Sunday, April 29, 2007

Estonia: the Sudetenland comparison

In a well-researched and thoughtful comparative study (pdf) of the issues surrounding the Russian minority in Estonia and Czech-Sudeten German relations between the two world wars, Tartu historian Reigo Lokk has drawn attention to disturbing similarities between the Sudeten crisis which developed when Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933 and the present situation in Estonia, which has developed to a critical point since Putin became Russia’s President in 2000. Although it was written before the current unrest over the relocation of the Bronze Soldier statue, the essay contains many perceptions that may help towards an understanding of what is now taking place:
For Russophones living in Estonia, the new situation signified an identity crisis identification difficulties or fragmented identities) which spelled out the need to redefine their personal and collective identities. Primarily, it brought great difficulties in trying to unite two realities – Russian cultural identity and Estonian political identity. The results of surveys indicate that at least one-third of the Russians have adopted a different understanding of their ethnic or cultural belonging and homeland in connection with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Czech Germans once were, the present Russian-speaking community in Estonia is, in fact, already highly differentiated by their ethnic origin, citizenship status,future aims, social capital, and cultural and political allegiances. For example, Melvin writes that Russian speakers “still face fundamental questions about whether their identity is primarily Baltic, Slavic, Russian or Russian-speaking”. The degree to which the post-Soviet Russian minority will be integrated into their new homeland is intimately linked to the question of what kind of collective identity it will develop. Different researchers have pointed out the weakening of a formerly widespread sense of Soviet identity, and the strengthening of a regional identity which is bound to the territory of Estonia. The level of identification with the country of Estonia and its culture is still relatively low. Instead, the majority of Russians identify themselves culturally and emotionally with Russia. A very vivid example of this is the fact that about 100,000 permanent inhabitants of Estonia of Russian origin have taken Russian citizenship; in addition, the number of people with no citizenship in Estonia is still over 165,000. Therefore, it can be said that the Russian minority seems to display a postmodern identity policy of multiple loyalties but one which lacks a clear
Lokk points to four critical factors that are likely to influence the outcome of the crisis on the domestic situation in Estonia and the other Baltic states, and their national security:

the activity and attitude of the state authorities and titular nations
the foreign policy of the Russian Federation
the behaviour of the Russian minority itself
the international climate
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