No. 6




The constitution as society’s stabilizer

17 December 2002


RiTo No. 6, 2002

  • Tõnu Anton

    The Supreme Court justice, member of the Constitutional Review Chamber and chairman of the Administrative Law Chamber

In making a constitution-centered analysis of the last ten years, the writer highlights one of the most important of the many functions of the constitution – that of stabilizer. The constitution does just that, defining the relationship between the community and the state and setting forth the values that unite a society.

These values derive chiefly from the goals and principles set forth in the preamble and Chapter II of the constitution. For the public authorities to deviate from the goals and principles approved upon ratification of the basic law would signify not only a conflict with the ideas in the constitution but a breach of contract with the people. It would inevitably be met with justifiable disillusionment from the people, if not outright anger. Indeed, the present article focuses foremost on constitutional values.

According to the writer, one part of guaranteeing these values lies in concentrating more on social issues and considering the principles of a social welfare state. What has escaped attention is that the nurturing hand of the public authorities in the fields of care-giving, medical help, housing , labor and education is required by precisely those individuals who cannot enjoy those fruits due to material shortages or other objective reasons. Such people are not in a group that would likely be capable of turning decisions in their own favor.

The most urgent and problematical aim in the constitution is that of preserving the Estonian language and culture. What does this mean, anyway? First of all, that the Estonian body politic must survive in at least as numerous a form as it exists in today, and that culture continue to be vital enough to evolve. Cultural preservation is not synonymous with the disproportionate growth of museums.

At the time the constitution was drafted, protecting national identity had an immeasurable significance in ensuring a feeling of national unity. Now the situation has changed and the principles of national identity protection must be triaged with other important principles. It feels like foreign culture is impinging on us, and the pressure is great. Even though the language law offers a measure of protection, in practice the problem is not merely one of ensuring that people are conversant in Estonian, but the fact that English has become the working language in several fields and specialties. The influence of Russian has been accounted for, but now a more serious influence, English and Anglo-American culture, requires appraisal.

Full article in Estonian