Extremism can be defined as a radical disregard of certain generally accepted norms in the society (including laws) either by individuals or groups whose long-term objective might be, inter alia, the intention to replace the existing system of government (in the case of Estonia, constitutional order) with a regime serving their purposes. Integration problems relating to immigrants in the host country as well as economic instability can stir up trends in every society which form a favourable basis for the emergence of extremist groups. Adoption of extremist ideas is often facilitated by former criminal behaviour of the person.
It is very common to divide extremism into rightwing and leftwing extremism.
The main ideological principles of rightwing extremist groups are the following:
- open and direct racism;
- propagation of absolute supremacy of one race or nationality;
- hatred of sexual minorities;
- causes of the problems in the society are believed to lie in some ideological trend or worldview and ethnic or racial "conspiracies".
Leftwing extremism relies mainly on ideologies characterized by:
- l the goal to replace the existing constitutional order with a totalitarian, socialist-communist regime or absolute anarchy - if needed, through a revolutionary coup d'etat;
- l glorification of former regimes of totalitarian communist ideology;
- l the goal to impede through its activities as many states and international economic relations as possible;
- l deep-rooted antagonism to market economy and public protests against capitalism, "imperialism" and racism.
The division of extremism into rightwing and leftwing is not absolute, the more so in the context of Estonia and other countries of similar recent history. In our region there is the occurrence of extremism which combines both the leftwing ideology of the past and the assumption and striving for the absolute privileged status of one nationality (irrespective of state borders). As in the case of totalitarian regimes relying on mutually opposed extremist ideologies, so have various types of present-day extremism in reality notable common features:
- extremistically different views from the generally accepted ones in the society;
- aggressive imposing of views (propaganda);
- the aim to change the political system (direct attacking of constitutional order is not always admitted publicly but there is no contribution to democratic opportunities either);
- attacking of certain social or national groups in words or in deeds;
- potential threat of violence (including acts of terrorism).
There is no single explanation for the occurrence of extremism in the society. At different times and in different countries there have been a variety of reasons and objectives to explain the emergence of such phenomena. Extremist groups have existed and continue to exist practically in all countries with even minimum freedom for them to act. Though such groups have not managed to endanger seriously the constitutional order of the Republic of Estonia so far, possible threats of these groupings on our national security cannot be underestimated at the present moment or in the future.