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Medier og demokratisering

Professor Høyer and his collaborators are to be congratulated on producing an extremely valuable book. With the financial assistance of a number of bodies including the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have been able to collect, edit, translate and publish an impressive range of material. A brief survey of the scope of the book is the best way to demonstrate the scale of the achievement.


The book covers the development of the press and electronic media in the three Baltic Republics from the earliest times to 1993. The origins of the printed press in the late seventeenth andeighteenth centuries is chronicled. The rise of a commercial press and its relation to the developing national aspirations in the nineteenth century is recorded. The pressures on newspapers and the birth of broadcasting during the turbulent years of independencebetweenthewarsarecovered. The fate of the media in Nazi and Stalinist tyrannies is detailed. The devlopment of the new media after the collapse of the USSR and the regaining of independence is surveyed.

All of this presents material which was new to this reader, and I suspect will be unfamiliar to most in the West outside of a narrow range of specialists. Written more clearly in the foreign language of English than many scholarly books originating here or in the USA, the results of this ambitious project are an extremely valuable addition to our knowledge.

As with any project of such considerable ambition produced within such a short timescale, this work is not without faults. The most pervasive is the unavoidable partner of its greatest strength: in covering so much ground it raises so many interesting questions that readers will find themselves hungry, if not for answers, at least for more detail. To take one example, the Baltic Germans played a major role in introducing the printed press to the region. In the persons of enlightened Lutheran clergy, they played a key role establishment of the first Estonian and Latvian language periodicals (58-60). By the end of the nineteenth century, however, Baltic Germans and their press appear as the local agents of the Tsar (94-96). This transformation and its implications for the press, which to British eyes has parallels with the fate of Irish protestantism from Wolfe Tone to lan Paisley, could surely be the subject of a major work in its own right.

Another inevitable, but nevertheless major, problem with the book is a certain ideological unevenness. For example on page 97 one reads: 'Placing emphasis on national unity and sovereignty, Postimees did not accept the antagonist interests of different social strata and opposed class struggle because the latter would only destroy national unity and damage the interests of the nation as a whole'. The valuations might be different, but there is a distinct sense that the language employed here is borrowed from an earlier dominant discourse. Later (page 257), one reads statements which are clearly derived from a radically different view of the world:

The years 1992 and 1993 demonstrated a new tendency: profit became an essential and basic component of press freedom'. It would be unrealistic to expect that a fully coherent view covering different countries and 40 different named contributors could evolve, or even should evolve, in the relatively brief space of time since work like this became possible. However, I think that future studies might profit at least from a clearer recognition of the different ideological positions which might be adopted.

There is, certainly, an overall tone to the book: it is a study of the national media, and 'national' is used in its full sense. There is, too, a certain optimism at least about the future of a printed press dependent on the market. The final chapter, titled 'A View From the Outside' and written one suspects by Professor Høyer, recognises both of these elements and introduces an element of caution to the latter based upon concrete Western experiences As he rightly remarks on the final page, in the West: 'sometimes the market value of journalism is confused with its truth value'. The view from the outside, surveying the recent history of Western Europe, might also suggest that national sentiments are powerful and valuable forces in opposing national oppression but that, victorious and empowered in a state machine, they can become the rationale for the persecution of minorities and those who differ.

None of these criticisms should be taken as anything other than positive suggestions for future work. They are not intended to devalue what has been here achieved. Every University library should have a copy and it should be used as widely as possible.

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