Academic journal article Migration Letters

Citizenship, Europe and Ethnic Boundary Making among Russian Minorities in Latvia and Lithuania

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Citizenship, Europe and Ethnic Boundary Making among Russian Minorities in Latvia and Lithuania

Article excerpt


This article uses Andreas Wimmer's model of ethnic boundary making to examine ethnic boundaries among the Russian-speaking minorities in Lithuania and Latvia, two countries with contrasting integration policies. We argue that the exclusive integration policies of Latvia, particularly with regard to citizenship, result in the 'hardening' of ethnic boundaries for minorities, while the more inclusive policies in Lithuania lead to boundary 'softening'. The article examines the influence of national policies, the policies of the Russian government and the European integration as external factors of boundary making, but also considers exogenous factors such as the role of the civil society, sense of identification, and the different experiences of generations. We conclude that whilst endogenous and exogenous factors have shaped ethnic boundaries in different ways in the two countries, these boundaries are blurring because Europe opens up wider possibilities for work and study and younger generations are less likely to be excluded from participation by language or citizenship. In both countries, increasingly hybrid and fluid identities are replacing reified and essentialist ones that are based upon the previous Soviet-style constructs.

Keywords: Russian minorities; Baltic countries; identity; ethnic boundaries; civil society, nationalising states


After the collapse of communism, the position of ethnic minorities in the post-Soviet countries became increasingly politicised and their citizenship rights a topic of international discussion (Kymlicka and Norman, 2000). In particular, Russian-speaking minorities were seen as stranded and marginalised in the nationalizing states of the former Soviet multi-ethnic empire, while the policies of national governments started to prioritise native languages and citizens over minorities (Smith, 1996). Within the former Soviet Union, this prompted one of the largest migradon movements of the post-war period, when ethnic Russians moved back to their 'homeland', as did Ukrainians and other nadonalides (Pilkington, 1998).

The Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) were a particular flashpoint in these tendencies. Independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s encouraged strong nationalist movements in these emerging democracies, while they had to establish new relationships with bigger and far more powerful neighbours, including the Russian Federation. The position of Russian speakers as the largest minority in the region became particularly volatile in this situation. Many feared at the time that the seeds of ethnic conflict would flourish within the Baltic nationalising states, with Russia closely watching its minorities abroad (Popovski, 1996; Brubaker, 1996; Smith and Wilson, 1997) . Tensions between the Baltic states and Russia continued during their accession to NATO in 2002 and remained strong during the Russian retaliatory 'cyberwar' against Estonia for removing Russian war-time monuments in 2007. The internal ethnic tensions, on the other hand, were smoothed with the incorporation of the Baltic states into the EU, since accession agreements put minority citizenship rights and integration as necessary preconditions of the EU membership (Galbreath, 2006; Sasse, 2008).

The question is how these conflicting influences of the nation states and international actors affected the integration of Russian minorities into the Baltic countries. Much of the earlier literature assumed that similar nationalising tendencies of the Baltic states in the post-Soviet period would lead to the same difficulties in minority integration (Brubaker, 1996; Smith, 1996; Laitin, 1998) . However, this literature did not take into account the emerging policy differences within the three countries, nor did it discuss actual influences of the EU on the situation of minorities. In this article, we argue that differences in the granting of citizenship and the institutional accommodation of ethnic diversity led to significantly different outcomes for minority inclusion in the Baltic region. …

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