No. 17

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What We Lack the Most

  • Helle Ruusing

    Editor-in-Chief, Information Adviser of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu

Estonia may lack money, ideas and capacity for engaging in cooperation.

It seems to the writer, however, that most of all we are short on the ability to negotiate. When we debate, everyone holds their own monologue; everyone makes the loudest possible sound in the belief that the only satisfactory result is to have one’s own idea come out on top. Estonians do not comprehend that participants in a debate have and will continue to have their own personal opinion – that perhaps this is the way it ought to be – and that this is not an obstacle to finding common ground. Debate oriented at finding common ground is something that is heard more seldom than one might hope. Topics that are important to society streak into view in the media like comets. For a week at best the matter is discussed, with full force; then the desire and will run out. A new comet glimmers on the horizon and it is time for the old one to make an exit. Yet often these are topics that could and should be discussed at length in the name of finding common ground. In the opinion of the writer, it would be logical in every respect for civic associations – which have gained more and more strength in Estonia in recent years – to raise topics and be the moving force behind discussion. Civic organizations are precisely the bodies that represent different interest groups and opinions. Both fortunately and unfortunately, government incubated the inception of civic society, and thus Estonia’s civic associations are frequently all too ready to play by the government’s rules. Estonia is a small society – there is always someone who knows someone in parliament, government, a ministry or a local government. Using such an acquaintance, the person gains an audience to make his positions known. Public debate is abandoned on the assumption that direct talks are more productive. They may be just that, otherwise they would not be utilized, but this is in conflict with the concept of a civic society. Civic associations do not necessarily have to be in opposition to government, but they should act as a check on power, and the authorities must know that their partner is a strong and independent one. I think that the transparency of lobbying should be increased. This would contribute honesty, and force us to discuss things publicly.

We can always learn what we do not yet know. The ability to discuss things is acquired by practice. By listening to others make their case, we learn to make our own. It is the right and obligation of citizens to be active co-thinkers and to express their opinion. Civic associations can only highlight and bring up problems and offer possible solutions. In a democratic state, the final decision on the legislative level is made by parliament.

Full article in Estonian

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