Thursday, October 17, 2013

Digging deeper

Many authors, such as Kolstoe 1995 or Pabriks 1999, juxtapose the decrease of interethnic stability and solidarity following regaining independence with the Latvian citizenship policy, indirectly suggesting that the former results from the latter. The focus on pure political developments seems safe enough, as it involves working with more-or-less verifiable historical facts, figures and documents. Its failure, however, is that it ignores the human factor behind these facts and figures. Granted, psychological and social developments are much more difficult to pin-point and analyze objectively, but ignoring them seriously flattens the picture.
Focusing only on describing and analyzing politics and policies has also another advantage: it makes it easier to preserve a consistent line, keep to one side. Paying attention to the “human” circumstances of creating those policies may inadvertently lead to mitigating the hard line. Commercio (2010) studies mostly Russian informal networks in post-Communist countries, but the formal policies of those countries form a necessary background:
What is happening in the post-Soviet states (…) has nothing to do with nation-building (…) on the contrary, post-Soviet elites are engaged in nationalization, which is founded on the principle of ethnic differentiation rather than ethnic integration. (p. 18, emphasis original)
The state of affairs regarded in this somewhat critical statement becomes more justifiable, understandable, more “human”, if we consider it against the backdrop of the following claims:
Russification generated resentment toward Russians that provided legitimacy for nationalization policies and practices (p. 28)
Russification eventually generated anti-Russian sentiment that elites channelled into support for nationalization projects (p. 30)
elites who wished to nationalize the state over which they presided were able to mobilize popular support based on the plausible claim that Moscow had, at some point, persecuted the respective titular nation. This made it easy for elites to frame nationalization projects as remedial and therefore justifiable. (p. 29)
On the one hand, these fragments present Latvian policies in the negative light, implying that they made use of, turned to their advantage the suffering of Latvians during the Soviet times. What is more, the repeated use of the word elites suggests that this abuse of a traumatic experience came “from above”, was a deliberate and scrupulously designed political move. On the other hand, these fragments presuppose Russification as a historical fact, and this term is not neutral; it undeniably entails coercion, compulsion, violence, and resistance as an understandable and justifiable reaction to it.
Blaming (however implicitly) the existence of a two-community society in Latvia on the Latvian exclusive citizenship policies suggests that such a society was created in the 1990s. If a publication does not include even a short description of social relations in Soviet Latvia, its readers might receive a distorted picture. This shows how important the historical context may be.
In the following fragment, however short, Mole (2012) captures not only the existence of a two-community society in Latvia during Soviet times, but also hints at the issue of two different versions of history[1] that is still an important part of the interethnic conflict today:
Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians (...) became profoundly alienated from the societies in which they lived. The Soviet project was, however, successful at embedding its particular version of history and society among the non-indigenous inhabitants (p. 62)
Note that in this interpretation, it is the titular nations that became alienated from the societies in their own republics. The passive voice reinforces lack of popular support, consent, legitimacy for this alienation that was forced upon them.
The meaning of the next fragment from Mole (2012) basically corresponds to that of the quote from Commercio (2010) above. But the use of passive constructions makes it much less judgemental, and the lack of a responsible actor makes the demands more universal and objectified (they may potentially be shared by the entire society, not only the elites):
all laws, institutions and values from the Soviet past as well as the Soviet past itself were considered not just illegitimate but a threat to the continued existence of the desired conceptualization of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian nations and states. In the immediate post-independence period it was thus sufficient for social, political and economic demands to be presented as negating Soviet practice for those demands to be considered legitimate. (p. 82)
Negating everything Soviet basically meant negating everything Russian, as the two identities merged both in the minds of Latvians and in the minds of non-Latvians: “the Soviet practice of conflating Soviet with Russian meant that there was also a tendency among Balts to conflate “Russia with the USSR” and cast everything Russian as a threat”[2]; “the distinctions between Russia, the Soviet Union and the ‘Motherland’ had become blurred in the mind of most Russians. The Russians are the only group among the major Soviet peoples to have linked their national identity to the multinational Union to any appreciable degree”[3]. Pabriks (1999) makes a very interesting claim – that the population was “ethnicized” discursively so that the Soviet identity could be marginalized and loyalty to the Soviet state weakened:
people’s collective identities were ethnicized, and the population became increasingly aware of its ethnic variability. Frequently, ethnic identity replaced the former political identity, which meant that the link between the population and the Soviet state was weakened and lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the population. (p. 148)
The use of active voice in the fragment underlined suggests that there was a kind of “grand design” imposed on people from above (compare with Commercio’s (2010) statements analyzed above), which brings to mind constructivist theories of identity and the creative power of language propagated by critical discourse analysts.
Let us now go back to the issue of ethnic differentiation being preferred over ethnic integration, as Commercio (2010) claimed in the fragment quoted above. It is often presupposed that the latter is the solution to the ethnic conflict in Latvia, that it is what Russians in Latvia need and want and Latvians resist and oppose. For example:
Segregation was a post-colonial strategy which guaranteed that Russian culture would not marginalize Latvian culture. (Björklund 2003, p. 267)
many ethnic Latvians were more concerned about reversing the decades of Russification by rejecting everything associated with Russia and Russian-speakers. Given their “demographic minorization” (Karklins, 1994), ethnic Latvians were concentrating on healing their ethnic identity and ensuring their majority rights. (Silova 2006, p. 86)
The second quote raises some interesting issues: first, the discourse of medicine used when talking about national identity (it needs healing because it has been infected, polluted) and the somewhat surprising combination of majority and rights. Under normal circumstances, we talk about ensuring minority rights, because majority rights are obvious, taken for granted. This reversal indicates abnormality, which refers to the “order of the absurd” which was prevalent under the Soviet rule; the absurd was the official definition of normality[4].
Jubulis (2001) suggests that it is the minorities, not Latvians, who oppose ethnic integration, because this integration is not necessarily in their interests:
For most purposes, the crucial status is residence, not citizenship. (p. 118)
non-citizens enjoy certain benefits in Latvia, such as the ability to travel more easily to Russia and the fact that non-citizens avoid military service (…) many residents may simply lack the necessary motivation to apply for citizenship because they don’t feel that it will have a significant impact on their lives. (p. 119)
Elsewhere he also refers to advantages of being a non-citizen (p. 180).
There are also publications which attribute resistance to ethnic integration to both sides:
latviešu attieksme pret naturalizāciju nav gluži tāda pati kā pret latviešu valodas izplatību cittautiešu vidū. Latvieši nepilsoņu naturalizāciju uztver rezervēti, daudzos gadījumos noliedzoši. Arī liela daļa cittautiešu (nepilsoņu) visumā apzināti izvairās no naturalizācijas. (Vēbers 2007, p. 118)
(transl.) the attitude of Latvians towards naturalization is not exactly the same as towards the use of Latvian among other nationals. Latvians approach the naturalization of non-citizens with reservation, in many cases with rejection. Also a large part of other ethnic groups (non-citizens) deliberately avoid naturalization.
Also Silova (2006) indicates that “the ideas of ethnic integration (…) were initially perceived to be threatening to both Latvian and Russian language speakers in Latvia” (p. 86); “for both sides, it was quite difficult and in some cases impossible to accept the principle of living together” (p. 87).
Attitudes of both sides must be regarded with understanding: while for some Latvians it may be difficult to understand why they should “share” the freedom they fought so hard to achieve with exactly the people they won it from, Russian-speaking Soviet-time immigrants must “make the psychological shift from being members of the dominant cultural group of the Soviet Union to being a minority group in Latvia”[5].
What is interesting, some authors seem to go to great lengths in criticizing Latvian resistance towards ethnic integration, presumably in order to defend “minority rights”, even if the minorities themselves (at least the Russian-speaking groups) appear to be relatively satisfied with the status quo. In the fragment quoted above Björklund (2003) refers to segregation of minorities, elsewhere also called non-recognition or exclusion. She even goes as far as suggesting that Latvians fear that their culture could be “transformed or diluted by the more established and resourceful Russian culture” (p. 278). At the same time, at least some Russian-speaking leaders might have “found the idea of a segregated, two community society more useful politically” (Silova 2006, p. 88). 

*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] “As Jānis Jurkāns, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, reminisced: ‘I learned two histories: one at school and one at home.’” (Mole 2012: 62).
[2] Mole 2012: 83.
[3] Kolstoe 1995: 7.
[4] B. Lindqvist 2003: 298.
[5] Jubulis 2001: 18.

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