take with us. A number of new rules will be entering into effect in the new year that were argued and decided in 2018. A number of politicians have gained a scandal's worth of experience. Two political parties have traded out their chairpersons — one of them even twice — and these processes have offered lessons for everyone else as well. And new political parties will likewise begin determining the future, affecting election results — whether they exceed the election threshold or not. In the former case, a new player may be at the coalition negotiation table. In the latter, however, votes will simply be lost, and the Riigikogu's symbolic mandate will be smaller as a result.
2018 was also the year of the centennial of the republic, which surely helped many people reflect on their ties to their state. Even if only in terms of which centennial gifts they participated in giving. It's possible that the last time anyone thought so extensively and so hard about the role and meaning of their state was around the time independence was restored. This was the point when it was easy to confirm one's belonging by means of political actions or slogans. To stand as part of the Baltic Way, wave the blue, black and white flag, participate in demonstrations, and, surrounded by one's own people, shake one's fist at Soviet leaders.
In one sense, in 2018 we have experienced the reprisals or revivals of a number of events from that period in time. And I am not just talking about one party's protest organised in Tallinn's Deer's Park, but signs of civil society more broadly. Parallels have also been drawn between the protests held in Tartu against the [planned] pulp mill and the so-called Phosphorite War [of the late 1980s]. Even though the times and decision-making processes have changed. And the authority has changed. And it seemed kind of uncanny to think that the "City of Good Thoughts" and university town mobilised into an anti-mill faction even before anyone was able to launch any environmental impact assessments.
Anti-immigration protests have also hinted at the same fear and rhetoric expressed during the period of the restoration of independence. This is partially inevitable — migration is one of those fields where we can say that we are clearly carrying Soviet-era trauma. The day before we re-established our independence, we were the country in Europe with the biggest population of foreign origin. And while some of those who had arrived during the Soviet era returned to their country of origin, the integration of one-time migrants and their descendants remains a crucial issue.
But times have changed. Now we have our own state again, as well as the opportunity to decide for ourselves who we want here and who we don't. Migration from third countries is and must be regulated and controlled. Needless to say, we have to take into account the limitations that come with the rule of law, as well as with who we need here. The people that arrive here today come here voluntarily, not as a consequence of central direction, and as a result are in a completely different position as integrators. Those arriving generally receive a temporary residence permit, and they have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want to become part of society here or would prefer to move forward or back.
And so 2018 has been a very nostalgic one in terms of popular movements, although it may have helped many people find their inner active citizen again. If I could wish anything for 2019, it would be to look toward the future and be perceptive about context. Not all citizens can possibly be experts in environmental, migration, economic and social policy at once, but that makes it all the more important to hear out all sides. Democratic politics are a complicated system that is a ways off from the ideal, where various interests and ideals clash together and, for the most part, not one political outcome is anyone's ideal. This makes all the more important the shared understanding that we have our own state, and as a people we share certain common values. What will certainly also help us move forward is the belief that we can lead our state together in the best possible manner in the future as well.
Editor: Aili Vahtla