Living as an Alien: Self-Exclusion of Ethnic Russian Stateless Persons in Estonia

Denis Gruber (St. Petersburg State University)

Citizenship in modern societies regulates the formal membership of an individual in a nation state and acts as a mechanism of inclusion and exclusion. Post-communist Estonian political leaders understood restitution as the best possibility to solve the minority question of ethnic Russians. Restitution meant that neither the ethnic population movements of WWII,  nor the ethnic structure influenced by the Soviet migration policy, were taken as “starting points” for citizenship regulations. The formula for citizenship rights was tradition instead of integration. The citizenship law did not only imply status differences between Estonian and Russian citizens, but also within the group of ethnic Russians (divided in non-homogeneous social groups as Russian and Estonian citizens and stateless persons). A specific issue of stateless persons who are living with alien passports lies in the fact that state welfare achievements can be received unproblematically (“compensatory inclusion”), but their “political inclusion” did not take place to a full extent. They can be defined as “denizens” (Hammar 1990) who have their own legal and long-term guaranteed residential status and are also members of the state community; nevertheless, they do not have full political rights.

One of my main questions, based on interviews with 45 Russians, was why ethnic Russians in Estonia opted for Estonian or Russian citizenship and why a large part of this group has remained stateless. It highlighted on one hand the “Fremdexklusion” (exclusion by the “other”) of the Estonian nation-state to exclude Russian minorities from citizenship; on the other hand, individual strategies of Russian minorities to circumvent the integration process (“self-exclusion”).

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