Being Russian in Estonia: an ethnographic exploration of language policy, national narratives, and identities
Studies into the post-Soviet space often seek to gain greater insights into the political and abstract forces of society and rarely do they seek to explore the everyday experiences of those who felt the rapidly shifting socio-political landscape. This ethnographic exploration is expressed through the perceptions and experiences of Estonian and Russian-speaking residents in Estonia. The gathering of material was accomplished from a range of participants from multiple cities in order to provide a more comprehensive account. Since independence was gained in 1991, Estonia’s nation-building methods have been achieved through a predominately ethnocentric approach. The state’s emphasis on language combined with market reforms and exclusionary citizenship policy, has resulted in the social stratification and marginalisation of Russian-speakers. While aspects of this disparity has closed in recent years, the rupture to social solidarity still remains. The experiences of Russian-speakers provide a lens to understand the values of Estonian society outside the national context. It shows how history continues to shape, inform and legitimise institutions of inequality throughout society. The analysis of polarising narratives showcase that the barriers that exist are not only ethnolinguistic but ideological too, reflecting a deep-seated connection between memory and identity. The prominent importance placed on language within society has also exacerbated the perception of difference between ethnic groups, overlooking cultural similarities in favour of minor differences.