Three Phases of the Theatrical Public Sphere in Estonian Theatre

  • Eva-Liisa Linder
Keywords: public sphere, political theatre, critical theory, national identity, Estonian theatre


The concept of the public sphere by Jürgen Habermas has inspired humanities and theatre studies. Estonia, as a small post-totalitarian nation state, proves the concept especially relevant as its recent history reveals three different phases of the theatrical public sphere. 1) Theatre as a secret forum. In Soviet times, theatre served as a political and ideological tool, providing a place for keeping the national memory and consolidating society. 2) The active and technical use of the public sphere by newly awakened political theatre NO99 since 2005. 3) The agonistic theatrical public sphere. During the past decade, a whole wave of projects have discussed national identity with concurrent antagonisms: globalization vs nationalism, civic vs ethnic nationalism, the Estonian vs Russianspeaking community. Theatre has commented on two concepts of national identity, e-Estonia and Organic Estonia, innovative digitalization and cultural traditions. The discursive public sphere has led to increased civic awareness and structural changes in the developing democracy, supported integration, and anti-xenophobia in Estonia. At the same time, two main characteristics of the theatrical public sphere have been highlighted: spatiality and political relevance


Aas, Mart. 2013. Äralennuväli. [The Emigration Airport.] Manuscript at the Estonian Theatre Agency.
Adorno, Theodor. 1997. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” In Prisms. Translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber. Cambridge, 17–34.
Adorno, Theodor. 2006. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London, New York: Routledge.
Adorno, Theodor; Max Horkheimer. 2016. Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso.
Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London, New York: Verso.
Annus, Epp. 2018. “Aesthetic Sovietness: Vestigial Soviet-Era Landscapes in the Context of Estonia’s High-Tech Dreams.” International conference Contested Bodies: Identities and Spaces in the Post-Soviet Territories, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 15.–16.3.2018.
Augé, Marc. 1995. Non-Places. Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. London, New York: Verso.
Balme, Christopher. 2012. “Public Sphere and Contemporary Performance.” The IATC webjournal / Revue web de l’AICT, December (7).
performance (1.8.2018).
Balme, Christopher B. 2014. The Theatrical Public Sphere. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Carlson, Marvin. 2001. The Haunted Stage: the Theatre as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
“E-governance.” E-Estonia web page. (1.5.2018).
Eilat, Taavi. 2013. “AK: Tartu Uue Teatri lavastus räägib Eestist lahkujatest.” [The new production by Tartu New Theatre speaks of the ones leaving Estonia.] ERR, 29.11.2013.
tekstid/ak-tartu-uue-teatri-lavastus-raagib-eestist-lahkujatest (1.5.2018).
Einasto, Rein. 2017. “Mahe-Eestist rahvusriikluseni. Inimkesksusest ökosüsteemsuseni. Mõtisklusi.” [From Organic Estonia to a nation state. From human-centredness to the ecosystems. Reflections.] Akadeemia, 7, 1155–1171.
Epner, Luule. 2005. “Redefining national identity by playing with classics.” Sign System Studies, 33 (2), 379–404.
Eslas, Urve. 2007. “Sina! Tee lapsi!” [You! Make babies!] Postimees, 14.5. (1.5.2018).
Estonian Human Development Report 2016/2017: Estonia at the Age of Migration. Cooperation Assembly Foundation. (1.5.2018).
Gombrowicz, Witold. 1998. Päevaraamat. [Diary.] Translated by Hendrik Lindepuu. Vagabund, 126–127.
Habermas, Jürgen. 1990. Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. Mit einem Vorwort zur Neuauflage. Suhrkamp.
Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “Philosophy in a Time of Terror.” (An Interview with Giovanna Borradori.) (1.5.2018).
Hot Estonian Guys by Theatre NO99. (1.5.2018).
Hutchinson, John; Smith, Anthony D. (eds). 2012. Nationalism. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Invest in Estonia. (1.5.2018).
“Kaljulaid, President’s Office to relocate to Narva for one month next fall.” ERR News, 28.12.2017. (1.8.2018).
Kase, Kajar. 2009. “Jänes jäi jänese-tükiga rahule.” [The Hare was satisfied with the hare-piece.] Postimees, 26.3. (1.5.2018).
Kirch, Aksel; Tuisk, Tarmo. 2008. “Estonians and Russians in Estonia: Is the Soviet Past Still Dominating the Present?” Proceedings of the Institute for European Studies, 4, International
University Audentes, 67–94. (1.8.2018).
Kivirähk, Juhan. 2016. Teatri positsioon ja roll ühiskonnas. [The position and role of theatre in society.] Eesti Etendusasutuste Liit, Eesti Teatriliit.
Poisytsioon.pdf (1.5.2018).
Lauristin, Marju. 2011. “Kokkuvõtteks. Milline võiks olla Balti tee XXI sajandil.” [Summary. The probable way of Baltics in XXI century.] In Eesti Inimarengu Aruanne 2011. Inimarengu Balti
rajad: muutuste kaks aastakümmet. Tallinn: Eesti Koostöö Kogu, 192–200. (1.5.2018).
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. 2006. Postdramatic Theatre. Translated and with an introduction by Karen Jürs-Munby. London, New York: Routledge.
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. 2007. “Theatre After Theatre.” In Na(ar) Het Theater – After Theatre?
Supplements to the International Conference on Postdramatic Theatre. Edited by Marijke Hoogenboom. Amsterdam School of the Arts Research Group, 47–55.
Linder, Eva-Liisa. 2013. “How Theatre Can Develop Democracy.” Nordic Theatre Studies, 25, 84–96.
Mets, Laura. 2016. Interview 16.3. Interviewed by Eva-Liisa Linder. The personal archive of Eva-Liisa Linder.
Mouffe, Chantal. 2013. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London: Verso.
O’Connor, Kevin. 2003. The History of the Baltic States. Connecticut, London: Greenwood Press.
Pesti, Madli. 2012. “Theatre Performance or Political Party?” Dialogi, 5–6.
Pilv, Aare. 2019. “Mis on NO99 moraal?” [What is the morality of NO99?] ERR Kultuur, 19.1. (1.3.2019).
Põld, Anna. 2018. “Madison peab NO99 sulgemist konservatiivide töövõiduks.” [Madison considers the closing of NO99 as an achievement of the conservatives.] Postimees, 31.10. www. (1.3.2019).
Reidolv, Kristiina. 2018. “Theatre in Border Areas.” Theatre and Migration, IFTR World Congress, Belgrade, 11.7.2018.
“Rein Lang: Teatrietenduse katkestamise süüdistus on laimukampaania!” [Rein Lang: The accusations in interrupting the performance are a smear campaign.] Eesti Ekspress, 26.3.2010. id=30042419 (1.5.2018).
“Rein Lang.“ Radar, 16.5.2015. (1.5.2018).
Reinelt, Janelle. 2005. “National Signs: Estonian Identity in Performance.” Sign System Studies, 33(2), 369–378.
Reinelt, Janelle. 2011. “Rethinking the Public Sphere for a Global Age.” Performance Research, 16 (2), 16–27.
Reisenburg, Karel. 2017. “EKRE tahtis teatrilt NO99 riigi raha ära võtta: las Soros katab kulud.”
[Conservative People’s Party of Estonia wanted to take state subsidies from NO99: let Soros cover the costs.] Postimees, 16.11.
ara-votta-las-soros-katab-kulud (1.5.2018).
Rähesoo, Jaak. 2008. Estonian Theatre. Third Edition, Revised. Tallinn: Estonian Theatre Union.
Smith, Anthony D. 1991. National Identity. Reno, Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press.
Stephens, Simon. 2011. “Hüpata pimesi taevast alla ehk viis asja, mida ma olen õppinud Sebastian Nüblingilt.” [To jump out of the window or five things I have learned from Sebastian Nübling.] Translated by Eero Epner. Sirp, 5.8. (1.5.2018).
Theatre NO99. 2018. “We finish.” Theatre NO99, 31.10. (31.10.2018).
“Ühtne Eesti Suurkogu.” Unified Estonia Assembly video recording by Theatre NO99, 12.9.2013.
How to Cite
Linder, E.-L. (2019). Three Phases of the Theatrical Public Sphere in Estonian Theatre. Nordic Theatre Studies, 31(1), 73-91.
Articles thematic section