The Consequences of Playing the Compatriot Card: The Influence of Russia’s Activism on Elite Attitudes in Estonia and Latvia

Jennie L. Schulze (Duquesne University)

Estonia and Latvia were the primary targets of Russia’s compatriot policy during the 1990s as a result of the restrictive citizenship and language policies they adopted after regaining independence. In an effort to reverse Soviet era policies that drastically changed the demographics of both states and privileged Russian language and culture, Estonian and Latvian elites followed a nationalizing approach to state-building that conceives of the state as belonging to the ethnic majority, and consequently adopted citizenship and language polices that disenfranchised their large Russian-speaking minorities. Russia has used a variety of tools to pressure Estonia and Latvia into policy reforms,  including historical aggravation, manipulation of border agreements, citizenship policy, military and economic pressure, international organizations, and propaganda campaigns. Leading scholarship has tended to either ignore  or underestimate the influence of Russia’s kin-state activism on ethnopolitics and minority rights in Estonia and Latvia, and has argued that EU membership conditionality has been more important in shaping citizenship and language policies. In addition, while several studies have focused on the geostrategic motivations for Russia’s activism, few studies have critically examined its domestic impact in target states.  Through elite interviews conducted in Estonia and Latvia in 2008, this paper will fill an important gap in the literature by addressing two central questions: 1) How is Russia’s kin-state activism perceived by Estonian and Latvian elites?; and 2) How does it affect their attitudes toward the Russian-speaking minority and minority integration more generally?

Comments are closed.