Ethnic Identity Processes in the Baltic States

Martin Ehala (University of Tartu)

The paper presents the results of a large scale quantitative study of ethnolinguistic vitality of major ethnic groups in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and interprets the results for possible ethnic identity processes in the Baltic countries. Ethnolinguistic vitality is understood here as ethnic group’s potential for collective action. Vitality processes are considered short term (1 to 5 years) and intragenerational. Ethnic identity is understood here broadly as a collective identity that is shared by a group that is functioning or able to function as a society. Ethnic identity processes (segregation, assimilation and consolidation) are long term (minimum 20 years) processes.

The analysis revealed significant differences in vitality of ethnicities in three countries. The vitalities of Estonians and Lithuanians are highest while the Latvians’ vitality is slightly lower. As for the Russian minorities, the vitality is highest in Latvia and lowest in Lithuania. In Estonia the vitality of Russian-speaking population is slightly lower than in Latvia, particularly in the North-East Estonia, but it is quite low in rural areas and small settlements. The Polish in Lithuania and Latgalians in Latvia have the lowest vitalities. The results suggest continuation of segregation of Russians in Estonia and Polish in Lithuania. Due to low intergroup discordance between Lithuanians and Russians, Russian community in Lithuania is likely to assimilate as are Latgalians in Latvia. The Latvian-Russian situation resembles unstable equilibrium: the vitality profiles of Latvians and Russians could lead either towards consolidation or separation.

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