Eesti ühiskonna poliitilised hoiakud murranguaastatel 1932–1934

  • Mark Gortfelder
  • Jaak Valge
Keywords: Constitutional crisis, referendums, the League of Veterans movement, 1934 coup, linear regression

Abstract

Abstract: Political attitudes in Estonian society in the pivotal years 1932–1934

This article deals with the Constitutional crisis of the Estonian Republic and analyses the results of the three referendums (August of 1932, June of 1933, and October of 1933) that took place on the three different amendment proposals to the 1920 constitution. Thus, unlike previous research that has mostly looked at the topic of the political crisis from the viewpoint of the political elite and the leaders of the League of Veterans movement, we map the moods and opinions of the electorate during this volatile time. To be more precise, we try to find out the parties whose supporters voted for amending the constitution and the parties whose supporters did not. We link this with the official stances of the said parties and see whether or not their supporters aligned their votes with their representatives. Additionally, on the basis of the last referendum, where people voted on the proposal of the League of Veterans, we speculate on what percentage of votes the movement could have obtained in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1934.

mostly looked at the topic of the political crisis from the viewpoint of the political elite and the leaders of the League of Veterans movement, we map the moods and opinions of the electorate during this volatile time. To be more precise, we try to find out the parties whose supporters voted for amending the constitution and the parties whose supporters did not. We link this with the official stances of the said parties and see whether or not their supporters aligned their votes with their representatives. Additionally, on the basis of the last referendum, where people voted on the proposal of the League of Veterans, we speculate on what percentage of votes the movement could have obtained in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1934.

We use not only the results from the 1932 parliamentary elections, but also those from 1929. This is due to the fact that the party system changed before the 1932 elections. The two agrarian parties formed a unified party (the Union of Settlers and Smallholders). Konstantin Päts’ Farmers’ Assemblies (Põllumeeste Kogud) that represented the wealthier established farmers was very much in favour of constitutional amendments. The Settlers’ Party (Asunikud), which represented small-holders, was neutral to this. A unified party was also established in the political centre (the National Centre Party). However, the parties had different stances here as well. Jaan Tõnissons’ centre-right People’s Party (Rahvaerakond) was very supportive

of constitutional change, while the centre-left Labour Party (Tööerakond) was not. The leadership of both of these consolidated parties went to fractions that supported the revision of the constitution.

In August of 1932, a proposal put forward by the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) was surprisingly rejected – only 49.2% of the electorate supported it. The analysis shows that greater support for the Union of Settlers and Smallholders in 1932 and for the Farmers’ Assemblies in 1929 predicts greater support for the amendment proposal. For the Settlers’ Party, the result is weaker, but still positive. The relationship is inverse for the Socialists and Communists. All of this is to be expected since the unified agrarian party was for the motion and the Marxist parties were against it. In the political centre, however, we can see unexpected results. The National Centre Party does not have a statistically significant effect on the results of the referendum. This is also true for the People’s Party. For the Labour Party, we see a negative relationship, which indicates that their supporters rejected the stance of the unified party and voted against the constitutional amendment. For many supporters of the People’s Party, the amendments were probably not radical enough for the Socialists and Communists. All of this is to be expected since the unified agrarian party was for the motion and the Marxist parties were against it. In the political centre, however, we can see unexpected results. The National Centre Party does not have a statistically significant effect on the results of the referendum. This is also true for the People’s Party. For the Labour Party, we see a negative relationship, which indicates that their supporters rejected the stance of the unified party and voted against the constitutional amendment. For many supporters of the People’s Party, the amendments were probably not radical enough.

In June of 1933, the Riigikogu’s second proposal was overwhelmingly rejected – only 32.7% of the electorate supported it. It is important to note that this motion was weaker in its rearrangements than the previous one. For the agrarian parties, we can still see a positive relationship – a higher percentage of support for them also meant greater support for the amendment. This, however, is much weaker than previously, reflecting the view of their electorate that the proposed changes were not radical enough. The support of the Social Democrats still has a negative effect on the results, while support for the Communists has a statistically insignificant effect. Again, at the political centre we see the most noteworthy results. Greater support for the People’s Party predicted less support for the second amendment proposal, while greater support for the Labour Party predicted greater support for the amendment. This means that by this referendum, the People’s Party had very little influence on their electorate, who rejected the small-scale reforms convincingly. This time it was the supporters of the Labour Party that followed the line of Jaan Tõnisson at the helm of the unified centre party.

In October of 1933, the proposal put forward by the League of Veterans received overwhelming support – 72.7% of the electorate voted for substantial changes to the constitution. It appears from the results that the supporters

of agrarian parties were still in favour of constitutional change, while the supporters of the Marxist parties were still opposed. The supporters of the People’s Party again rejected the opinions of Jaan Tõnisson and voted en masse in favour of the proposal, as, to a lesser extent, also did the electorate of the Labour Party.

The results of the October 1933 referendum was a great success for the League of Veterans movement. It has oft en been claimed that this was a wholesale defeat for the established parties. This, however, is a half-truth. Agrarian parties largely kept most of their electorate, as to a significant extent did the Socialists and the Communists. In addition, the ethnic minorities still voted against the proposal of the League of Veterans. It was the centrists and especially the supporters of the People’s Party that flocked to the League of Veterans. So even under optimistic assumptions, we believe that the Freedom Fighters might have gotten about 35% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, which is far less than an absolute majority.

 

Author Biographies

Mark Gortfelder

(b. 1991) is a Junior Researcher at Estonian Institute of Population Studies at Tallinn University

Jaak Valge

(b. 1955) is an Associate Professor at the Institute of History and Archaeology at University of Tartu

Published
2019-05-27