Development of Political Party Membership in Estonia in 1995–2009
Mass media continues to play an increasing role in politics while the importance of the party membership takes the back seat, because the media offers a much quicker way to reach the voters than can be done by campaigning through party members.
This is probably the reason why membership in parties has been in decline in most of Europe over the last decades, with the exception of Estonia and three Southern European countries – Spain, Portugal and Greece. The high party membership numbers of Estonia could be explained by the institutionalisation of former national movements after Estonia regained its independence, as well as the newly presented opportunity to contribute to social processes after a fifty year hiatus. Yet we cannot overlook the weakness of our citizens’ associations, including the trade unions, which spurs many active people keen to participate in social processes to see party membership as the only option. Other noteworthy features of Estonian parties include their club-like functioning and wide range of services. Political parties offer people an opportunity to spend time together and participate in educational, sports and entertainment events. Which is why in smaller local governments with no organised social life and with limited financial resources, political parties might be the only places for social interaction.