Academic journal article Trames

Suicide Mortality and Political Transition: Russians in Estonia Compared to the Estonians in Estonia and to the Population of Russia

Academic journal article Trames

Suicide Mortality and Political Transition: Russians in Estonia Compared to the Estonians in Estonia and to the Population of Russia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The radical social and political changes, which accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have turned Eastern Europe into an area of 'natural experiment' for numerous researchers inviting to assess the impact of environmental factors on human behaviour and public health.

The social aspect of suicide mortality has been convincingly demonstrated in the trends of suicide rates in the 'Eastern Bloc' of Europe (Lester 1998, Makinen 2000, Sartorius 1995) and particularly in the former Soviet Union and its republics (Ambrumova and Postovalova 1991, Kolves et al. 2006a and 2006b, Nemtsov 2003, Pridemore and Spivak 2003, Rancans et at 2001, Tooding et al. 2004, Varnik 1997, Varnik et al. 2000, Wasserman et al. 1998;).

The S-shape trend of suicide mortality in the Baltic States during the societal transformation that started in the mid 1980s and continued in the 1990s seems to be quite unique (Varnik et al. 2000). The sharp fall in suicide rates, especially for the male population in all republics of the former Soviet Union during the first years of social and political transformation (perestroika 1985-1988/89), is explained by the stringent restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption, and by hopeful expectations for democratisation (Pridemore and Spivak 2003, Wasserman et al. 1998,).

The perestroika period was followed by a dramatic increase in suicide trends in the early 1990s when building up the new society. Decline in suicide rates since mid 1990s could be explained by the overall stabilization of society, the adaptation to ongoing reforms, the strengthening of statehood, and the development of healthcare (Varnik et al. 2001).

Diversity of hypotheses at assessing the causal relations stemming from societal transformation confirms the multifactorial character of the phenomenon and stimulates to find new aspects. One of the sensitive socio-political indicators that need to be analysed is suicidality among Russian minorities in the former republics of the USSR and satellites.

Migration has been reported as constituting an important suicide risk factor, being a type of life event that is associated with major stress before, during, and after its occurrence (Kliewer 1991). Suicide rates among immigrants are usually compared with those of the immigrants' countries of origin or with those of the native population. Most studies show that immigrants have a somewhat higher risk of suicide than that of their countries of origin, as well as in comparison to the native population (Burwill 1998, Ferrada-Noli et al. 1995, Hjern and Allebeck 2002, Trovato 1992).

Makinen and Wasserman (2003) have reported that suicide mortality among immigrant Finns in Sweden was even higher than in Finland, the country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The authors suggest that immigration may be seen as a stress factor per se, or the immigrant population may be regarded as a selected group, or the immigrants experience a disadvantageous social and cultural situation in the new country.

Immigration of Russians to Estonia started after the Second World War. The population of Estonia was ethnically rather homogenous until the Second World War (WWII). According to the population census before WWII (1934) Estonians constituted 88.1% of the total population. Russians were the biggest ethnic minority group with a share of 8.2% in the total population of Estonia (Table 1).

In the post-war period, due to the geopolitical change related to the incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union, the Russian minority grew to approximately 30% in 1989 (Katus et al. 2000). In 1993-1996 remigration of Russians, mainly of military forces, took place. In the 2000 census the Estonian population consisted of 67.9% Estonians, 25.6% Russians, and other nationalities (Statistical Office of Estonia 2001).

Among the difficulties Estonia and other post-soviet countries met after restoring independence and moving to transition period, were the problems concerning the big group of Russian-speaking Slav immigrants. …

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