Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Introduction - Minority Participation in Estonia and Latvia

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Introduction - Minority Participation in Estonia and Latvia

Article excerpt

High levels of active political participation are considered to be indicators of stable democracies. Low levels of participation, in turn, are related to disaffection with the political process and the political system more generally (Agarin, 2013; Pharr et al., 2000). For individuals and groups, political participation has both a 'voice' and an 'identification' function: participants in democratic political processes have an opportunity to make their interests and concerns heard, and where they are able to, muster enough political power to influence the outcome of decision-making processes; effective participation and the understanding that their views are valued in society in turn is linked to enhanced feelings of belonging and identification of citizens with the larger community. Disaffection and disengagement from the political process have been explained as a result of non-responsive political institutions that- persistently-do not reflect minority preferences. Where political systems are not (perceived as) open and responsive, citizen and non-citizen residents who do not feel that the system reflects their needs and demands tend to disengage and withdraw from the political process (Offe, 2009).

Conversely, for democratic political institutions, the political involvement of their populations offers the opportunity to 'learn' about citizens' needs and preferences in order to improve government performance (Linz and Stepan, 1996); in turn, inclusion into the polity also leads to higher levels of satisfaction, trust and regime support, contributing to stability (Mishler and Rose, 2002). In ethnically-divided societies political structures tend to favour the dominant group's access to political agenda-setting and decision-making. This negatively affects the ability of non-dominant groups to influence policy-making, as well as their sense of belonging and regime/government satisfaction; it may also have negative implications for the stability of social relations and the political system overall. The contributions to this special issue do not simply bemoan how the political marginalization of minorities impacts the democratic credentials of political systems; rather, they discuss the long-term consequences for the dynamics of the political processes in two post-Soviet European Union member states, Estonia and Latvia, where the participation of ethnic minorities-largely the group of 'Russian-speakers'1-has been formally restricted and structurally marginalized. This introduction presents the purpose and focus of this special issue (section 1); discusses the context in terms of political membership (section 2); and provides background information about minority participation in institutional politics (section 3) in Estonia and Latvia. The last section outlines the contributions by the three authors.

1. Political membership and political participation

After 25 years of institutional change and democratic reform, Estonia and Latvia are no exception among the Central East European 'post-authoritarian' states that generally continue to have comparatively low levels of political participation (Quintelier and Hooghe, 2012).2 As for ethnic minorities, the levels of participation are even lower (van Londen et al., 2007). There is, of course, one obvious reason for the limited political participation of minorities in Latvia and Estonia: for two decades, large portions of the minority populations have been excluded from the formal political process by not having the citizenship of their country of residence. This lack of political membership has not only a direct effect on minority participation, such as by preventing individual minority members from taking part in elections or referenda, but also an indirect impact on the formation of political structures. This special issue addresses the question of post-Soviet citizenship policies in the two countries, and how these have affected political structures and thus shaped the conditions for minority participation in political processes in the long run. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.