Monoliths of authoritarianism, cartographies of popular disenfranchisement and the ascendance of the far-right in Estonia

Author: Jokubas Salyga1
View author details View Less
  • 1 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

This article approaches the electoral success of Estonia’s Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) from a Critical Political Economy perspective. It explores immediate and longer-term factors conducive to the surge in the support of this far-right party. After situating the radical rightist reaction in Estonia within the wider continuum of far-right morphologies across Europe, the article attributes the immediate factors explaining EKRE’s ascendence to the conjuncture of the 2008 economic crisis and its resolution. It is contended that the authoritarian neoliberal (post-)crisis environments engendered a surveillance-based imposition of fiscal restraint at the European level and recalibrated the repertories of state interventionism at the national spatial scale. In Estonia, this served to (re-)produce the vocabularies of crisis in line with the far-right’s sensibilities and eroded the public’s trust in the parties of the political mainstream. The analysis of immediate factors behind the rise of the far-right is then supplemented with a forensic examination of popular disenfranchisement with the outcomes of post-communist transformation, the party’s ambiguous relationship with neoliberalism and EKRE’s class-constituted support base. As will be demonstrated, the far-right has attracted the votes of working-class segments residing in the peripheries of the country as well as poverty-stricken pensioners, youths and the disenchanted sections of the middle class. The article concludes by evaluating the claim that EKRE’s inclusion in the coalition government from April 2020 to January 2021 amounted to a break from neoliberalism.

  • Agence France Press [AFP] (2012) Warnings of EU north-south split multiply, 23 August.

  • AFP (2015) Eurozone could survive Greek exit: Estonia, 19 February.

  • Ali, T. (2018) The Extreme Centre: A Second Warning, London: Verso.

  • Anievas, A. (2008) Theory of the global state: globality as an unfinished revolution a theory of global capitalism: production, class, and the state in a transnational world, Historical Materialism, 16(2): 190206. doi: 10.1163/156920608X296123

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anievas, A. and Saull, R. (2022) The far-right in world politics/world politics in the far-right, Globalizations [Online], 116, doi: 10.1080/14747731.2022.2035061.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Annist, A. (2017) Emigration and the changing meaning of Estonian rural life, in Cooperation Assembly Foundation (ed) Estonia at the Age of Migration: Estonian Human Development Report 2016/2017, Tallinn: Cooperation Assembly Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Auers, D. and Kasekamp, A. (2009) Explaining the electoral failure of extreme-right parties in Estonia and Latvia, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 17(2): 24154. doi: 10.1080/14782800903108718

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baltic Times (2011) Eesti in brief, www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/29803/.

  • BBC Monitoring Europe (2019) EU increasingly resembling USSR – Estonian politician, 27 March.

  • Bieler, A. and Erne, R. (2015) Transnational solidarity? The European working class in the Eurozone crisis, in L. Panitch and S. Gindin (eds) Transforming Classes. Socialist Register, London: Merlin Press, pp 15777.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baltic News Service (BNS) (2012a) Protest to be held in front of Estonian parliament during ESM debate, 29 August.

  • BNS (2018) EKRE urges Estonians to join wage union appeal, 18 January.

  • BNS (2019a) Ansip: EKRE involved in deliberate polarization of society, 29 March.

  • BNS (2019b) Estonian interior minister orders inquiry into lifting visa freedom of Ukrainians, 11 September.

  • BNS (2019c) EKRE chair: Estonia should cancel PACE membership, 27 June.

  • BNS (2019d) Finmin says European Court of Human Rights no use to Estonians, MEP objects, 3 July.

  • BNS (2019e) Fitch affirms Estonia’s long-term rating at AA-, 6 April.

  • BNS (2019f) Minister: no plans to introduce digital tax in Estonia in coming years, 21 December.

  • BNS (2019g) Estonia: dutch company to invest EUR 4.5 mln in Tartu-based pharmaceutical co, 29 April.

  • BNS (2019h) Estonia: Fortaco Group to invest EUR 10 mln in Narva plant, 7 August.

  • Braghiroli, S. (2019) Estonia: why the far-right in power is the best case scenario for the Kremlin, www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/estonia-why-far-right-power-best-case-scenario-kremlin/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Broch, L.K. (2011) Estonia never wanted the euro, https://euobserver.com/opinion/31595.

  • Bruff, I. (2014) The rise of authoritarian neoliberalism, Rethinking Marxism, 26(1): 11329. doi: 10.1080/08935696.2013.843250

  • Bruff, I. and Tansel, C.B. (2019) Authoritarian neoliberalism: trajectories of knowledge production and praxis, Globalizations, 16(3): 23344. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2018.1502497

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carroll, W.K. (2006) Hegemony, Counter-hegemony, Anti-hegemony, Toronto: Keynote Address to the Annual Meeting of the Society for Socialist Studies, York University, June 2006, https://socialiststudies.com/index.php/sss/article/download/23790/17675.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Castells, M. (1997) The Power of Identity. The Information age: Economy, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Cerulus, L. (2019) Andrus Ansip’s liberal lament over Estonia, www.politico.eu/article/estonia-technology-andrus-ansip-launches-liberal-lament-on-estonia/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dale, G. and Fabry, A. (2018) Neoliberalism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, in D. Cahill, M. Cooper and M. Konings (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism, London: Sage, pp 234447.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davidson, N. and Saull, R. (2017) Neoliberalism and the far-right: a contradictory embrace, Critical Sociology, 43(4–5): 70724. doi: 10.1177/0896920516671180

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Degryse, C. (2012) The New European Economic Governance, (Working Paper 2012.14), Brussels: European Trade Union Institute.

  • Eesti Rahvusringhääling (2017) Work ability reform: occupational disease patients left without benefits, https://news.err.ee/594867/work-ability-reform-occupational-disease-patients-left-without-benefits.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eesti Rahvusringhääling (2020) Foreigners from third countries who lose their jobs must leave Estonia, https://news.err.ee/1072360/foreigners-from-third-countries-who-lose-their-jobs-must-leave-estonia.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eiermann, M., Mounk, Y. and Gultchin, L. (2017) European Populism: Trends, Threats and Future Prospects, London: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • EKRE (2019) EKRE programm 2019, aasta riigikogu valimisteks, [EKRE Programme 2019 for Parliamentary Election], www.ekre.ee/ekre-programm-riigikogu-valimisteks-2019/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ellinas, A.A. (2010) The Media and the Far Right in Western Europe: Playing the Nationalist Card, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • European Commission (2015) Recommendation for a council recommendation on the 2015 national reform programme and delivering a council opinion on the 2015 stability programme of Estonia, 13 May, COM (2015) 257 final.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • European Commission (2016) Country report Estonia 2016 including an in-depth review on the prevention of macroeconomic imbalances, 26 February, SWD (2016) 76 final.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fabry, A. (2019) Neoliberalism, crisis and authoritarian–ethnicist reaction: the ascendancy of the Orbán regime, Competition & Change, 23(2): 16591.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gamble, A. (1996) Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

  • Golder, M. (2016) Far right parties in Europe, Annual Review of Political Science, 19: 47797. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-042814-012441

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gross, J.T. (2015) Eastern Europe’s crisis of shame, Project Syndicate, www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/eastern-europe-refugee-crisis-xenophobia-by-jan-gross-2015-09.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, S. (1988) The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, London: Verso.

  • Harmes, A. (2012) The rise of neoliberal nationalism, Review of International Political Economy, 19(1): 5986. doi: 10.1080/09692290.2010.507132

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • IMF (2019) Estonia: staff concluding statement of an IMF staff visit, www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2019/07/01/mcs-070119-estonia-staff-concluding-statement-of-an-imf-staff-visit.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jaagnat, U. (2019) 70 protsenti EKRE valijaid hääletas valimislubaduste järgi. [70 per cent of EKRE voters voted according to their campaign promises], https://poliitika.postimees.ee/6554642/70-protsenti-ekre-valijaid-haaletas-valimislubaduste-jargi.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jakobson, M.L., Balcere, I., Loone, O., Nurk, A., Saarts, T. and Zakeviciute, R. (2012) Populism in the Baltic States: A Research Report, Tallinn: Open Estonia Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johansson, K.M. (2008) External legitimization and standardization of national political parties: the case of Estonian social democracy, Journal of Baltic Studies, 39(2): 15783. doi: 10.1080/01629770802031234

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kalb, D. (2011) Introduction: headlines of nation, subtexts of class: working-class populism and the return of the repressed in neoliberal Europe, in D. Kalb and G. Halmai (eds) Headlines of Nation, Subtexts of Class: Working-class Populism and the Return of the Repressed in Neoliberal Europe, New York, NY: Berghahn Books, pp 136.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kalb, D. (2018) Upscaling illiberalism: class, contradiction, and the rise and rise of the populist right in post-socialist Central Europe, Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 11(3): 30321. doi: 10.1007/s40647-018-0221-3

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Karner, C. (2007) Austrian counter-hegemony: critiquing ethnic exclusion and globalization, Ethnicities, 7(1): 82115. doi: 10.1177/1468796806073920

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Karro, P. (2019) E-votes for the far right, www.jacobinmag.com/2019/03/estonia-election-far-right-ekre.

  • Kasekamp, A., Madisson, M.L. and Wierenga, L. (2019) Discursive opportunities for the Estonian populist radical right in a digital society, Problems of Post-Communism, 66(1): 4758. doi: 10.1080/10758216.2018.1445973

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kitschelt, H., Mansfeldova, Z., Markowski, R. and Toka, G. (1999) Post-Communist Party Systems. Competition, Representation and Inter-party Cooperation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kook, U. (2019) EKRE on populaarseim kõige nooremas vanusegrupis. [EKRE is the most popular party in the youngest age group], www.err.ee/914221/ekre-on-populaarseim-koige-nooremas-vanusegrupis.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Krastev, I. (2016) What’s wrong with East-Central Europe?: Liberalism’s failure to deliver, Journal of Democracy, 27(1): 358. doi: 10.1353/jod.2016.0001

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KredEx (2019) Estonian startup sector is growing and becoming more diversified, www.kredex.ee/en/news/estonian-startup-sector-growing-and-becoming-more-diversified.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lehner, T. and Wasserfallen, F. (2019) Political conflict in the reform of the Eurozone, European Union Politics, 20(1): 4564. doi: 10.1177/1465116518814338

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lepik, S. (2019, 31 January) Madalama haridusega valijad eelistavad EKRE-t, teised Reformierakonda. [Voters with lower level of education prefer EKRE, others the Reform Party], www.pealinn.ee/newset/madalama-haridusega-valijad-eelistavad-ekre-t-teised-reformierakonda-n235944.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, P.G. (2002) Political Parties in Post-communist Eastern Europe, London: Routledge.

  • Lounaeestlane (2019) Jaan Pillesaar: EKRE majandusprogramm on aus ja kogu ühiskonna jõukust parandav. [Jaan Pillesaar: EKRE’s economic progamme is honest and improves the prosperity of the whole society], https://lounaeestlane.ee/jaan-pillesaar-ekre-majandusprogramm-on-aus-ja-kogu-uhiskonna-joukust-parandav/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meguid, B.M. (2005) Competition between unequals: the role of mainstream party strategy in niche party success, American Political Science Review, 99(3): 34759. doi: 10.1017/S0003055405051701

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moody’s Investors Service (2019) Moody’s affirms Estonia’s A1 rating, www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-affirms-Estonias-A1-rating-maintains-stable-outlook--PR_441235.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Morton, A.D. (2013) The limits of sociological Marxism?, Historical Materialism, 21(1): 12958. doi: 10.1163/1569206X-12341284

  • Mudde, C. (2018) Eastern Europe’s populists, racists, and extremists, in A. Fagan and P. Kopecký (eds) The Routledge Handbook of East European Politics, London: Routledge, pp 25463.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Norris, P. (2005) Radical Right: Voters and Parties in the Electoral Market, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Peck, J. and Tickell, A. (2002) Neoliberalizing space, Antipode, 34(3): 380404. doi: 10.1111/1467-8330.00247

  • Petsinis, V. (2019) Identity politics and right-wing populism in Estonia: the case of EKRE, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 25(2): 21130. doi: 10.1080/13537113.2019.1602374

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pettai, V. (2019) In liberal Estonia, right-wing populists are making their mark, https://freedomhouse.org/article/liberal-estonia-right-wing-populists-are-making-their-mark.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poulantzas, N. (1978) State, Power, Socialism, London: Verso.

  • Public Meetings Act (2011) (Estonia), www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/514112013003/consolide.

  • Pytlas, B. (2018) Radical right politics in East and West: distinctive yet equivalent, Sociology Compass, 12(11): 115. doi: 10.1111/soc4.12632

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rae, G. (2018) Eastern Europe’s right-wing shift is not unique, Social Europe, https://socialeurope.eu/eastern-europes-right-wing-shift-is-not-unique.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rünne, E. and Laanpere, L. (2020) Islamophobia in Estonia, in E. Bayrakli and F. Hafez (eds) European Islamophobia Report 2019, Istanbul: SETA, pp 24759.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rupert, M. (2000) Ideologies of Globalization: Contending Visions of a New World Order, London: Routledge.

  • Rupnik, J. (2018) Explaining eastern Europe: the crisis of liberalism, Journal of Democracy, 29(3): 2438. doi: 10.1353/jod.2018.0042

  • Rutland, P. (2013) Neoliberalism and the Russian transition, Review of International Political Economy, 20(2): 33262. doi: 10.1080/09692290.2012.727844

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schneider, E. and Sandbeck, S. (2019) Monetary integration in the Eurozone and the rise of transnational authoritarian statism, Competition & Change, 23(2): 138164. doi: 10.1177/1024529418800013

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saull, R. (2007) The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics, London: Pluto.

  • Saull, R. (2015) Capitalism, crisis and the far-right in the neoliberal era, Journal of International Relations and Development, 18(1): 2551. doi: 10.1057/jird.2013.14

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saull, R., Anievas, A., Davidson, N. and Fabry, A. (2015) The longue durée of the far-right: an introduction, in R. Saull, A. Anievas, N. Davidson and A. Fabry (eds) The Longue Durée of the Far-Right: An International Historical Sociology, London: Routledge, pp 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schulten, T. and Müller, T. (2012) A new European interventionism? The impact of the new European economic governance on wages and collective bargaining, in D. Natali and B. Vanhercke (eds) Social Developments in the European Union, Brussels: European Trade Union Institute, pp 181213.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Servinski, M., Kivilaid, M. and Tischler, G. (2016) Regional development in Estonia in 1991–2016, in S. Estonia (ed) Regional Development in Estonia 2016, Tallinn: Statistics Estonia, pp 757.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sierakowski, S. (2018) How Eastern European populism is different, Project Syndicate, www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/populism-stronger-in-eastern-europe-by-slawomir-sierakowski-2018-01.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stanley, B. (2017) Populism in Central and Eastern Europe, in C.R. Kaltwasser, P.A. Taggart, P.O. Espejo and P. Ostiguy (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Populism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 14058.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Statistics Estonia (2021a) Poverty and material deprivation rate by year, place of residence and indicator.

  • Statistics Estonia (2021b) Unemployment rate by county and year.

  • Streeck, W. (2014) Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, London: Verso.

  • Swank, D. and Betz, H.G. (2003) Globalization, the welfare state and right-wing populism in Western Europe, Socio-Economic Review, 1(2): 21545. doi: 10.1093/soceco/1.2.215

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tansel, C.B. (2017) Authoritarian neoliberalism: towards a new research agenda, in C.B. Tansel (ed) States of Discipline: Authoritarian Neoliberalism and the Contested Reproduction of Capitalist Order, Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, pp 128.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Taylor, M. (2002) Success for whom? An historical-materialist critique of neoliberalism in Chile, Historical Materialism, 10(2): 4575. doi: 10.1163/156920602320318084

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Toplensky, R. (2019) EU 2050 climate target blocked by eastern nations, www.ft.com/content/881a50de-936e-11e9-aea1-2b1d33ac3271.

  • Trumm, S. (2018) The ‘new’ wave of populist right-wing parties in Central and Eastern Europe: explaining electoral support for the conservative people’s party of Estonia, Representation, 54(4): 33147. doi: 10.1080/00344893.2018.1539028

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Učeň, P. (2007) Parties, populism, and anti-establishment politics in East Central Europe, The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 27(1): 4962.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Valadbaygi, K. (2022) Neoliberalism and state formation in Iran, Globalizations [Online], 115, doi: 10.1080/14747731.2021.2024391.

  • Valdvee, E. and Klaus, A. (2015) Agricultural censuses and regional features of agricultural development, in S. Estonia (ed) Regional Development in Estonia 2015, Tallinn: Statistics Estonia, pp 14569.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • van der Linden, M. (2008) Workers of the World: Essays Toward a Global Labor History, Leiden: Brill.

  • Veebel, V. (2019) The rise of right-wing populists in Estonia, www.fpri.org/article/2019/07/the-rise-of-right-wing-populists-in-estonia/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weyland, K. (1999) Neoliberal populism in Latin America and eastern Europe, Comparative Politics, 31(4): 379401. doi: 10.2307/422236

  • Worth, O. (2002) The Janus-like character of counter-hegemony: progressive and nationalist responses to neoliberalism, Global Society, 16(3): 297315. doi: 10.1080/09537320220148085

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Worth, O. (2019) Morbid Symptoms: The Global Rise of the Far-right, London: Zed Books.

  • Zaslove, A. (2008) Exclusion, community, and a populist political economy: the radical right as an anti-globalization movement, Comparative European Politics, 6(2): 16989. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.cep.6110126

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zielonka, J. (2018) Counter-revolution: Liberal Europe in Retreat, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Żuk, P. and Toporowski, J. (2020) Capitalism after communism: the triumph of neoliberalism, nationalist reaction and waiting for the leftist wave, The Economic and Labour Relations Review, 31(2): 15871.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 1 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 180 180 179
PDF Downloads 177 177 177

Altmetrics

Dimensions