Category Archives: Minorities and Ethnicity in the Baltics

The Negotiation on the 1717 “Silent” Diet’s Constitutions (November 1716-January 1717): The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between the Golden Freedom and the Ministerial Reform


Mindaugas Sapoka (University of Aberdeen)

The internal conflict between King Augustus II and the noble Confederacies of Tarnogród and Vilnius was ended when a peace treaty was signed on November 3, 1716. After this the two parties, which previously had seemed irreconcilable, began to work hand in hand on the Diet’s resolutions.  My paper rejects the conventional assumption that the 1717 Diet lasted only one day—1 February. I show that contemporaries perceived the Diet to have begun de facto after November 3.  The right of liberum veto was applicable at the conferences where the constitutions were negotiated; however, it was voided at the final session, at which the resolutions were approved. This agenda was contradicted by a large portion of the nobility, who were afraid that this practice might become entrenched in the future and that the liberum veto could be abolished permanently. During the negotiations, clear differences between the Lithuanian and Polish Confederacies became evident.  If it took two months for the Poles to finish their work on the new law, the Lithuanians completed theirs in two weeks, with hardly any disputes.  Another important factor, overlooked in previous scholarship, is the exclusion from the conferences of the Russian mediator Dolgorukii.  The fact that the 1717 Diet’s resolutions were agreed upon with no interposition by Moscow proves wrong the previously held view of a decisive Russian role in the affairs of the 1716-1717 Commonwealth.  The ministerial reforms confirmed by the 1717 “Silent” Diet were an ingenious solution to the contemporary situation and a compromise which showed significant potential in the Republic’s political system.

Keyword: Šapoka

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.

Scales of Estonian Citizenship: Implications for Russophone Political Incorporation

David J. Trimbach (University of Kansas)

Baltic Russophone marginalization and exclusion is well documented in Baltic citizenship scholarship. However, this scholarship neglects to recognize citizenship as spatial. To bridge the conceptual and disciplinary gaps, I apply a multi-scalar approach in this paper connecting citizenship to space. At multiple interconnected scales (supra-national, national, sub-national), I analyze citizenship acquisition and political participation policies in Estonia and their implications on Russophone political incorporation and mobilization. I examine the relationship of exclusionary naturalization and electoral policies with political mobilization via jurisdictional scale. I find the multi-scalar muddling of Estonian citizenship structurally hinders Russophone political incorporation and mobilization, while simultaneously creates potential new sites for engagement.

Ethnic Categorization in Latvia

Olga Cara (University College, London)

The registration of citizens’ ethnicity in official documents and passports was a commonplace and compulsory in the Soviet Union. This paper explores what impact this has on current ethnicity registration processes and shows how primordial understanding of ethnicity is still in existence in Latvia.

The EU and international recommendations and human right standards fuelled the debate about the ethnicity record in the passport in Latvia, but the discussion was only about the record and not about the usefulness and necessity of the ethnicity category as such in registration papers. The current choice is to have or not have your ethnicity in the passport, but the retention of ethnicity category in the Population Register and a near complete absence of public discussion about this issue reflect the understanding of the ethnicity as being something as genuine and valid as somebody’s age or gender.

Moreover, the ethnicity category in the Population Register which is a central filing system for all residents and citizens of Latvia who has a personal ID number makes it possible to individually identify the members of any ethnic group. This is different from census categories where this individual identification is not possible.

Besides, bicultural identity is not allowed in the Population Registry or voluntary passport record. Moreover, continuous practice of ethnicity records and ethnic primordial rhetoric in political area encourages people to think about ethnicity is as something very rigid, almost like some physical features. This in turn hinders the development of inclusive civic Latvian identity.

Integration or Segregation: The Polish Minority in Lithuania


Algimantas Gureckas (Independent Scholar, Germantown, MD, USA)

Polish people constitute the largest national minority in Lithuania.  There are 213 thousand Poles in Lithuania, 6.6 percent of the 3.2 million total population in that country;  44 percent of the Lithuania’s Poles live in the capital city  Vilnius,  46 percent in the countryside around Vilnius, and 10 percent elsewhere in Lithuania.

The districts around Vilnius, where the Poles are the  majority of the population, constitute a Polish ethnic enclave that is separated from the main Polish area in Poland by a wide area inhabited by Lithuanians and Belarusians.

Until 1920 there was no Polish immigration and settlement in the countryside around Vilnius.  Polish settlers from the 1920-1939 period,  left after World War II during repatriation of  Poles from Lithuania.   The remaining Lithuania’s Poles are of Lithuanian descent.  They became Polish entirely as a result of an intensive Polonization of  Lithuanian peasants during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th   centuries.

Since Lithuania has regained its independence in 1990,  a Polish political party has  dominated  municipal governments in two Polish majority districts in the vicinity of Vilnius.  The Polish political leadership has adopted a policy of unalloyed hostility and confrontation  toward  Lithuania’s government and the Lithuanian nation.

Polish leaders reject and resist any integration of  Polish people into the life of the country.  The  government of  Poland fully supports the leadership of Lithuania’s Polish minority.  This has caused considerable apprehension in Lithuania about the ultimate  results of  such a policy of self-segregation.

Past, Present and Future Perspectives: The Poles in Lithuania 1938 and 2011

Giedrius Janauskas (Vytautas Magnus University)

The main focus of this paper is related to two significant dates. The first is the 1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania and the reaction of Lithuania‘s Polish community. The second is the year 2011 and the fight for Polish national minority rights in Lithuania. The comparison is based on the evaluation of the political situation, the position of Lithuania‘s Polish community, and the Lithuanian—as the majority group—attitude   toward the rising disputes. The question about future development of Polish-Lithuanian relationship depends on many factors. This presentation examines some of them:  state politics, the process of civil society formation, and memory.

Ethnicity in the Global Baltics: Lithuanians on the Polish Border Regions

Vida Savoniakaitė (Lithuanian History Institute)

The changing ethnicity and national identity of Lithuanian minorities currently are central academic and social debates. Our research shows the correlation between ethnicity and the historical background of ethnic minorities. One of the Baltic ethnic minorities is the Lithuanian community on the Polish border region. These communities have interesting historical backgrounds, a developed tradition of education system, and strong features of the national identity. Globalization brings a new understanding of identity and alterity. New social contexts become important and even essential for creating new identities. How do Lithuanian minorities describe their identities, how do they understand the otherness? That’s the main problems of surviving democratic society in current global social situations.

Our aim is to analyze how Lithuanian communities on the Polish border regions describe their ethnic identity and how they understand otherness. We’ll discuss the issues by comparison of theoretical debates in the current anthropological thought as well as by analyzing the data of our ethnographical research in Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. We’ll try to examine the new models of everyday life, which change the current consciousness of people. We’ll pay attention to the public contexts and political situations that have impact on creating new identities. The paper will show the changing ethnicities of Lithuanian minorities in global Baltics.

Keyword: Savoniakaite