Soft Power, Russkii Mir, Centre Party, Russian voters – is there a connection?
Arvamus 13 Mar 2010  EWR
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It was Harvard’s Joseph Nye, who zeroed in on the concept of soft power, the notion that a state’s might is based not only on military and economic power, but equally on its culture, value system and moral authority. The more enviable and alluring the latter qualities appear to the world, the more influence a country commands.

For the past few years the Estonian Security Police (Kapo) have shown interest in a Moscow based fund, Russkii Mir, founded in 2007 and whose charter was signed by then-president Vladimir Putin. Russkii Mir’s prime objective is to apply ‘soft power’ in advancing Russia’s interests.

The initial meeting, establishing a chapter in Estonia was attended by the Russian ambassador. The fond is financed by Russia’s state budget. Kapo officials have indicated that former Soviet intelligence cadre are active within the Estonian chapter.

Andrei Hvostov, in a recent Eesti Ekspress article points out that Russian political parties in Estonia have yet to achieve any noticeable success and no public movement has gained any momentum within the Russian speaking community. Therefore it may be more than a coincidence that the Kremlin has made it a priority to be directly involved with their diaspora.

Hvostov notes that no political party, the Centre Party excepted, has been able to offer any Russian politician a stable position with requisite responsibilities within its ranks. Reasons could be many-fold: other parties are perceived to be bastions of Estonian ethno-centrism; other parties don’t offer populist promises that attract Russian membership; others see a serious risk in Estonia evolving into a bi-cultural, bi-lingual country with neighbouring Russia’s massive ethnic overload instinctively ready to fill the cultural breach, etc.

Why the Centre Party? One reason may be the following example: Edgar Savisaar, the party’s leader, delivered a speech in February at the Ecomen Institute for Economics and Management, a Russian language private university. The leadership of the university belongs to Savisaar’s Centre Party. Savisaar’s speech was not covered by the Estonian language media.

Savisaar stressed to the students that all who are still stateless (no citizenship) should apply for Estonian citizenship and all should become politically active. Hvostov concluded that Savisaar made it clear that the Centre Party is the means to young Russians’ political self-realization. (As in Canada, citizenship is a prerequisite for voting in Estonian parliamentary elections. However, while not allowed in Canada, a non-citizen can vote in Estonia’s municipal elections.)

Savisaar has made it quite clear that his party is probably the only chance that young Russians have to realize their political ambitions. Some years ago leading Moscow politicians also concurred when they urged Russians not to waste votes on Russian political parties, who had scant chance of gaining any seats in parliament. They directed voters to support the Centre Party, a more viable means through which they can wield their political weight.

The Centre Party started actively recruiting non-Estonians in the mid-1990’s. Some saw this as a necessary pressure-valve, mitigating the formation of Russian party with extreme positions. Others point to the Centre Party’s ability to misrepresent public issues like the possibility of decreases in pensions and the devaluation of the crown as scare tactics, making the coalition in power the culprits.

It would not be far-fetched to discern a connection between Soft Power, Russkii Mir etc. For a small country, where vigilance is bred by historical precedent, making such connections oftentimes makes sense.
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