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Posted on Feb 10, 2015

The Consequences of Playing the Compatriot Card

jennie_schulze_webDr. Jennie Schulze, assistant professor of Political Science at Duquesne University, received an AABS Emerging Scholar award in 2012. Her project focuses on how Russia’s kin-state activism influences decision-making surrounding minority policies in Estonia and Latvia.

Estonia and Latvia have been primary targets of Russia’s Compatriot Policy. The restrictive citizenship and language polices they adopted in the early 1990s ultimately disenfranchised their large Russian-speaking minorities. Russia has used a variety of tools in the name of protecting its compatriots including military and economic pressures, historical aggravation, border agreements, citizenship policy, international organizations, media campaigns, cyber warfare, and the funding and organization of protests. Concerns over Russia’s influence in Estonian and Latvian society have been escalating in recent years, particularly in the wake of mass protests over school reform in Latvia in spring 2004 and the Bronze Soldier riots in Estonia in April 2007. Both are evidence of Russia’s increasing use of soft power strategies to co-opt Russian-speakers in order achieve its political objectives. Russia’s activism is particularly worrisome in the context of integration monitoring which reveals increasing numbers of young Russian-speakers who are not developing a strong sense of civic identity. Russia’s recent emphasis on soft power strategies, coupled with its militarism in Georgia and Ukraine, has sparked several studies on how Russia’s soft power affects interethnic relations and minority integration in Estonia and Latvia.

The funds from the AABS Emerging Scholars Award allowed me to gather and analyze parliamentary debates in Estonia and Latvia from the early 1990s to the present. Policy areas include citizenship, language, education, elections, integration programs, and the signing and ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National minorities. This research contributes to a larger book project that explores the extent to which debates over minority policy have shifted over time, the justifications that elites provide for their policy preferences, as well as the influence of external actors (Russia and European institutions) on those policy preferences.

While the project is mid-stage, it is possible to report some interesting findings in the Estonian case. Russia’s activism clearly shapes not only policy preferences but the range of permissible claims that elites can make. While Russia’s activism might lead to more exclusionary stances toward Russian-speakers as a result of their perceived co-optation, the potential threat from Russia might alternatively result in greater efforts to integrate Russian-speakers so as to prevent their co-optation. The analysis finds evidence of both processes in the Estonian case.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies for their generous contribution to this project.

Read more about Jennie’s analysis here.