far-right observer

Estonia: Immune to far-right Parties?

Right-wing parties are on the rise in Europe. After assessing the situation in France, a Western European country, it is time to move to Eastern Europe. After the decline of the Soviet Union, right-wing parties were very successful in these newly independent countries. Located in the northeast of Europe, Estonia is a former Soviet republic. Surprisingly, right-wing parties were not very successful there until recently.

In this blog post, I will explain when a success for right-wing parties is expected and apply it to the situation of Estonia. I will analyse the reasons for missing support of right-wing parties in Estonia. Then, I will analyse the case of the Estonian People’s Party (EKRE) and what they did differently from parties before them. My aim is to create an understanding for the case of Estonia, because this can help to understand the rise of right-wing parties in general.

by Nikola Johnny Mirkovic on Unsplash
by Nikola Johnny Mirkov on Unsplash

When is a rise of right-wing parties expected?

There are several reasons, that help right-wing parties to become successful. Kasekamp and Auers list five factors, that make a strong right-wing party very likely. Namely:

  1. When there are structural changes in society
  1. When there are socio-cultural cleavages
  1. When globalisation and europeanisation affect the society
  1. When trust in existing political parties is declining. New actors can enter the stage
  1. When existing political parties cooperate with right-wing parties or use their rhetoric-> movement and ideas become legitimised

When applying these factors on Estonia, we can see that all them are met. After the collapse of the USSR, Estonia suffered an enormous economic collapse. Due to migration from Russia, the percentage of native Estonians was shrinking from over 90% after WWII to only 60% in the 1980s. Besides, many saw the accession of EU and NATO only as replacing one regime with another one and were sceptic towards the EU. Trust in political institutions and politicians has been low for a very long time.

So, why was there no successful right-wing party?

Some scholars see the reasons for missing electoral support of right-wing parties in the Estonian party system. By increasing the number of signatures to establish a political party to 1000 and also a threshold of 5% to join the parliament, already some hurdles were established. 1000 signatures seems not like a very high number, but considering that only 1,3 Million people live in Estonia, it is already quite a lot.

author Ладошки семейный Монтессори – клуб from http://ekre.ee, no changes made

Another explanation is, that political parties are not important in Estonia. People do not vote according to political parties. Parties adopt positions not along party lines but by considering which one will give them the best turnouts. Even democratic parties are free to adopt extremist positions. As already discussed by Leire, in France, mainstream parties adopted ideas from the right spectrum which normalised extremist positions. This resulted in a success for parties like the Rassemblement National. In Estonia, it was the opposite. Right-wing parties were never really successful because extremist positions are part of the mainstream opinion. Therefore, people did not need to vote for right-wing parties, because these parties had no unique selling point.

While many scholars analyse the different arguments separately, I think it is the mixture of the Estonian party system, the fact that political parties are not very important and extremist opinions that are widely spread in the mainstream, that resulted in weak right-wing parties.

What changed with the rise of EKRE? How did they become so successful? 

EKRE (Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond) is the Estonian People’s Party and was established in 2012. Currently, they are one of the strongest political forces in Estonia. 

Martin Helme, by Erik Peinar, from Riigikogu Kantselei no changes made.

Due to limited research and their recent rise, there is no final answer to explain the success of EKRE. One approach is, that with Mart Helme (and now his son Martin) there is a charismatic leader, which right-wing parties before were missing. Others argue that EKRE successfully embedded the narrative of a ‘new colonization’ into the discourse of the ‘refugee crisis’. Many people consider the soviet period of Estonia as colonization and are scared, that this might happen again. EKRE used this fear to gather public support.

Crises have been an important boost for right-wing parties. Ernesto Laclau argues, that people act politically based on what they think is the truth rather than on actual facts. So, even when the ‘refugee crisis’ did not hit Estonia, EKRE successfully convinced people, that is Estonia very affected. To me, this is a very convincing argument. EKRE could be so successful because unlike previous right-wing parties, they played with the fear of the population. They used the past of Estonia and connected it to the present and possible future crises.

Concluding remarks

Estonia is a remarkably special case. Against all expectations there was no strong right-wing until EKRE. With the ‘refugee crisis’ EKRE successfully convinced people of the ‘colonization’ of Estonia which stoked public fear. In order to fully understand why EKRE could rise so fast, more research needs to be done. However, I think that the example of Estonia gives hope for the future. Even when the factors point in the direction of a strong right wing, the theory does not necessarily hold true.

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13 thoughts on “Estonia: Immune to far-right Parties?

  1. the article is indeed well written, but we have a few comments. first, the title is a bit vague, so we would suggest to change it into something more intriguing, for example, a question. Then, another picture would work well, perhaps the logo of EKRE. lastly, make sure to transform the bullet points (list of conditions under which success for right-wing parties is expected) into a fluent text.
    we hope you find this useful!

    1. thank you very much for the feedback! It was very helpful to improve my draft! Indeed, the tittle needs to be more interesting in order to attract people to read the article. About the bullet points I thought it would make the text more interesting visually, but indeed, it can be confusing you are right.

      1. we’re glad you replied to our comment! We understand it is up to you to design the look of your post, we just wanted you to know that rather than confusing, we find the bullet points not too visually coherent with the rest of your post. Besides this, good job!

  2. Hi! Very well done on this blog entry! We found this analysis very interesting. We like your introduction, especially the part where you already give the reader an outline of what to expect in the blog. This makes it more pleasant for the reader and understandable. Regarding the title, we believe it is clear enough, however, maybe you could opt for something a bit more creative/eye-catching? Perhaps something like: Estonia: immune to the far-right? That is only a suggestion though, the title as it is now, is also nice! We do like the fact that your subheadings are all questions! Regarding your first section, we are not sure if you are meant to refer directly to authors as you would in a literature review. Although it does not bother us, maybe you could also hyperlink the words “five factors” instead and leave the authors names out? That is, only if that is indeed necessary. Maybe you could also rephrase the 5 points in the same way? i.e. all starting with “when” or all starting with “due”? (for consistency purposes). We like the way you refer to someone else’s blog entry too, and as you already wrote somewhere, it would be good to hyperlink and maybe specify you are referring to another blog entry. A final comment is that from reading it now, it seems the blog entry is too long, considering the wordcount. So you will have to shorten it a bit. However, that might be a difficult task, as we must say we thought everything you wrote was extremely interesting! We also want to congratulate you on writing it in such an understandable and clear way! We were really able to follow and learn a lot from this blog entry! Honestly, very nice work!

    1. Dear Anna, thank you so much for your comment! Your feedback is really helpful to me! Indeed, there are some points that I still struggle with (for example positioning myself in the debate and how to include already existing literature). Right now, I am not very content with my title, so your idea is really good and I will continue to think in this direction. Also your idea with the hyperlinks is very useful!!! Thanks a lot for this constructive but positive feedback:)

      1. Dear Emma-Charlotte! We are happy to hear that our feedback has been beneficial to your work! Again, we enjoyed reading your blog a lot!

  3. We enjoyed reading the blog post. We think it is a very interesting topic, which has not yet been talked about a lot so this blog posts’ topic is very well chosen. The title is well chosen for the topic however, maybe something a bit more catchy would be good, to ensure that people are captivated by it. Maybe it would also be good to add the bullet points into the written text or to reformat them. This way they would stand out less and the overall “looks” of your blog would not be affected. All in all, it is a well written blog, with a lot of relevant information and an interesting topic. Those few minor changes would help further transforming into an even better blog post. Keep up the good work!!!

  4. That is a very good blog post, well done! We really enjoyed reading about the far-right in Estonia, since it is a topic that we seldom hear about in the news. We nonetheless have a few suggestions to make, in order to help you improve your final blog entry. First, mind the capital letters in your title. Second, in your introductory paragraph, we did not understand why a sentence was written in bold type, could you clarify that? Third, you effectively credited the first picture, but since we know very little about Estonia, we would like to know what is the featured monument. Fourth, at one point, you make an allusion to one of your colleague’s work (namely Leire). We found that you could insert a hyperlink to redirect readers towards her blog post. As a positive aspect, we really enjoyed the bullet points, since they clarify the debate about the main causes of the rise of the far-right across Europe. However, the hyperlink you provided for those bullet points does not work for us, maybe you could check this out. Keep up the great work, and we are really looking forward to reading the final version!

    1. Thank you very much for your extensive feedback! It was really helpful. Oh yes you’re right, I will need to change the capital letters in my title! About the bold and italic sentences, sorry for the confusion, I marked them, because I was not sure about them and by marking them I will not forget to check them again. Thank you for the idea of describing the picture with the monument more, I will definitely take a closer look. Also, thank you for reminding me to put a hyperlink to Leire’s article. About your last point, thank you for telling me that the hyperlink does not work, I will check that again.

      1. Our pleasure Emma! We really enjoyed reading your blog post, and we are glad to see that our comments will help you improve it even more.

  5. Hi! I want to start by saying that this is a very interesting topic, considering that Estonia is one of the lesser-studied European countries within English literature. You introduce the topic very nicely and the post continues to follow a clear line afterwards. I especially appreciated the references to the posts made by your colleague. I think this is a final version that fits well in the theme of the overall blog.

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