Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan: The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan: The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan: The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan: The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

Synopsis

The collapse of the Soviet Union suddenly rendered ethnic Russians living in non-Russian successor states like Latvia and Kyrgyzstan new minorities subject to dramatic political, economic, and social upheaval. As elites in these new states implemented formal policies and condoned informal practices that privileged non-Russians, ethnic Russians had to react. In Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan, Michele E. Commercio draws on extensive field research, including hundreds of personal interviews, to analyze the responses of minority Russians to such policies and practices. In particular, she focuses on the role played by formal and informal institutions in the crystallization of Russian attitudes, preferences, and behaviors in these states.

Commercio asks why there is more out-migration and less political mobilization among Russians in Kyrgyzstan, a state that adopts policies that placate both Kyrgyz and Russians, and less out-migration and more political mobilization among Russians in Latvia, a state that adopts policies that favor Latvians at the expense of Russians. Challenging current thinking, she suggests that the answer to this question lies in the power of informal networks.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Communist party, Komsomol youth organization, and KGB networks were transformed into informal networks. Russians in Kyrgyzstan were for various reasons isolated from such networks, and this isolation restricted their access to the country's private sector, making it difficult for them to create effective associations capable of representing their interests. This resulted in a high level of Russian exit and the silencing of Russian voices. In contrast, Russians in Latvia were well connected to such networks, which provided them with access to the country's private sector and facilitated the establishment of political parties and nongovernmental organizations that represented their interests. This led to a low level of Russian exit and high level of Russian voice. Commercio concludes that informal networks have a stronger influence on minority politics than formal institutions.

Excerpt

To the Kazakh who divides us into “native” and “non-native”

An evil will has made it so more than once already:
Broken fates scattered,
Shaking, dangling, buried around the world
In a foreign land, on a foreign shore….
LEAVE? I DON’T WANT TO, I CAN’T!

So yes, it is not only war that kills
Not only war that grays the hair.
Striking down on the spot, as if with a stray bullet,
The word of lead—“non-native.”

For centuries we shared joy and tears,
We tended our gardens and raised our children,
With roots grown into this land together with you—
What the hell kind of “non-native” am I?

Our grandfathers’ graves are here, our children were born here,
Here our talents and skills turned into business.
Our fathers were comrades-in-arms in the war.
What the hell kind of “non-native” am I?

My grandson and your granddaughter have been married for a long
time.
Borshch and besbarmak go great together.
But you—for your own—just like clockwork….
What the hell kind of “non-native” am I?

You believe in Allah according to your faith?
Well, He doesn’t teach people evil.

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