Making sense of Baltic democracy : public support and political representation in nationalising states
Sammanfattning: A chief topic of this book is the advance of democracy in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The three countries belong to the most ‘successful’ cases of transition from communist rule to democracy, demonstrated by the fact that they joined the European Union in 2004. In contrast to other new EU members, the Baltic countries were constituents of the Soviet Union and, thus, had to embark upon state- and nation-building in tandem with democratisation and marketisation. Estonia and Latvia (but to a smaller extent Lithuania) were left with considerable numbers of immigrants from the Soviet period, which prompted the authorities to impose fairly restrictive citizenship laws. One in five Estonian and Latvian remain excluded even after 15 years of independence. This situation has created a great deal of tension, but at least thus far, no political meltdown. The case for imposing strict citizenship requirements centred on the fact that the countries were forced into the Soviet Union, but it was clearly also related to nation-building and fear of Russian influence in determining the path from communist rule. Arguably, democratisation and nation-building are based on different, sometimes even conflicting, logics. Thus, a key question in this book is to what extent – and how – diverging understanding of the political community affects democratic legitimacy.Another central task is to determine the strength of the ties between Baltic citizens and the respective political systems – in terms of support for the regimes and the degree of representation of societal interests through political parties. Applying the New Baltic Barometer 1993-2004, the book explores levels of political support among native Baltic citizens and the Russian-speaking minority groups. It reveals that democracy as an ideal enjoys increasing support, but that many Baltic citizens remain unconvinced about the performance of democracy. Corruption and the rule of law are particularly thorny issues in Latvia and Lithuania, while political parties and MPs are widely held in contempt in all three countries. The Russian-speakers appear somewhat more reluctant to embrace the current system, expressing greater enthusiasm for the Soviet system of the past.Yet another section explores the nature of political representation and the expression of demands and interests from below, offering a comprehensive examination of the Baltic party systems, including types of parties, issue dimensions, public attitudes to distributional questions, and to what extent parties channel or mirror social interests. An underlying theme is the extent to which the party systems are based on some degree of cleavage structures, or if questions of identity and nationality eclipse social interests or, alternatively, if Baltic politics at heart is driven by strong personalities rather than interest politics.Finally, the book presents the case for a specific pattern of ‘Baltic democracy’, marked by divided political communities, ambiguous mass-elite relations, and weak political representation. Conceivably, many Baltic citizens would prefer reduced political competition and stronger, more assertive leaders. Moreover, the strong emphasis on nation-building turns the Baltic countries into a potential playground for identity politics. For the time being, at least, this makes the ideological space open-ended and malleable, leaving fertile ground for fleeting populism.
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