Local Government as an Indicator of Civic Awareness in Emerging Democracy

Ziņojums konferencē "Veidojot pilsonisko kultūru Centrālās un Austrumeiropas valstīs",
2001. gada 19. - 21. novembrī

Iesaki citiem:

We speak in Estonia about ten years of rather successful development of the country. As it was several times declared already, Estonia has finished the transition period. In general it is true of course. But if to try to evaluate more precisely, what the achievement in the country is, we still find lots of steps not done or thing done in a wrong way or direction. For instance people have started to speak, that Estonia is too much declined towards the capital city Tallinn. Here are the major investments, here lives big deal of the population, here are the state offices, here is the culture and amusement while all this is much more poorly represented or lacking in the rest of the couth.

Estonia has recently passed a round of presidential elections. As the Parliament was during the first round of elections unable to agree on the needed amount of voices for one of the candidates, the new head of state of Estonia was elected afterwards not by the Parliament, but by a special electoral body. That body consists in addition to all of the members of the Parliament from the representatives from each local government. Mr. Arnold Rütel, the candidate of political opposition, who was not on the top of the public opinion polls before the elections as a possible president of the country, won the elections surprisingly.

As that outcome was rather unexpected, people not satisfied with the electing of 73-years old man with the background of high position nomenclature communist, started to accuse just the electorate from the local governments for that result. The general comment was, that they are in the local governments' councils also previous communists, they are in big deal as old as their elected president is, they live in the feelings of nostalgia etc. Now the coalition, who lost the elections analyses the reasons and consequences of their loss. Once more the true thing - Estonia is too much declined towards Tallinn became true, as many people living in the capital city are not well aware about what the life in the other regions looks like, what people think.

Looking back to Estonia's 10-years rather successful development out of communism and towards civil society, we must agree, that the direction chosen for the future was a good one. Many people saw in the new circumstances great chance for personal economical activity, the others started to exploit intellectual and cultural freedom. The slogan from two hundred years ago "Laissez faire, lassies passer" stepped automatically into full force in the country. Automatically, but not equally in all of the areas of the life of the society.

One sphere, where the developments and changes for sure should take place, is civic culture of the society. The swift of political and economical orders had to put peoples' understandings, preferences, behaviors, reactions, knowledge, practical participation etc. also into change. The economical processes should for the expected outcome be ruled, supported and regulated by the laws. If we do have a common sense about what the new quality of civic culture in the society should be, it should also be somehow mastered. But what is the estimated new level of it and how to reach that? Maybe the new level we need to reach is characterized by the terms of civil courage, civic virtue. If so, then there is still much to do for reaching it in Estonia, but how?

In economics the benefit and earnings are very clear goals, people are directly interested and thus creative to reach these goals. Civil courage and civic virtue are not so visible as a new superstore and not so clearly beneficial as earned additional million. So we can not expect as spontaneous development in civic culture as in the economics. Civic culture is a part of education. It can and should be taught and learned.

If we had a sort of hypothetical "curriculum for civic culture" in the society, teachers and teaching aids, good methods for teaching, society members as good students etc., there were no accusations of local government representatives today for making not so good choice while electing the president for Estonia in 2001. Then we had to recognize that result as motivated and calculated, because it was in this case done by educated in civic culture people. Today - vice versa - there is lots of critics towards the local governments' (who by the way enjoy by the Constitution large freedoms of self governing without great impact from the state). The skills, knowledge, attitudes of local government employees and council members like they do not use the taxpayers money in the proper way, they can not see and plan the reasonable future for their communities, the local government employees put in their job the personal interest in forward instead of common interests i.e. there is corruption etc. The local governments and their employees make so big deal of the whole society, that they design soways the face of it also - not only wealthy and rapidly ongoing capital city with foreign investments, but also the rest of the country with lesser achievements is Estonia today. And the society stays in angle towards Tallinn.

The sources of that true critics towards the local governments are deep in the nature of presently existing civic culture, which in Estonian case is characterized by several reasons and indicators. The starting point is in the elections to the local governments. People in general are not aware about the true meaning of free elections which makes them too passive. People are not critical and analytical towards the candidates and are not able to make qualified decisions while electing them. The candidates themselves are not fully aware what the local government, local government employee and local government council member mean. Elected representatives lack too often knowledge and feeling of responsibility while fulfilling the duties.

This all comes up while following the local governments in their practices. I have followed the local government practices for four years, as I have been a member of 15-representatives council in a local government, which is situated in the countryside close to the capital city. All the features described above are present there. The activity of the council members in their duty is low - attending the most important for the community life monthly council meetings is sometimes so critically low, that we can not start the meeting in time. The meetings of the subject commissions of the council, where the representatives have themselves expressed willingness to belong, sometimes do not take place, because the people do not come together. On the monthly council meetings there are usually no questions, no discussions - only voting. The biggest activity period for most of the elected representatives starts and ends with the couple of months of elections to the council. The decisions about the local life issues are often made by a narrow circle of local government employees, then carried out for adopting to the passive, not interested council, and then starts the implementation. Sometimes during the implementation people around start to speak, that something should nevertheless be done differently, like the budget money could be used in another way etc.

But generally - people have no doubts about the ways local community is governed. This is an old paradigm coming still from the soviet times, when citizens had no access to the decisionmaking and no influence to the procedures. Only during the more visible happenings, like our presidential elections, the societies' attention turns towards the local governments and their abilities or disabilities. Today nobody can't say, that the outcome of the elections is wrong. If somebody doesn't like it, it is needed to analyze, why just Mr. Rüütel from four candidates altogether was elected, but not the speaker of the Parliament Mr. Savi, previous rector of the Tartu University professor Tulviste or previous Minister of Education professor Kreitzberg.

The local government appears to be an indicator of civic awareness in emerging democracy. The result of Estonian presidential elections of 2001 brings in different ways out the necessity of dealing with the issues of local government. Not only people working in the community offices but everybody who is the simple community member (it means everybody in Estonia) needs to be educated and promoted in acquiring the new civic culture compatible to the type of society we run economically and politically. Here everybody has the right and need to take a stand, but much is needed for that: knowledge and skills first of all. This is a challenge for the society.

The society starts from an individual and family. The next where we all belong are working place and local community. Just the local community appears to be the key structure shaping our everyday living. I believe that in Estonia, for promoting our living, cooperation of different actors for developing of local communities is needed. Politicians who design the legislation and create possibilities, educationalists who provide knowledge and skills, journalists, who let people know what is going on, should maybe first of all recognize the need for change and become the agents of change.

Iesaki citiem: