Estonians - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. During the period of independence between the world wars, Estonia had three social classes. There was a small upper class, composed primarily of businessmen and government and military officials. The middle class was much larger than the other two, counting among its members teachers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, and independent farmers. There was also a working class. Movement between classes was relatively easy to accomplish at that time.

Political Organization. The Republic of Estonia's legislature is a unicameral assembly, the Riigikogu, whose 102 members are directly elected by the people to four-year terms. For any political party to put its elected members into the Riigikogu, however, it must receive 5 percent of the vote. In 1992 there were seven major parties. The government is the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister. The head of state is the president, who is elected by a majority of the popular vote; should no one candidate receive a majority, the president is elected by the Riigikogu. All Estonians over the age of 18 may vote in national elections. Those who are not Estonian citizens may vote only in municipal elections.

Social Control. After independence in 1920, the Estonian legal system was still under the control of ethnic Russians; consequently, great emphasis was placed on the training of ethnically Estonian law teachers. Two of the advances made by the Estonian legal authorities were to make all administrative decisions subject to the law and to make legal decisions conform to precedent, neither of which had been the case theretofore.

Conflict. Many of Estonia's internal conflicts arise from Estonians' hatred of Russians. Many Russians remain in Estonia, and they are essentially unable to become Estonian citizens. Both Russians in Estonia and within the Russian nation have protested this situation as a violation of human rights, and the withdrawal of Russian troops has slowed. The Estonians, in response, have brought up the issue of past Russian human-rights violations. Much political conflict has come about over the associations that people in government once had with the Soviet government and over questions as to whether those in power are sufficiently anti-Russian in their actions.

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