Identity Development and Political Adjustment in Estonia: Research Note

By Vetik, Raivo | World Affairs, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview
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Identity Development and Political Adjustment in Estonia: Research Note


Vetik, Raivo, World Affairs


A pilot study of ethnic identity developments in Estonia in April 1993 revealed strong "conflicts in identification" that Russian respondents had with Russians in Russia. The concept of "conflicts in identification" was used in a specific meaning: a respondent empathetically identifies and simultaneously contra-identifies him- or herself with a certain other.(1) This means that Russians in Estonia experience similarities between themselves and Russians in Russia on the one hand, but on the other they recognize in the latter certain characteristics from which they would wish to dissociate themselves. This statement is based on the finding that Russian respondents often describe Russians in Russia using characteristics situated on opposite poles of their own value system.

Based on this result, it can be argued that rapid psychological changes are taking place within the Russian community in Estonia. To investigate this process, the following hypothesis was formulated: Russians in Estonia adapt themselves to the rapid fundamental changes of the socio-political environment of recent years. They develop new elements of a diaspora identity, moving away from their own previous dispositions as well as from attitudes and values characteristic of Russians in Russia.

A survey was carried out between 8 November and 1 December 1993 to test this hypothesis. A random sample of 266 respondents were interviewed by scholars and students of the University of Tartu and the Estonian Academy of Sciences. The universe for this sample was all persons between ages eighteen and seventy in three Estonian cities: Tallinn, Tartu, and Voru. Addresses were selected by a random procedure starting from a fixed address. The respondent selected in each household was the person next to have a birthday. If the person refused an interview, another respondent was selected by the same method. The response rate was 70.3 percent; 57 percent of the respondents were Estonians and 43 percent were Russians.

The instrument of the survey was created on the basis of the "Identity Structure Analysis" parameter of Peter Weinreich.(2) Within this framework, a construct is a phrase that consists of a belief, value, or insight that a person might use to appraise people in the social world, which is presented together with its negation. An entity may be a component part of the self-image or another person or group that is important to the respondent. The two-part discourses of a bipolar construct are separated by a center-zero scale of nine points and are presented at the head of a rating sheet with the entities down the left-hand side and the scale repeated against each entity.

The results of this survey can be regarded as surprising. In the case of the bipolar construct, "I suggest that Russians living in Estonia identify themselves rather with Estonia - I suggest that Russians living in Estonia identify themselves rather with Russia," 72 percent of Russian respondents answered that "at this moment" Russians in Estonia identify themselves with Estonia rather than with Russia, 57 percent confirmed the statement strongly or very strongly, and only 18 percent believed that Russians in Estonia identify themselves with Russia rather than with Estonia. It is important to notice the difference between the way Russians in Estonia perceive themselves and the way they believe Russians in Russia think about Russians in Estonia with respect to identification. Thirty percent of respondents suggested that Russians in Russia would believe that Russians in Estonia identify themselves with Estonia rather than with Russia; 54 percent of respondents hold the opposite opinion, believing that Russians in Russia would judge that Russians in Estonia identify themselves with Russia rather than with Estonia.

Thus, it can be said that a clear majority of Russian respondents not only identify themselves with Estonia rather than with Russia, but that they also believe that their opinion is different in this respect from the opinion of Russians in Russia.

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