A country’s ability to function as a sovereign state, to control its territory and population, is sometimes described using the word “stateness”. Research often takes for granted that this is determined by domestic factors, but a thesis by Olena Podolian, doctor of political science, demonstrates that international actors can have a significant influence on legislative design and policy decisions.
“I studied two post-Soviet states, Estonia and Ukraine, which have followed different paths after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is definite influence from international organisations and other states, although this is not always as straightforward as it may first appear. It doesn’t always work as it was intended, and sometimes this influence is only partial,” she says.
External actors exercise clear influence
In her thesis, The Challenge of ”Stateness” in Estonia and Ukraine, Olena Podolian has studied how the Council of Europe, EU, OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and Russian Federation have influenced numerous areas of policy, such as the state monopoly on violence, minority rights and dissemination of information.
Her study shows how external actors have had a clear influence on legislation that covers citizenship and minority rights, particularly in Estonia. This is not as obvious when it comes to language and education.
“There are also examples of where this external influence has been more destructive than constructive. This was the case with Russian influence, which had a negative effect on ‘stateness’ as regards the policy areas of information dissemination and control of state borders,” says Olena Podolian.
One example of a positive influence that she highlights is how children born to stateless people in Estonia automatically receive citizenship. However, she says that while the legislation for national minorities is liberal and generous, it still only applies to citizens. This is true of both Estonia and Ukraine.
Conflicts and war
In recent years, Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine is a clear example of this neighbouring country’s negative influence and power over Ukrainian mass media and television. The study also shows how Russia interfered in the Estonian conflict surrounding the relocation of the statue known as the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn. This statue was erected by the Red Army in 1947, to commemorate heir victory over Nazi Germany, but is now regarded by many Estonians as a symbol of the Soviet occupation. The statue now stands in the Tallinn Military Cemetery.
Estonia and Ukraine are indeed both former Soviet states, but are now very different nations. Estonia rapidly became part of Europe and European actors gained great influence, but resistance from the population was greater. Olena Podolian explains this as being due to Estonia having a stronger perception of itself as a nation, and change being regarded as counter to a national identity.
“For a long period, nationalism was regarded as belonging to the past and liberal democracies were believed to show the way forward. But nationalism is growing stronger, by which I don’t just mean radical nationalism, but also more generally – belonging linked to a state or nation,” she says.
The state as a concept
According to Podolian, the concept of the state has not been discussed much, either in research or in society as a whole. One reason for this is that countries such as England, France and Sweden have functioned as states for centuries. New states are more vulnerable, she says:
“The state, as a phenomenon, has been overlooked. The Soviet Union indeed consisted of numerous states, but not in the same way as countries in Europe. However, in order to understand a country’s rights and freedoms, it is important to know what a state is, what it can and cannot do, how strong it is and its limitations. This is extremely interesting from an academic perspective, but also practically. If you want to study politics or economics, you must know what state structures are in place,” she says.