Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Twenty years of research on the Latvian nation-(re)building project: an attempt at comparative discourse analysis

In this and a few following posts, I will show some examples of applying a comparative perspective to discourse analysis in a case study of textbooks on the Latvian nation building (or, as some authors prefer, re-building). The study was conducted during my scholarship at the Herder Institute in January-February 2013. I analyzed the following books:

Ābols, G. 2003. The contribution of history to Latvian identity. Rīga: Nacionālais apgāds

Agarin, T. 2010. A cat’s lick: democratisation and minority communities in the post-Soviet Baltic. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi

Apine, I., V. Volkovs. 2007. Latvijas krievu identitāte: vēsturisks un socioloģisks apcerējums. Rīga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts

Commercio, M.E. 2010. Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan. The Transformative Power of Informal Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Dribins, L. (ed.) 2007. Pretestība sabiedrības integrācijai: cēloņi un sekas. Rīga: Latvijas universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts

Galbreath, D.J. 2005. Nation-building and minority politics in post-socialist states. Interests, influences and identities in Estonia and Latvia. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag

Jubulis, M.A. 2001. Nationalism and democratic transition: the politics of citizenship and language in post-Soviet Latvia. Lanham, New York, Oxford: University Press of America

Kolstoe, P. 1995. Russians in the former Soviet republics. London: Hurst & Company

Lindqvist, B. 2003. "An arena for contested identities. National identity and ethnic diversity at Latvian schools". In: Lindqvist, M. (ed.) Re-inventing the nation. Multidisciplinary perspectives on the construction of Latvian national identity. 293.-350.

Mole, R.C. 2012. The Baltic States from the Soviet Union to the European Union. Identity, discourse and power in the post-communist transition of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. London: Routledge

Pabriks, A. 1999. From nationalism to ethnic policy: the Latvian nation in the present and in the past. Berlin: BIAB

Silova, I. 2006. From sites of occupation to symbols of multiculturalism. Reconceptualizing minority education in post-Soviet Latvia. Greenwich: Information Age Publishing

Stukuls Eglitis, D. 2002. Imagining the Nation. History, modernity, and revolution in Latvia. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press

Tabuns, A. (ed.) 2001. National, state and regime identity in Latvia. Rīga: Baltic Study Centre

In the Foreword to Timofey Agarin’s book on democratization and minority communities in the Baltic States published in 2010, David J. Galbreath wrote: “Several years ago, a Russian said to me (…), ‘is there anything more to say about Russians in the Baltic States?’” (Galbreath’s own, truly significant contribution – Nation-building and minority politics in post-socialist states: interests, influences and identities in Estonia and Latvia – came to light five years earlier, in 2005). Indeed, over the last two decades the field of humanities has been virtually saturated with publications concerning the more or less broadly defined issue of “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”, “national” or “ethnic” minorities in Latvia and other post-Soviet countries. The titles of most of these publications carry buzzwords which reflect the development of social, cultural and political studies and their points of interest: from transition, transformation, path to democracy and nation-building in the 1990s (for example, Lieven 1993, Dreifelds 1996, Pabriks 1999), through the focus on construction, negotiation and maintenance of identities at the outset of the 2000s (e.g. Tabuns (ed.) 2001, Ābols 2003, Lindqvist (ed.) 2003), to the international relations in the context of Latvia’s accession to the European Union (for instance, Berg (ed.) 2009, Muižnieks 2011) and the “trendy” catchwords of discourse and power in the most recent contributions (e.g. Golubeva & Gould (eds.) 2010, Mole 2012). An example of how titles of publications reflect the current developments and changes of trends in the humanities is provided by the two books written by Apine and Volkovs (in Latvian). In contrast to their 1998 contribution on the “ethnic history” of Slavs in Latvia (Slāvi Latvijā: etniskās vēstures apcerējums), their book on Latvian Russians which came out in 2007, and which they claim to be a continuation of the former one, has the word “identity” in its title (Latvijas krievu identitāte: vēsturisks un socioloģisks apcerējums).
Of course, the title does not always reveal exactly what a book is about. Titles may even be misleading. For example, the book Contribution of History to Latvian Identity by G. Ābols (2003) is not a study on the historical construction of Latvian identity (i.e., how it has been shaped by historical events and circumstances), but rather an account of those turning points in history that may have affected the contemporary Latvian identity. It is then, basically, simply a history book – despite the author’s statement that it is not “a manual of history”[1]. True, the book does focus on cultural rather than political history, and contains a lot of anecdotes which make it feel more like a history of people, their traditions, customs and everyday lives, than a history of political leaders, facts and dates. However, most references to facts that could be relevant for the issue of identity construction (for example, “the tradition of eating meals in the presence of the deceased by the family members” – i.e., the so-called cemetery festival[2] – being associated with the ancient Baltic relationship to the dead) are not marked as such and need to be recognized by the reader him/herself.
Most of the books examined contain a part devoted to Latvia’s history; these parts differ both in length (which determines how detailed the account may be) and the temporal perspective – i.e., which event in the history of the present Latvian territory marks the point of departure for the description. In terms of both, the broadest viewpoint has been adopted by Landqvist and his colleagues (2003) – the entire volume is organized according to the chronological principle, reaching back to the 12th century. In most cases, the historical part only relates to problems and issues that are in the focus of a publication; for example, Silova (2006) describes education policies of pre-war Latvia (1918-1939), Latvia as a part of the Soviet Union (1940-1985) and during the perestroika period (1986-1991), while Apine & Volkovs (2007) focus on the history of the presence of ethnic Russians on the territory. It seems that  publications which discuss Latvia’s politics and policies tend not to include a historical part (e.g. Agarin 2010) or include a very short one (e.g. Galbreath 2005), while the publications which discuss the formation or construction of identities (in a broad understanding of the term) tend to have one, even if starting only around the 18th century, with the birth of some kind of sense of belonging to a Latvian nation (e.g. Jubulis 2001, Tabuns (ed.) 2001).

Voice from the inside or voice from the outside?
In order to see whether the perspectives adopted by authors of the selected publications follow their ethnic affiliations, short reference to their self-declared national identities should be made. As a side note, it may be interesting to see which authors find it important to include such information in their contributions.
Most authors (Commercio, Galbreath, Jubulis, Mole, Silova) choose not to disclose information of their own ethnicity in the foreword or introduction to their publication, even if some of them tend to assume quite a personal tone. In the narrative on the origin of the text, however, they usually mention the academic institutions they have come from or belong to, and the institutions that have supported their research in Latvia, suggesting that they represent “a voice from the outside” (Galbreath and Mole – from the UK, Commercio, Jubulis and Silova – from the USA). This solution has been chosen partly also by Daina Stukuls-Eglitis; she does not mention her Latvian roots in any way, but lets the reader deduct them from the very Latvian-sounding names of her relatives (mother Silvia Kalniņš Stukuls, father Edward Stukuls, grandmother Nellija Kalniņš, in-laws in Riga Mirdza and Laimonis Eglītis, children Niklāvs and Anna). In a similar vein, yet to a lesser extent, Laitin reveals that his grandmother – Jewish and born not far away from Kiev – “aspired to become Russian”, thus adding dimensionality to his American identity.
Authors of the volume edited by Tabuns (Tabuns, Broks, Tabuna, Tisenkopfs) do not refer to their national identities either; in the part entitled “Acknowledgements”, however, they mention the Latvian institutions that they have cooperated with, suggesting that they provide “a voice from the inside”. Agarin is the only author who mentions his nationality directly; he identifies himself as a Russian whose parents were “Soviet labour migrants”[3] – but not to the Baltic republics, which he got to know only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, he provides “a Russian voice from the outside”. While Apine, Volkovs and the authors of contributions to the volume edited by Dribins (or, in other words, authors of the two books in Latvian used in this study) do not provide information on their nationality, we may assume they represent “a voice from inside” – be it a Latvian or non-Latvian voice. 

*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

[1] Ābols 2003: 7.
[2] Kapu svētki, Ābols 2003: 43.
[3] Agarin 2010: vii.

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