From an Economic Term to a Political Concept

The Conceptual Innovation of “Self-Management” in Soviet Estonia

in Contributions to the History of Concepts
Juhan Saharov PhD Candidate, University of Tartu, Estonia

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The term “economic self-management” (in Estonian, isemajandamine) stood at the center of economic and political debates in Soviet Estonia in 19871988. This article traces its transformation from an economic term to a political concept, reconstructing the intellectual resources that the reformers were drawing on in this process. Navigating the constraints of Soviet discourse, reform-minded academics in Soviet Estonia radically expanded the original meaning of isemajandamine, which ultimately provided an argumentative platform for declaring the republics “sovereignty” within the Soviet Union. The article brings out the linguistic, political, and transnational dimensions of this conceptual innovation, which started in 1987 and was completed when the law on the “economic independence” of the Baltic republics was adopted by the Soviet Union in 1989.

Contributor Notes

Juhan Saharov is a PhD candidate at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu. E-mail:

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