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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Estonia in the crucible of Soviet political reform Lohuaru, Peter


Estonia's rise to prominence on the leading edge of the Soviet reform process is a consequence of the republic's dual position as an economic role model for other republics and a Soviet exception in terms of lifestyle and cultural orientation. While Estonia's open acceptance of perestroika is clearly a boost for Soviet reformers, the Estonian vision of reform is distinctly different from the direction intended by Moscow. In its capacity as reform leader and radical pioneer, Estonia is a microcosm of the Soviet political economy and the elements that plague attempts to reform the system. An examination of Estonia's role within the Soviet reform movement provides a view of the potentially explosive cultural processes that have now surfaced not only in the Baltic but throughout the Soviet Union. Chapter One presents a descriptive chronological overview of the events that preceded Estonia's Declaration of Sovereignty in November 1988. Chapter Two is analytical in nature and provides a cultural context and background with which to assess Estonian developments. The methodological framework is adapted from Archie Brown's "Political Culture and Communist Studies" and gives a qualitative description of the intensity and psychological power of the cultural factor in Estonian politics. Chapter Three presents Moscow's reaction to Baltic initiatives and describes Gorbachev's attempt to forge a new nationalities policy in the face of deep-rooted conservative opposition. Estonia is a prime example of the seemingly insoluble nationality problems associated with Soviet political reform. In terms of quantitative indicators, Estonia is the most economically successful republic within the Soviet political experiment, and yet it is also the most vociferous in voicing rejection of fundamental Soviet political values. Although the Soviet future remains unpredictable, there are strong indicators that Estonia and the Baltic republics will continue to expand the perimeters of reform at a pace and in a manner that can now only be curtailed by armed force. However, the potential consequences of Baltic initiatives will not remain confined only to Soviet domestic politics. Whether the Soviet Union becomes a benign Commonwealth or Confederacy, or rapidly decays or disintegrates, or regresses into authoritarianism and civil war, the result will have profound consequences for Europe and the rest of the world. Therefore, the importance of Estonia and the other Baltic republics in the process of Soviet decline cannot be underestimated; the Baltic States, although insignificant by global standards, have set an example for other Soviet republics and national groups to follow and will for the near term remain political barometers of the Soviet future.

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