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CIAO DATE: 11/00

Does The EU Offer Security?: European Integration In The Estonian Identity Discourse*

Merje Feldman

June 2000

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute



The paper situates the Estonian discourse of national identity in the country's pursuits of EU and NATO membership. It first outlines the assumptions, concepts, and rhetorical devices through which the notion of national identity is constructed in discussions of international integration, and then highlights the policy ramifications of the identity discourse. The paper concentrates particularly on the three closely linked concepts - civilizational conflict, national territorial sovereignty, and security -- that together constitute a core of identity debates in Estonia. While national identity in Estonia has hitherto been examined in the context of ethnic relations between the Estonian and the non-Estonian populations, this paper analyzes identity debates, including issues of ethnicity, in the context of the country's pursuits of international integration. As identity is a central concept in Estonia's foreign, security, citizenship and minority rights policies, the paper improves our understanding of the claims that underpin these policies.

The Estonian identity discourse contains strong arguments in favour of EU membership, yet several of its fundamental premises discursively construct this membership as harmful to Estonia. Both pro- and contra- EU arguments pivot particularly on claims about geopolitical and cultural threats. On the one hand, international integration is constructed as a security measure against the Russian threat. On the other hand, insofar as supranational institutions promote the naturalization of Estonia's Russian-speaking residents, who are construed as representatives of the Russian threat, international integration is also depicted as dangerous to Estonian identity. Estonian identity narratives thereby contradict governmental rhetoric of ethnic and European integration.


1. Introduction

The protection of Estonian national identity together with Estonia's rapid integration into western supranational institutions is the central theme of the Estonian identity discourse. That discourse stresses nation-building and the sovereignty of the nation-state, while also advocating sovereignty pooling and employing the imagery of a multicultural Estonian identity. The narratives of sovereignty and international integration are prominent in governmental rhetoric, political commentaries and academic research alike, yet they co-exist uneasily as they involve competing claims about the relationship between the national and the supranational.

Geopolitics and security are key concepts in both the integration and the sovereignty narratives. International integration, particularly membership in the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), is pursued as the ultimate expression and codification of Estonian identity and Estonian values, as well as a security guarantee for the preservation of Estonia's identity and independence. Security and identity are represented as Estonia's primary motives for integration; they are accorded higher priority than the anticipated economic benefits of the process. Yet the geopolitical concepts and security threats invoked in the integration and sovereignty narratives contradict one another between as well as within these narratives. On the one hand, Estonian identity is presented as a European or western one, and similarities between Estonia and western European countries are stressed. On the other hand, Estonian identity is presented in exclusively ethnic terms and linked to the territory of the nation-state. That representation stresses the uniquely endangered character of Estonian culture and warns against the loss of national identity if EU regulations, particularly in immigration, citizenship and minority rights, were imposed on the Estonian territory. The loss of sovereignty and the dissolution of the nation are among the most serious concerns Estonians identify in connection with the country's potential EU membership (Palk, 2000; Tarand and Vöörmann, 1996).

Ambivalence regarding EU accession is becoming more pronounced (Muuli, 2000). Even though most major parties explicitly support EU accession and majority are for Estonia's membership in NATO 1 , there is considerable popular ambivalence about international integration in Estonia. The percentage of the electorate who would vote for EU accession at a referendum has consistently been under 50%. It declined from 44% in 1995 to 26% in 1998 and then rose to 38% by the end of 1999 (Palk, 2000). Support has consistently outweighed opposition, but there are also many undecided voters 2 . Support for EU accession has an ethnic aspect as ethnic Estonians are consistently more skeptical of EU membership than the non-Estonian residents of Estonia. As for NATO membership, only 32% of Estonian citizens said in 1996 and in 1997 that they would vote for NATO accession if a referendum was held then (Central and Eastern European Eurobarometer, 1997; 1998). In February 2000, only 24% of Estonian citizens and 4% of the non-citizen population expressed 'strong support' to Estonia's membership in NATO (ES Turu-uuringute AS, 2000: 10). Attitudes toward NATO accession also have an ethnic component as non-Estonians are more skeptical about NATO than Estonians. This ambivalence is noteworthy if not surprising given the intense governmental efforts to integrate Estonia rapidly into the EU and NATO. The notions of identity and security are not the only factors influencing public opinion, but they are prominent in arguments both for and against international integration.

This paper examines the ways in which the relationship between national identity and international integration is framed in the Estonian identity discourse. I investigate what representations of identity are considered true, what rhetorical devices are used in furthering these representations of identity, and how other kinds of representations are excluded and rendered invalid. I concentrate on the three closely linked concepts — civilizational conflict, national territorial sovereignty, and security -- that together constitute a core of identity debates and illuminate the mutual embeddedness of national identity and international integration in Estonia. I demonstrate how the search for security that underlies arguments about civilizational conflict and state sovereignty brings these arguments into conflict with each other and with the rhetoric of international integration.

The paper makes three distinct contributions to our understanding of Estonian public opinion and the policies of the Estonian state. First, whereas the existing research in Estonian identity politics mostly describes events, policies and opinion polls (see Clemens, 1994; Vetik and Kionka, 1995; Lauristin et al., 1997; Park, 1995; Raun, 1997), this study analyses the unremarkable and consensual assumptions that underpin political debates, academic research, journalistic reports and public opinion. The focus on discourse has practical policy relevancy. One of the urgent questions in the Baltic Sea region today is whether or not recent changes toward a more cooperative political landscape on various scales (regional, state) are durable (Joenniemi, 1999). To answer that question, we need to understand the frameworks of meaning within which policy-making and implementation is contained. Unraveling these frameworks is precisely the aim of this paper. An important part of this contribution stems from the use of a wide range of data sources. The existing studies on Estonian identity debates (Aalto, 2000; Berg, 1999; Lagerspetz, 1999; Unwin, 1999), relying primarily on utterances by few high-ranking state officials, highlight the pursuit of EU membership within the identity discourse but do not examine the negative images of the EU. These studies thus do not tackle the ambivalence about the EU that is apparent in policy debates and opinion polls. This paper, in contrast, analyses how identity is constructed in varied institutional settings such as government agencies, academia, and the media, and thereby provides a more elaborate and complete account of the identity discourse.

The second contribution stems from the international relations context in which I view the Estonian identity debates. While national identity in Estonia has hitherto been examined mainly in the context of ethnic relations between the Estonian and the non-Estonian populations (Kirch, 1997; Laitin, 1998; Smith, 1998), I analyse identity debates, including issues of ethnicity, in the context of Estonia's pursuits of EU and NATO membership. I thereby illuminate the mutual constitution of national identity and international integration as well as foreign and domestic policies.

The third contribution stems from the focus on the geographical and geopolitical premises of identity construction. By uncovering how the categories of culture, nation and threat, through which identity is constructed, are demarcated 'on the ground', the paper illuminates the specific boundaries and geographical scales in which identity construction occurs and brings to the fore the geopolitical ramifications of identity debates. In so doing, the paper adds to the burgeoning research on the role of identity narratives in geopolitical reasoning (Neumann, 1998; Tunander, Baev and Einagel, 1997).

I next proceed to elaborate the theoretical framework of the analysis and clarify the political context of identity debates in Estonia. Concentrating on arguments on cultural realms and sovereignty, respectively, the subsequent two sections investigate the construction of the notions of national identity and European integration within the Estonian identity discourse. The final section summarizes the recurring themes of the Estonian identity discourse and outlines the policy ramifications of that discourse.


2. Identity and discourse

Collective identity construction, including the geopolitical claims used in identity debates and the reconfiguration of identity discourses in the process of European integration, has received substantial coverage in political geography, international relations and political science (Campbell, 1992; Neumann, 1998; Paasi, 1996, Tunander, Baev and Einagel 1997). That research demonstrates that a state's political practices do not flow naturally from a pre-given set of national interests but are intimately involved in the construction of these interests. A particularly important set of state practices is the creation of national identity on which name political practices are conducted. Shore and Wright (1997) argue that national culture and identity are becoming increasingly urgent and sensitive issues for governments as states' powers to control their economic and political space have dwindled (p. 28). In the EU, the question of whether or not EU membership undermines national identity is salient in the Union's old and new member states alike.

All identity construction involves forging the self-other relationship. In the words of Connolly (1991), 'identity requires difference in order to be, and it converts difference into otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty' (p. 64). As the notion of what 'we' are is intrinsic in the construction of what 'we' fear, invoking threats to identity is an important discursive strategy in identity construction and consolidation (Campbell, 1992: 85). Buzan, Waever and de Wilde (1998) note that identity is prone to securitization as it is always possible to claim that, as a result of a development, 'we will no longer be us', no longer the way we were or the way we ought to be to be true to our 'identity' (ibid.: 23). The designation of something as a security threat discursively amounts to declaring an emergency condition and claiming a right to use whatever means necessary to block the threatening development. Securitization involves not only proclaiming something a security threat but also the citizenry accepting such claim, and measures to deal with the alleged threat, as valid and legitimate. Thus, expert knowledge and claims of scientific proof are central to framing social matters as security issues outside the realm of normal politics (Sharp, 1996). Securitization occurs if, by means of an argument about the priority and urgency of an existential threat, the issue is framed as above politics and the securitizing actor has managed to break free of the procedures and rules he or she would otherwise be bound by (Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde 1998: 27). Crucially, it is only through the practice of securitization that an issue becomes a matter of security. Security issues therefore cannot be studied outside the contexts in which they are socially constructed as security issues.

Geographical and geopolitical claims are integral to the delimitation and legitimization of national identity. Identity narratives define not only 'us' and 'them' but also 'our' and 'their' spaces, and they specify how 'their' space is different from 'ours' (Dalby, 1990). These narratives thereby combine questions of culture with those of geographical definition. For example, nation-building discursively demarcates a border with the outside and converts diverse places inside into a homogenous national space (O'Tuathail, 1996). The construction of the 'Other' is likewise underpinned by a specific geographical and geopolitical imagination in which identity is articulated in terms of a territorial community that external Others imperil (Dalby, 1997: 9). Territory is the 'common ground' on which identity narratives draw and onto which they are ascribed; these narratives derive much of their cohesive strength from invoking national territory. Accoding to Paasi (1996), national territory can be thought of as a container that nation-building practices gradually fill with national consciousness. Such 'territorialization' of national identity impinges on national territorial sovereignty, i.e., the undivided authority of the state over its territory. As international integration involves the 'unbundling' of sovereignty, it alters the geographic demarcation of national identity. Thus, claims on territory, boundaries and geopolitics provide telling examples of how national identity is re-demarcated in the process of international integration.

Discourse in this paper refers to the rules that guide political discussion. My concern is not primarily with what people say, what they 'really' mean, or whether or not their arguments are 'accurate', but with the set of rules that define the limits and forms of what can be said, remembered, re-activated and appropriated in discussions of identity in Estonia. In other words, I investigate what claims are used to present a particular way of defining Estonian national identity as if this was the only definition possible, while enforcing closure or silence on other ways of thinking or talking about identity. The methodological premise here is firstly that texts about identity do not reveal but produce identity, and secondly that rhetorical devices are not separated from material practices but integral parts of these practices. Analysing how the notion of identity is constructed in political speeches, governmental documents and the media thus provides insights into how issues of identity are framed in legislation and everyday policy implementation. This is not to argue that texts guide practice but that practice is implicit in texts.


3. Context and method

Full membership in EU and NATO has been among the principal political goals of Estonia since the re-establishment of its independence in 1991. Estonia was the first of the former Soviet republics to start accession negotiations with the EU in 1998. It signed the Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO in 1994 and has steadily increased co-operation with the alliance. Identity is a key theme in these pursuits: integration into western supranational institutions is construed not only as the reclamation of the European roots of Estonian culture but also as a fundamental prerequisite for the very existence of Estonian national identity.

Estonia is an interesting example of identity construction because it started seeking EU membership soon after it regained independence from the Soviet Union. The country's international integration has occurred simultaneously with the intense assertion of national identity. Estonia provides telling examples of the geopolitical claims embedded in identity narratives because arguments about location, cultural realms, geopolitical threat and security are pivotal to the identity discourse. Estonian identity is depicted as an identity under an omnipresent threat of extinction. In the words of Estonia's President Meri: 'More than with any other nation in Europe fate tried to make us playthings in her hands' (Meri, 1996). Security is conceived not just in military or economic terms; it also involves culture, demographics, linguistics and pedagogy as issues deemed vital to the survival of the Estonian nation (Jaanson, 1997; Haab, 1998). There seems to be a contradiction here: even though Estonia is now an independent state where Estonian is the state language, even though Russian troops were withdrawn from the Estonian territory in 1994, even though Estonia closely co-operates with EU and NATO, Estonian identity and sovereignty are still represented as on the verge of demise. Utterances on danger and security therefore cannot be viewed merely as responses to 'objective situation'. It is necessary to examine how the perceptions of threat are constructed and how they are incorporated into understandings of identity.

Estonia's ethnic composition should be considered here. As of 1999, 35% of Estonia's population was non-Estonian or Russian-speaking, most of them ethnic Russians. Most non-Estonians had migrated to Estonia during the Soviet occupation and were not Estonian citizens 3 . Estonia has been under considerable international pressure to liberalise its citizenship and language laws to better integrate non-Estonians into the Estonian society. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been monitoring Estonia's ethnic integration since 1993. European Commission's 1997 Agenda 2000 report, which assessed Estonia's readiness for EU membership, also urged the country to better integrate the Russian-speaking population into the society. Last, but not least, NATO suggested in 1999 that Estonia accelerate ethnic integration (Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000). Foreign funds, mostly from the European Union, Nordic countries, Canada, United Kingdom and Open Estonia Foundation, constitute nearly one half (47%) of funds allocated for ethnic integration in Estonia in 2000 (State Programme 'Integration in Estonian Society 2000-2007'). Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs acknowledges that ethnic integration in Estonia has a foreign policy aspect as it is necessary for Estonia's integration into the EU (Ilves, 1998b).

In response to suggestions from supranational organizations, Estonia has indeed taken a number of steps aimed at facilitating ethnic integration. In 1993, President Meri vetoed a controversial Aliens Law which was subsequently liberalised. That same year, the President's Roundtable on Ethnic Minorities was established to provide a forum where minorities could voice their concerns. The government established a minister without portfolio on ethnic affairs in 1997. In the following year, a government-chartered foundation to manage programs of ethnic integration was established and a document on the bases for the Estonian state integration policy adopted (The Integration of Non-Estonians into Estonian Society, 1999). In 1999, Estonia amended its citizenship law to ease the naturalisation of the children of stateless persons and in 2000, the State Integration Programme (State Programme 'Integration in Estonian Society 2000-2007') was adopted. By the late 1990, ethnic integration had moved to the centre stage in political rhetoric. Numerous studies have been produced monitoring the attitudes of the Estonian and non-Estonian populations toward ethnic integration, EU, NATO and a host of other issues (Heidmets, 1998; Kirch, 1997; Pettai, Proos and Laius, 2000). Estonia is generally cited as an example of peaceful ethnic relations; the country has not experienced ethnically motivated violence and foreign observers generally find Estonia's citizenship and minority rights legislation in compliance with European practices. Whereas many ethnic Estonians are suspicious of ethnic integration, few would take action against the process. Even though 46% of ethnic Estonians said in Spring 2000 that they would like to see non-Estonians leave, only 2% were against increasing the number of non-Estonians among the Estonian citizenry (Vetik, 2000).

However, the above numbers also indicate that ethnic integration has remained a controversial process which many consider a threat to the Estonian identity and security. Indeed, the international pressure notwithstanding, by early 2000, only 110,000 non-Estonians (26% of the foreign born non-Estonian population), had acquired Estonian citizenship by naturalization. This means that nearly one quarter (approximately 360,000 individuals) of the country's population were not citizens of Estonia. Of those, approximately 36% (130,000 individuals) were citizens of other countries (including 90,000 citizens of Russia), the remaining 64% (approximately 230,000 individuals) had no citizenship at all (early 2000 data, Citizenship and Migration Board, 2000; Saks, 2000). Those in the latter category, comprising nearly 17% of Estonia's population, live in Estonia on the basis of residence permits yet have no citizenship, either Estonian or Russian. In addition, there are an estimated 31,000 non-Estonians who have not registered with the Estonian authorities altogether and thus have no legal basis for living in Estonia (Pettai, Proos and Laius, 2000: 71). Furthermore, naturalization has decelerated within the last few years. Whereas 22,773 persons were naturalized in 1996, the respective number was only 9,969 in 1998 and 4,534 in 1999 (Citizenship and Migration Board, 2000) 4 . If this pace continues, there would still be 200,000 stateless permanent residents, almost 15% of Estonia's population, in the year 2003 when the country is supposed to be ready for the EU (Järve, 2000). Ethnic integration is thus by no means in the concluding stages.

In analyzing arguments about identity, this paper extracts empirical evidence from political speeches and policy programs, political analyses that have appeared in the Estonian media, and the voluminous academic research by Estonian scholars on Estonian identity, security and sovereignty. These texts form a set of interlinked arguments and debates as politicians and academics frequently publish their opinions in newspapers, academics are closely involved as experts in policy-making, and politicians as well as journalists invoke their academic background and qualifications to legitimize their arguments. My analysis therefore illustrates how identity is constructed in a number of institutional settings: formal political speeches, academia, expert roundtables, editorial offices, polling firms, and so on. I concentrate on the elite discourse because these are the privileged, dominant textual practices that give rise to the systems of meaning from which policies are directed and legitimized. My goal is not to cover Estonia's identity debates 'wall to wall' but to reveal the conceptual frameworks, mainstream and widely accepted in the Estonian society, that guide these debates. I thus focus on the claims that are resorted to as common sense, self-evident and already proven or agreed upon, trying to reveal what assumptions lend legitimacy to these claims. All direct quotes as well as paraphrased ideas cited in the paper are drawn from official policy programs, speeches by high-ranking politicians, academic research and writings by prominent political and cultural figures. The quotes are used to exemplify and illuminate the arguments central within the discourse. As Russian-speakers are marginalized in national politics, partly because about one half of them are not Estonian citizens, the dominant discourse is an Estonian language one. Arguments in the Estonian-language media refer to each other and rarely invoke writings in the Russian-language press. 5 I therefore include texts by non-Estonian politicians, journalists, and intellectuals only insofar as they appear in the major daily newspapers and major policy programs. In a similar manner, the views of radical nationalists and all other groups critical of the dominant representation of Estonian identity are analysed only insofar as they appear in the mainstream media. I focus on the second half of the 1990s as the period when European integration has emerged as an issue of intense political rhetoric, polling, and public discussion.


The civilizational narrative

Estonia's geographical and geopolitical location on the borderline of western and orthodox civilisations is constructed as the primary reason why Estonia should rapidly integrate into western supranational institutions. Membership in the EU and NATO is seen as a proof of Estonia's European character and a counterweight to the proximity of the Orthodox civilisation. Such geopolitical argument constructs an inherent chasm between Estonia and Russia as well as Estonians and Russians.

The civilizational narrative is inspired particularly by Samuel Huntington's concept of civilisational conflicts. Huntington's 1993 article 'The clash of civilisations?' (Huntington, 1993) and the 1996 book on the same topic (Huntington, 1996) are among the most cited and revered scholarly works in Estonia. The civilizational argument posits that Estonia has been an integral part of (western) Europe's economic, political and cultural life at least since the Middle Ages. The President, for instance, proclaims that Estonian identity with its own legal and administrative system, language and religion dates from the 13th century (Meri, 1991). The Minister of Foreign Affairs likewise stresses that Estonians entered the European cultural space in the 12th and 13th century when they adopted European values (Ilves, 1998a). Referring to the membership of several Estonian towns in the medieval Hanseatic League, President Meri says: 'Everything new is well forgotten old... I would like to say that we in Europe have an experience of a previous European Union. This previous union created a common legal area associating more than a hundred cities, it radiated something which in the current terminology of the European Union and NATO is called common values, and radiated it far beyond its borders' (Meri, 1998a). Some politicians, including the President, go even further back in time, arguing that Estonia was economically integrated into the Roman empire on the first century AD already (Meri, 1998b). A prominent politician and intellectual stresses that it is a historical fact that 'recognising Estonians is a natural part of European self-consciousness' (Olesk, 1998). Estonia's precise location in Europe varies somewhat within the argument. Immediately before and after the re-establishment of independence the central European connection was emphasised, particularly by Meri, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time. By the late 1990s this had been overshadowed by an emphasis on Germany and the Nordic countries ( Berg, 1999; Pernik, 2000). The President underscores mostly connections with Germany while the Minister of Foreign Affairs actively promotes Estonia as 'the only post-socialist Nordic country' (City Paper, 1999).

Claims on genetics occupy a prominent place in the edifice of proof regarding Estonia's western character. These claims were put forth by Estonian academics in 1996 (Pau, 1997; Teder, 1996) and subsequently adopted by politicians and the media. They stipulate that even though Estonians speak a Finno-Ugric language, one of the Uralic languages spoken in Eastern Europe and Asia, they are genetically very close to western Europeans. Their ancestors came not from the east, as previously thought, but from the (south)west. Estonia's President said upon accepting the European of the Year award in 1999 that 'it has been confirmed that the Estonians and Finns living on the coasts of the Baltic Sea can genetically be traced to the distant pre-history of Europe' (Meri, 1999). Arguments on genetics represent identity not as a social but as a biological, and hence unchangeable, matter.

Within the civilizational narrative, Estonian identity is conceived of as that of a frontier of western civilisation. President Meri remarked in the 1994 Independence Day address that Estonia's eastern border has 'through centuries been the eastern border of the European legal system, and will so remain... our border is the border of European values.' (Quoted in Lagerspetz, 1999) The Minister of Foreign Affairs likewise states that '...Estonia has emerged as the frontier of western values and principles in Europe. We are a frontier where the contrasts between two different views of development, history and security are as striking as the contrast once was between West and East Berlin' (Kallas, 1996). Taagepera (1999), a prominent academic actively involved in designing the premises of ethnic integration in Estonia, explicitly contrasts Estonia's European character with the non-European ways of Russia. 'Whenever Russia or Serbia consider adopting western ways they must go outside and give up parts of themselves', Taagepera says. 'In contrast, when Estonia or its Baltic neighbours (Latvia and Lithuania) adopt western ways,' he continues, 'they only have to reach deeper and actually recover parts of themselves' (p. 24). Several political commentators argue that the civilizational schism, the 'watershed between Russia and the Baltic states', effectively prevents Estonia from having good-neighbourly relations with Russia (Mihkelson, 1998).

As a part of the frontier imagery, the Russian threat is a central postulate of the civilizational narrative. Through claims of impending threat, Estonia's foreign and domestic policy options are moulded into a binary framework in which Estonia either rapidly integrates into EU and NATO or falls back to the Russian sphere of influence. The options of the Estonian people are simple 'as a mathematical equation,' President Meri said in 1999: 'on one side Europe, on the other Russia'. 'We are on the border,' he warned, 'and therefore only a small push is needed to make us fall into one side or rise into the other' (Eesti Päevaleht, 1999). Gräzin (1996), a Member of Parliament (MP), likewise urges that Estonia's policies must be based on a 'crystal clear understanding that the Russian threat is not a matter of diplomatic talk but a true fact of the ruthless world'. The perception of Russian threat is indeed widespread; according to a poll from January 2000, 80% of ethnic Estonians consider Russia a threat to Estonia's independence. Helme, Estonia's former ambassador to Moscow, explains that number by remarking that Estonians accurately assess the Russian threat; they have lived next to Russians for centuries and hence know Russians' 'unstable nervous system' (Oolo, 2000). EU and NATO memberships are seen as the only guarantees of security against the Russian threat; that threat is thus the main impetus for international integration. Proponents of the EU argue that problematic aspects of the Union's membership, such as the perceived over-regulation and the loss of national sovereignty, must be put aside in the face of the Russian threat (Soosaar, 2000). As Estonia represents European identity and values, Russia is discursively constructed as a threat not only to Estonia but to European culture more generally (Reinart, 1995; Luik, 1995). Estonia is represented as a guardian of European as much as its own identity and security.

The Russian civilizational threat is both external and internal. The former stems from Russia's imperial ambitions and military muscle whereas the latter emanates from the presence of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians on the Estonian territory. The lines of civilizational conflict go not only between Estonia and Russia but also within Estonia, between the country's Estonian and Russian-speaking populations. Non-Estonians are represented as an overt security problem because, due to their civilizational background, they are allegedly inclined to be friendly toward Russia. Ethnic integration thus becomes a potential threat to Estonia as it would increase the role of Russia-friendly individuals in the Estonian society. Taagepera emphasises that non-Estonians are Russia's civil garrison, and as such, they 'cannot demand this and that like their democratic human right. They can [only] appeal to the generosity and practical mindset of Estonians' (Taagepera, 1998b). A high-profile study of non-Estonians' political attitudes explicitly states that: 'Whereas Russia's malevolent behaviour in respect to Estonia makes Estonians view Russia as a dangerous neighbour, the residing here non-Estonians, notwithstanding all the threats, have retained a positive attitude — they do not consider Russia a potential threat. This brings us to the conclusion that residing in Estonia non-Estonians accept and consider normal Russia's potential malevolent actions against Estonia.' (Tartu University Market Research Team, 1997: 17). Non-Estonians' low support for Estonia's membership in NATO is cited as a particularly telling example of their disloyalty to Estonia (ibid.; Soosaaar 1999c).

In addition to the direct political threat, and more pervasively, non-Estonians are represented as a cultural problem. They are construed as bearers of a non-western culture who inevitably dilute the European character of Estonia. Invoking Huntington, Nutt (1999), an MP and one of the principal authors of Estonia's aliens and citizenship legislation, calls it 'a ruthless fact' that a Russian considers a Serb as a brother while an Estonian will remain an alien. 'Blood is thicker than water' Nutt continues 'And this holds true also for the Russian who, according to some sociologists, has been integrated'. The assumption that non-Estonians are inherently and fundamentally different from Estonians is a basic premise of the Estonian state integration policies. Citing sociological research, the Bases of the Estonian State Integration Policy document states that there are two distinct societies in Estonia; the Estonian and the non-Estonian one, and that non-Estonians 'live in a world of their own mentality' (The Integration of non-Estonians into the Estonian Society, 1998).

Assuming distinct Estonian and non-Estonian mentalities, programs on ethnic integration refer to the 'Estonian mindset' which must take root among non-Estonians to ensure their loyalty to the Estonian state. A major sociological survey from 1997 (Tartu University Market Research Team, 1997) designs a 'loyalty index' as a measure of such a mindset. The index is based on 13 indicators derived from 13 yes/no questions. These concern, among others, optimism regarding Estonia's future development, support for Estonia's accession to the EU and NATO, cultural similarity to Estonians and whether or not non-Estonian respondents feel they have been offended on the grounds of ethnicity in Estonia. Those who are optimistic regarding Estonia's future development, support Estonia's membership in the EU and NATO, consider themselves culturally similar to Estonians and feel that they have never been offended on the grounds of ethnicity in Estonia, score high on loyalty. Others are classified as more or less hostile to Estonia. As a part of non-Estonians' loyalty to Estonia, the survey also measures their attitudes toward Russia. These attitudes, the authors maintain, 'serve ... as a social barometer enabling to rate the degree of similarity of Estonians' and non-Estonians' mentality' (ibid.: 15). Attitudes toward Russia are measured by questions as to whether or not 'relations between Estonians and Russians are exacerbated by Russia's continuous attacks against Estonia and other Baltic states' and whether or not 'Russia is a dangerous neighbour for Estonia' (ibid.: 11). On the basis of two axes: loyalty to the Estonian state and hostility/friendliness toward Russia, non-Estonians are divided into four groups: loyal Estonian-minded' ('loyal to Estonia' and 'hostile to Russia'), 'rational seekers of compromise' ('loyal to Estonia' but 'friendly to Russia'), 'hostile having an inner conflict' ('hostile to Estonia' as well as to Russia) and 'Russia-minded separatists' ('hostile to Estonia' and 'friendly to Russia'). According to that classification, a mere 17% of non-Estonians are loyal Estonian-minded A whole 19%, on the other hand, are hostile to Estonia ('Russia-minded separatists'). Thirty-eight percent are somewhere in-between and 26% are classified as 'undefined, 'bog'' as they are 'either unable or unwilling to identify themselves along the Russia-Estonia-Estonian axis' (ibid.: 13).

Within the above civilizational framework, EU recommendations to integrate non-Estonians into the Estonian society translate into pressure to compromise Estonia's western identity and are constructed as threats. An MP asserts that 'Russia is waiting to ambush not from Ivangorod, like in the Middle Ages, but from Brussels' (Vahtre, 1998: 11). OSCE recommendations regarding the liberalisation of citizenship and minority rights legislation are ascribed to ignorance and naiveté regarding Russian propaganda, Russian character and the real intentions of Russian politicians. Some even accuse OSCE in acting directly under Russian influence. Nutt says that 'OSCE recommendations' should be read as 'Russia's demands' (Nutt, 1996). Commenting on the OSCE suggestion to ease the naturalisation of children of stateless residents, Nutt warns that Brussels' recommendations regarding citizenship are like a Trojan horse. 'If we in our euroflattery campaign do not consider our security,' he says, 'then accepting Estonia might bring such security risk to the EU that it might abandon us' (Nutt, 1998).

The argument here is not that all Estonian academics, politicians and journalists personally subscribe to culturally intolerant views. Intellectuals and businesspeople indeed increasingly argue that negative representations of Russia hamper Estonia's development as they reduce economic and cultural contacts with Russia and tarnish Estonia's international image (Raid, 1996). Liberal commentators, including several non-Estonians, also maintain that it is unnecessary to restrict non-Estonians' access to Estonian citizenship because most non-Estonians have in fact developed the Estonian mindset and are loyal to the Estonian state (Taagepera, 1998a; Semjonov, 1997). For instance, non-Estonians are interested in learning the Estonian language, most of them consider Estonia their home and Russian youth in Estonia generally supports Estonia's accession to NATO (Pettai, Proos ja Laius, 2000: 71). A number of social scientists argue that Estonia is witnessing the transformation of identity paradigms: non-Estonians are willing to learn the Estonian language and make cultural adjustments to function in the Estonian society while Estonians are feeling more secure about the preservation of Estonian identity and are hence more tolerant of non-Estonians. Liberal commentators emphasise that integration is a two-way process and not a mere adoption of 'Estonian values' by non-Estonians (see particularly Heidmets, 1998; Pettai, 1999; Vetik, 2000). They call for tolerance and 'listening to the other' which would better help non-Estonians to integrate into the Estonian culture (Veidemann, 1998). Above all, they question the feasibility of maintaining civilizational purity in the globalizing world, particularly in the conditions of a 35% non-Estonian population. They advocate more liberal citizenship policies on the grounds that if non-Estonians are not naturalised in the near future, then Estonia will have even more difficulties integrating the further waves of immigrants following Estonia's accession into the EU (Taagepera 1998a). Importantly, however, those who do not advocate nationalist rhetoric of existential threats do not challenge this rhetoric either 6 . They do not openly question the basic assumptions of the civilizational narrative and often position their arguments within the framework of that narrative. For example, liberal commentators tend to operate with the concepts of civilisation and Russian threat that form the core of the civilizational narrative. Their arguments are also based on the dichotomy of Estonian vs. Russian mindset (see Pettai, Proos and Laius, 2000; Saks, 2000, Soosaar, 1999c; Taagepera, 1998a; UNDP, 1997; 1998). These arguments also imply that non-Estonians must demonstrate loyalty to Estonia by supporting the official political line of the Estonian state. Even though ethnic integration is rhetorically declared a two-way process, its success is measured solely in terms of non-Estonia's acceptance and adoption of 'Estonian values' and 'Estonian mindset'. Polls and surveys routinely operate with the categories of Estonians, non-Estonian citizens and non-citizens. Divisions of class or gender across and within these dividing lines are ignored while the concepts of Estonian and non-Estonian communities are reified.


The sovereignty narrative

The potential loss of national territorial sovereignty is among the principal sources of euroscepticism in Estonia. Sovereignty is treated as a matter of security and identity as the absolute undivided authority of the Estonian nation-state over issues of national culture and identity is constructed as a prerequisite for the existence of the Estonian nation and state. Within that framework, international integration, even with the West, is problematic because it undermines the undivided sovereignty of the nation-state. The narrative therefore serves to undermine the official pro-EU rhetoric.

The ethnic issue exemplifies the contradiction between sovereignty and European integration in the Estonian identity discourse. As noted above, Estonia's citizenship policies have been subject to considerable critique, advice, funding and monitoring by supranational institutions. Langemets, a prominent commentator, unequivocally labels ethnic integration an 'imported commodity [from Europe]' (Langemets, 2000). The strong foreign interest in ethnic integration puts the Estonian government into a delicate position. On the one hand, successive governments have followed recommendations from the EU and the OSCE. On the other hand, they have been facing criticism from the opposition and the public for 'giving in' to these institutions on citizenship and minority rights issues. A major report on ethnic integration, compiled with participation of a wide spectrum of politicians and academics, likewise expresses concerns about the formidable influence of supranational institutions on Estonia's citizenship policies. 'Sooner or later,' the document reads, 'Estonia must bow to international pressure and bring stateless persons into the Estonian citizenry... That means that Estonian authorities will lose control over the process and that unpredictability and instability will arise as a result' (UNDP, 1997: 18). The report recommends that Estonia find a middle ground 'between humble acceptance and abrupt rejection' of EU recommendations on ethnic integration (ibid.: 20).

The sovereignty narrative rests on the claim of internal cultural cohesion and external differentiation. It implies that ethnic Estonians possess an exclusive relationship with the Estonian territory that gives them a primordial right to that space. This stress on the ties of the Estonian ethnos with its land, effected and bolstered through metaphors of roots, soil, homeland and indigenous culture, constructs an a priori schism between 'indigenous population' on the one hand, and 'recent immigrants' as well as foreign observers on the other. The narrative discursively problematizes ethnic integration as it implies that first, second, and third generation immigrants necessarily have less ties with Estonia than indigenous Estonians, not in a formal legal sense but in a cultural sense. Biological and geographical claims abound in the argumentation. For example, Katus (1999), a prominent demographer, writes that the social and cultural environment of one's country of birth shapes a large part of every individual's social characteristics and thereby determines the individual's belonging to a specific 'geodemographic system' or nation (p. 42). Due to the importance of 'genetic continuity' and 'kinship ties', Katus argues, the adaptation of the non-indigenous population is difficult and slow, occurring gradually over at least three generations. For Katus, membership in either the indigenous or the non-indigenous population is more important than other social characteristics (ibid.:. 43, see also Raagmaa, 1999; Trass, 1999). Indeed, the term 'aliens' (muulased) which is most commonly used to denote foreign-born non-Estonians categorises individuals on the basis of indigenousness not ethnicity. Non-Estonians are depicted as transients who cannot establish a deep connection with Estonia. Their concerns about their rights and life-chances in Estonia are represented as 'more spontaneous and superficial... as contrasted with the deeper-running and more existential fears of indigenous Estonians [regarding the survival of their culture]' (Velliste, 1994). Culture and identity are seen in either/or system: Estonians either 'retain biological continuity' or 'dissolve in global flows' (Raagmaa, 1999). Within this framework, European integration is a threat. 'A citizen of integrated Europe' one commentator says, 'would have given up one's national identity and would in that sense resemble an American or a Soviet' (Langemets, 2000). Speaking in the context of education, the Chancellor at the Ministry of Culture is likewise concerned that 'if we raise cosmopolitan (laia silmaringiga) eurocitizens, our own culture will disappear' (Koppel, 2000). 'Multicultural 'eurosociety'' thus becomes as much of an outside imposition as the Soviet society (Aarelaid, 1998).

The omnipresent threat to the existence of the Estonian nation and state is a principal pillar of the sovereignty argument. The narrative is replete with references to carrying capacity, that is, the ability of the indigenous population to absorb, assimilate or integrate the non-Estonian population. According to this claim, the Russian-speaking population is too numerous to be integrated. In ecology, the argument goes, a population (understood as all the organisms living in a given area) is doomed to extinction when the number of invaders in their territory is more than a half. Applying this proposition to Estonia, it is claimed that Estonia is dangerously close to that threshold and the Russian speaking population can soon dominate Estonia by sheer numbers (Trass, 1999: 177). Threats to Estonian identity are thereby linked to the small size of the Estonian nation and territory, specifically in comparison with Russians and Russia (Vihalemm and Lauristin, 1997: 280; Soosaar, 1999a). Because of the threat of extinction, 'even a partial restriction on the total sovereignty of the ethnos' is seen as dangerous to Estonia (Ruutsoo and Kirch, 1998: 25) 7 . Citing 'critical' demographic situation, Estonian Human Development Report states that it is the responsibility of the nation-state to ensure 'that the cultural environment is shaped by the ethnos that founded the nation-state' (UNDP, 1998: 47). Because Estonia's limited capacity to absorb alien influences was reached, if not breached, during the Soviet occupation, Estonia must today limit the number of non-Estonians to ensure the 'biological continuity' (Raagmaa, 1999). If instead large numbers of non-Estonians are naturalised, there will soon be no 'genetic Estonians' in Estonia (Murutar, 1999: 172). Commenting on the government's decision to simplify the naturalisation of children of stateless residents, Endre and Laar, both prominent politicians (the latter is currently the Prime Minister), stress that changes in citizenship policy could have 'unpredictable' impact on the 'psychology of the indigenous people.' 'It is unlikely that Estonian society will calmly look at the violations of its rights,' they say, because 'Estonia is too small to accept the new citizenry that would emerge overnight' (Endre and Laar, 1997). Supranational bodies, particularly the OSCE, are accused of either misunderstanding Estonia's demographic situation and geopolitical position or knowingly sacrificing Estonia to the interests of big states. A prominent political commentator argues that 'OSCE might turn into a weapon against Estonia' if big states want to use small states as scapegoats to distract attention from their own problems with minority rights (Tiido, 1999). An MP stresses that Estonia must remain defiant and by no chance 'make concessions to the demands coming from Russia and Europe' (Kalamees, 1999).

During the last half decade, a shift has occurred toward a greater acceptance of the influence of supranational organisations on Estonia's citizenship and minority rights legislation. The President's Academic Council, an advisory body of 16 prominent academics, journalists and cultural figures, stated in a public letter to the Estonian people in 1998 that more liberal citizenship policies will have to be introduced at the pressure of large states anyway. To preclude such an imposition and to avoid conflicts with 'European humanistic principles', the Council recommended that Estonia liberalize its citizenship and minority rights laws (Presidendi Akadeemiline Nõukogu, 1998). A number of commentators have criticised the nationalist stance as unproductive and outdated as it requires Estonia to close to the outside world (City Paper, 1999b, Soosaar, 1999, Veidemann, 1998). Similarly to the civilizational narrative, what are criticised are specific opinions and instances of policy-making, not the terms of the debate. Total sovereignty of the nation-state is construed as an unfeasible ideal and the loss of sovereignty consequently represented as a necessary evil, a relatively minor downside of the increased security, affluence and social stability that results from Estonia's integration with the EU. It is therefore always politically legitimate to invoke the loss of sovereignty as a self-evident threat.


Conclusions, political implications

The issue in this paper is not how culturally tolerant or intolerant, pro- or anti-EU, Estonian elites are. The question rather is what are the frameworks of meaning in relation to which utterances on identity are positioned. My argument is that even though the Estonian identity discourse is not monolithic or static, it does establish, and function through, a set of rules which determine what utterances are legible and legitimate, how events and ideas are interpreted, what information is incorporated as useful or correct and what is rejected as irrelevant or untrue. Even though there has been considerable change to, and variation among, the specific arguments put forth in discussions of identity, this set of rules has remained relatively stable.

International integration has brought to the foreground a number of contradictions embedded in the identity discourse. That discourse contains strong arguments in support of EU membership, yet several of its equally fundamental premises represent this membership as harmful to Estonia. For example, the discourse emphasises ethnic Estonians' special cultural connection with the Estonian state and the EU, while representing ethnic Russians in Estonia as a part of the Russian cultural realm, alien to both Estonia and the EU. By the same token, however, insofar as integration with the EU involves the naturalisation of non-Estonians, EU is interpreted as dangerous to Estonian culture. In a similar manner, the claim that due to existential threats Estonia has no alternative to rapid integration into the EU and NATO is central to pro-EU arguments (Tarand, 1999). However, such emphasis on existential threat also supports anti-EU arguments as any outside influence can be constructed as dangerous to Estonia. While the official government position is unequivocally pro-EU, within the identity discourse the EU is frequently framed as dangerous to Estonia.

Although the political rhetoric has generally liberalized since the mid-1990s, both in terms of the official positions of the Estonian state and in terms of political discussions in Estonia 8 , the exclusionary assumptions on which the debates rest have remained entrenched in the identity discourse. Both the conservatives arguing for the purification of Estonian space and the liberals advocating multiculturalism assume that identities are distinct and self-evident: one only needs to survey them. Debates now revolve around technical questions of how loyal non-Estonian are to the Estonian state or to what extent and how rapidly they can acquire Estonian mentality. The exclusionary meanings of the basic building blocks of these questions, e.g., the categories of 'Estonian identity', 'Europe', 'culture', 'loyalty' and 'state', have meanwhile been solidified in representational practices. A number of premises that today function as taken-for-granted building blocks of arguments were competing claims among several positions a decade ago. For example, a large share of the political elites supported neutrality in the early 1990s, while today pro-NATO arguments prevail overwhelmingly (Haab 1998; Pernik 2000). Likewise in ethnic issues, the emphasis on the nation-state and the primacy of indigenousness has been strengthened during the last decade (Hallik, 1998). Raudsepp (1998) notes that whereas in 1991, the local Russian-language press considered the term 'migrant' offensive, by 1994 far more exclusionary terms such as 'colonizer' or 'occupier' had become so prevalent [in the Estonian-language press] that the Russian-language press hardly took notice (p. 125). Today, 'alien' is widely used as an objective value-free term to refer to non-Estonians, including those who were born in Estonia and have lived all their lives there.

Science occupies a central stage in the identity discourse. All major writings on identity invoke scientific evidence and scientific forecasts, their claims frequently relying on the author's scholarly credentials or academic background. Through the use of science, identity is discursively transferred from the public realm of politics into the expert realm of science and thereby removed from the sphere of debate. Authoritative arguments about identity are based on extensive survey data; within the discourse there is virtually no other theoretical or methodological lens through which a legitimate argument about identity can be made. Scholarly research and claims on science thus constitute a central technology through which identities and interests are represented as biological, primordial and given, and through which these representations are multiplied, sustained and reproduced. The aforementioned dichotomies and binary oppositions persist not despite the voluminous scientific studies, commentaries, conferences, and workshops but because of them.

The prevalent representations of Estonian identity have a number of ramifications to Estonia's policies on ethnic and European integration. First, the discursive equation of Estonian state with the Estonian nation, coupled with the rhetoric of existential threats, lends legitimacy to the state. State and nation are constructed as inseparable: the state is the only possible guardian of Estonian identity and conversely, the protection of (ethnic) Estonian identity is the principal task of the Estonian state. That merger of state and nation discursively marginalizes non-ethnic Estonians who can, within the identity discourse, claim less connection than ethnic Estonians to the (ethnic) nation and hence the state. Claims on the special vulnerability of Estonian identity and the need for self-defence are used to legitimize state policies by discrediting criticism both within Estonia and internationally. Criticism is represented as dangerous, if not by the critic's malicious intentions then by his or her naiveté, and thereby transformed into another layer of evidence in the narrative of danger (See Tarand, 1999). Through securitization, issues of culture, demographics and minority rights are constructed as matters of survival that should be above daily politics.

Second, the emphasis on mindset or mentality, backed by the concepts of civilisation and indigenous culture, represents both ethnic and European integration as matters of mentality: European integration natural to Estonia(ns) because of Estonians' European mindset, whereas ethnic integration is difficult because of non-Estonians' non-Estonian (and hence non-European) mindset. International and ethnic integration are thereby constructed as cultural processes and their political and economic aspects are downplayed.

Third, the binary opposition of European Estonia and non-European Russia is a double edge sword in Estonia's relations with the EU. The stress on the civilizational differences frames EU and NATO memberships as prerequisites for Estonia's security against Russia, yet insofar as EU accession would require massive naturalisation of 'civilisationally alien' non-Estonians, European integration is depicted as a potential threat to Estonian culture and identity. Furthermore, the rhetoric of exclusion may do Estonian disservice in the situation where more inclusive representational strategies, such as the EU's Northern Dimension and the US's Northern European Initiative, are promoted at the EU and the US level (van Ham, 2000; Joenniemi, 1999) 9 . Furthermore, because arguments for Estonia's EU membership hinge on the Russian threat, an elimination of the Russian threat would eliminate the urgency to integrate into the EU. Thus, paradoxically, insofar as the Russian threat is presented as the primary impetus for Estonia's international integration, that threat is also a prerequisite for integration. Even though the civilizational argument is pivotal to pro-EU arguments, it also serves to undermine these arguments.

To conclude, the ambivalence about Estonia's EU membership is a part and parcel of the 'terms of the debate' through which identity is understood in Estonia. Within the dominant frameworks of meaning, identity is, and can be, approached only in one way: as an endangered frontier identity of the western civilisation that must be protected from non-Estonian or foreign, and especially Russian, influences. Arguments about identity, conservative or liberal, are positioned within that framework. Estonian identity discourse thereby constitutes a telling example of the power of discourse, a power that stems not as much from shaping the answers given to questions as from shaping the questions asked and the methods used for finding the answers.



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Note *: The research that forms the basis of this paper was funded by the United States Institute of Peace (grant no. USIP-096-98F). The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace. Correspondence: E-mail: Back

Note 1: Among the 13 parties which programs were examined for the parties' position regarding EU and NATO membership, all but two parties explicitly support EU membership, the remaining two do not express their views. Regarding NATO accession, seven parties explicitly support Estonia's membership in NATO, five do not express their opinion and one is against NATO accession in favour of Estonia's neutrality (Kirch, 1996). Back

Note 2: In November 1995, only 14% of Estonian citizens would have voted against EU accession, yet a whole 30% said they did not know how they would vote (Central and Eastern European Eurobarometer 6, 1996). In June 1999, 23% of citizens would have voted against EU accession, 48% were undecided (Saar Poll, 1999). Back

Note 3: The so-called non-Estonian or Russian-speaking population (an estimated 504,300 individuals in January 1999) comprises Russians (80% of non-Estonians) as well as Ukrainians, Byelorussians and members of nearly 100 other ethnic groups. As today's Republic of Estonia is in legal terms the same Republic of Estonia that existed de facto from 1918 till 1940 and de jure also throughout the Soviet occupation of Estonia, only those who were Estonian citizens in 1938, as well as their descendants, can claim citizenship without naturalisation. All other residents of Estonia can acquire citizenship only through naturalisation. For detailed analyses of Estonian ethnic politics in the early 1990s, see Vetik 1993; Vetik and Kionka, 1995. Back

Note 4: The slowdown has occurred partly because the 'easy cases,' such as people who are fluent in Estonian, received citizenship in the early 1990s already. It is also ascribed to the tightening of the language requirements for citizenship that occurred in early 1995 (Semjonov, 1997). Back

Note 5: Studies of the Estonia media demonstrate that the Estonian- and Russian-language media function separately (Raudsepp, 1998; Vihalemm, 2000). Even though Estonia has several Russian-language newspapers and radio stations, utterances by high-ranking government officials only refer to the Estonian language media and research. Back


Note 6: Writings by Kaplinski (1998; 1999) and Pilvre (2000) constitute exceptions. These writings remain marginal in the general discussions and have not sparked a social discussion or debate. Back

Note 7: The Estonian term 'rahvus' can be translated as 'nation' or 'ethnos'. In Estonian, rahvus refers to ethnic group and I hence use the term ethnos. Back

Note 8: The change in political rhetoric can be ascribed partly to a shift in political power. The coalition of Pro Patria and the Estonian National Independence Party lost the 1995 parliamentary elections, and for the following four years, more liberal governments were in power. Back

Note 9: Arguments about these political and representational practices underline the increasing emphasis on the notions of inclusivity, transparency, cooperation and pragmatism. A careful consideration of these representational practices in beyond the scope of this paper. Back