No. 11

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Does Estonia share European values?

15 June 2005

Essay

RiTo No. 11, 2005

  • Margit Sutrop

    University of Tartu professor of practical philosophy, head of the Centre for Ethics

The basic question raised in this article is what are the common values that unite the 25 peoples and 455 million people that constitute Europe.

The further question is whether or not Estonia belongs to a European value-space. First, it is pointed out that there is considerable diversity of opinion with regard to those values deemed fundamental f or the European identity. To demonstrate this, two diametrically opposing views are compared. Recently consecrated Pope Benedictus XVI believes that the shattering of moral values, multiculturalism, and secularism have caused decline of Europe. In his book „The European Dream“ (2004) American economist and essayist Jeremy Rifkin claims that Europe is looking to the future, and will put into effect those ideals that Americans have not even dared to dream about. Rifkin shows how European ideals differ from the American ones, based on contrasting understandings of freedom and security. In this article, it is claimed that Rifkin’s differentiation between American and European values can also be regarded as an opposition between liberal and communitarian values. According to liberal individualism, the individual is more important than the society in which he or she lives. Communitarianism gives society greater weight than to the individual. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Europe’s new identity is founded on communitarian values, just as American values are a mixture of liberal and communitarian ones, since for Americans, a sense of connectedness to multiple social groupings is crucial. Europe is differentiated from America in the value it places on the diversity and multiplicity of cultures. At the same time there is a conscious attempt to avoid an ethnocentric mentality, one that would view one’s own people in a positive light, and others negatively. The European Union was born of the intention to avoid ethnic conflict and guarantee peace. Tolerance, respect for human dignity, and solidarity are at the core of the new European identity. Estonian identity, however, is based on an ethnocentric narrative, which represents us in the role of a victim and leaves blame and responsibility in the hands of others. Since we support the conservative model of a nation-state, our patriotism closely resembles the sentiments of Americans, who loudly proclaim love for their own people and set themselves in opposition to an „evil empire.“ In many other respects Estonian values approximate American more closely than the European ones: economic growth weighs more than the quality of life and self-sustaining development; strong assent is given to the work ethic and the use of military force. This article suggests that although at first glance Estonian values might seem more American than European, Estonia lacks a mechanism for balancing individualistic values through religion and the will to participate in collective endeavours. Estonia`s allegiance belongs to individualistic values, and this in turn renders doubtful Estonia`s belonging to a European value-space.

Full article in Estonian

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