Political Culture In The Baltic States: Between National And European Integration 3030218430, 9783030218430, 9783030218447

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Political Culture In The Baltic States: Between National And European Integration
 3030218430,  9783030218430,  9783030218447

Table of contents :
Preface and Acknowledgements......Page 5
Contents......Page 11
List of Figures......Page 12
List of Tables......Page 14
Chapter 1: Introduction......Page 17
The Soviet Experience......Page 19
The Demographic Shift......Page 23
Political Culture at the Crossroads......Page 25
Structure of the Book......Page 29
References......Page 32
Chapter 2: When Nation and State Are at Odds......Page 34
Language: A Difference That Matters......Page 37
Turning Russians into Baltic Speakers......Page 40
Between Conflict and Integration......Page 45
Between Past and Present......Page 52
The Contours of a Regime Divide......Page 57
References......Page 65
Overcoming the Soviet Past......Page 69
Building Party Systems from Scratch......Page 70
Baltic Party Systems at a Glance......Page 74
Party System Consolidation......Page 78
Perceptions of Party Divisions......Page 80
Left and Right......Page 84
Perceptions of State and Markets......Page 89
Concluding Remarks......Page 97
Appendix......Page 101
References......Page 105
Chapter 4: Performance and Political Support......Page 109
Analysing Different Types of Political Orientations......Page 110
System Support and Regime Performance in the Baltic States......Page 114
The Socioeconomic Context......Page 116
Evaluation of Regime Performance......Page 119
Vertical and Horizontal Trust......Page 120
Patterns of Disaffection......Page 125
Political Subcultures in the Baltic States......Page 128
Democracy and System Support......Page 134
References......Page 139
Chapter 5: Living Next to Russia......Page 142
Support for Russia......Page 148
Support for the EU......Page 158
The Lasting Challenge of Integration......Page 166
Concluding Remarks......Page 170
References......Page 172
Chapter 6: European Values Under Attack?......Page 174
The Copenhagen Criteria......Page 177
Baltic Democracy Trajectories......Page 179
Democracy and Its Alternatives......Page 187
Generations of Baltic Democrats......Page 195
Concluding Remarks......Page 210
References......Page 212
Chapter 7: Conclusions......Page 216
References......Page 225
Index......Page 226

Citation preview

Political Culture in the Baltic States Between National and European Integration Kjetil Duvold Sten Berglund Joakim Ekman

Political Culture in the Baltic States

Kjetil Duvold • Sten Berglund Joakim Ekman

Political Culture in the Baltic States Between National and European Integration

Kjetil Duvold Dalarna University Falun, Sweden

Sten Berglund Örebro University Örebro, Sweden

Joakim Ekman Södertörn University Stockholm, Sweden

ISBN 978-3-030-21843-0    ISBN 978-3-030-21844-7 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-21844-7 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

Preface and Acknowledgements

‘We have two examples of what should never happen in Estonia: Russia—and Sweden’, a young politician told a journalist from the online magazine Politico in 2015.1 The politician represented Blue Awakenings, the youth branch of controversial far-right party EKRE (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia), which entered government in Estonia in April 2019. It is an apt illustration of how difficult it might be for a radical right-winger in Estonia to choose among old and new fears: Soviet communism of the past and loss of national sovereignty versus contemporary multilateralism and multiculturalism. The Baltic states have often faced choices that they felt were being imposed on them. This is a book about three small countries, located in a north-eastern corner of Europe; the Nordic countries are situated to the north and to the west, Russia to the east. Currently forming a micro-region in Europe, their geopolitical position has often turned out to be disadvantageous in terms of national aspirations. They have been dominated by Swedes, by German settlers, by Poles, by Russians and by Soviet officials. Much of the region was part of the Tsarist Empire for almost two centuries (the remaining parts ‘merely’ for 120 years) and—after just two decades of independence squeezed in between two world wars—the three countries became Soviet republics after the Second World War. They regained independence in the beginning of the 1990s and made great efforts to loosen the ties with their former colonial master at the expense of alliances with Western countries and frameworks of cooperation. Today, they are more ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ than ‘post-Soviet’. But, although they have arguably v



overcome their Soviet legacy—the only former Soviet republics to do so— the shadow of Russian rule still hangs over them in several respects. Their populations contain large groups of Russian-speaking minorities—a legacy of Soviet integration—and Russia still holds sway over many of them. But apart from a few hotspots, such as the Bronze Soldier incident in Tallinn in 2007, interethnic relations have been rather calm. There are several excellent textbooks on the Baltic states available on the market. We have consulted some of them, in addition to numerous articles and reports. Anatol Lieven’s The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence (1993) is a unique chronicle on the often chaotic and dramatic post-Soviet period, and remains one of the sharpest and most readable texts on the Baltic states. Of more recent vintage, Daunis Auers’ Comparative Politics and Government of the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the 21st Century (2015) is perhaps the most authoritative text on institutions, parties and governments of the Baltic states. The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Thomas Lane, Artis Pabriks, Aldis Purs and David J Smith is also a handy companion. Other books have focused on particular aspects of the three countries, such as foreign political orientations (for instance, 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 by Richard Mole, Identity and Foreign Policy: Baltic-Russian Relations and European Integration by Eiki Berg and Piret Ehin and Continuity and Change in the Baltic Sea Region: Comparing Foreign Policies by David Galbreath, Ainius Lasas, Jeremy W. Lamoreaux), ethnic relations, national integration and identities (for instance, A Cat’s Lick: Democratisation and Minority Communities in the Post-Soviet Baltic by Timofey Agarin, Russian Speakers in Post-Soviet Latvia: Discursive Identity Strategies by Ammon Cheskin, Taming Nationalism? Political Community Building in the Post-­ Soviet Baltic States by Dovile Budryte, and The Quality of Divided Democracies Minority Inclusion: Exclusion, and Representation in the New Europe by Licia Cianetti), energy and environment (for instance, Contemporary Environmentalism in the Baltic States: From Phosphate Springs to Nordstream by David Galbreath and The Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia by Agnia Grigas), parties and cleavages (for instance, chapters by Lagerspetz and Vogt, Auers and Duvold and Jurkynas in The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe, edited by Sten Berglund, Joakim Ekman, Kevin Deegan-Krause,



and Terje Knutsen), political elites (see, for instance, Baltic Democracy At The Crossroads: An Elite Perspective by Sten Berglund and Kjetil Duvold) and history, memory and national identity (above all A History of the Baltic States by Andres Kasekamp, but also Memory and Pluralism in the Baltic States by Eva-Clarita Pettai, Transitional and Retrospective Justice in the Baltic States by Eva-Clarita Pettai and Vello Pettai, Making and Breaking of Soviet Lithuania: Memory and Modernity in the Wake of War by Violeta Davoliuˉte˙ and Baltic Facades: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Since 1945 by Aldis Purs). Political culture and support for democracy have been topics of several articles and dissertations (for instance, Making Sense of Baltic Democracy: Public Support and Political Representation in Nationalising States by Kjetil Duvold and Regime Support in European Democracies by Kadri Lühstie), but the present book is perhaps the first systematic and comprehensive book to capture political attitudes, values and beliefs in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Hence, this study of political culture of the Baltic states may not actually need further justification! But our aim is nevertheless to present a work of comparative nature with appeals to a larger audience. It raises several general questions about, for instance, democratic values, political support, nation building and minority inclusion, and the impacts of European integration and geopolitical conflicts on political culture. The book was conceived within the research project European Values under Attack? Democracy, Disaffection and Minority Rights in the Baltic states, a project that included the three authors under the leadership of Joakim Ekman and was sponsored by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies. The idea was to follow up on a series of opinion surveys conducted in the three countries throughout the 1990s and in 2001 and 2004: The New Baltic Barometer (NBB) and the New Europe Barometer (NEB), run by Richard Rose and associates at the Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde. NBB VI (2004) was carried out in cooperation with a Swedish research project sponsored by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. The project was based in Örebro and brought the three authors of the current book together. In the Baltic Barometer from 2014, they replicated the NBB/NEB a decade after the previous study, and expanded on it by including items related to tolerance, respect for minority rights and European integration.



The last NBB survey was conducted at the dawn of Baltic EU accession. In the ten years that followed, the three countries were among the fastest growing economies in Europe; not only were they transforming their economies, but even their societies were rapidly under change. They made good use of the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds by upgrading their infrastructure and developing their economies. EU membership also opened up entirely new gateways to jobs and study places abroad—opportunities that have been taken up by several hundred thousand Baltic citizens and residents. It has been a survival strategy for many, offering possibilities to improve standards of living or career opportunities. It has brought some benefits for the countries at large: people send back money to their families at home—much needed during the financial crisis—while others have improved their skills that can be put to good use when they return. The problem is that many do not return, which has become a source of major concern. During that decade, the countries were also badly hit by the global financial crisis. The optimism felt by the membership of the European Union largely evaporated, and a novel sense of cynicism and gloom could be detected. It largely went hand-in-hand with the darker mood prevailing in the rest of Europe, which shortly after reached a peak with Brexit and the so-called migrant crisis. By the time our Baltic Barometer was carried out in 2014, tensions were running high in Ukraine: Crimea was just about to be annexed by Russia, and war soon broke out in the Donbass region. The Baltic populations were shaken by these events, dreading that they might be upcoming targets of a large-scale Russian annexation of former Soviet territories. This is one of the reasons why we decided to carry out a second survey in the second half of 2015, singling out Latvia, Hungary and Bulgaria as our cases. Some of the survey items from previous barometers were kept, but new items related to the conflict and to geopolitical orientations more broadly were added. We have employed findings from this survey in Chap. 5 of this book. This book is not a comprehensive study of politics and governments of the Baltic states. Nor does it systematically chronicle events and developments. It is a book about attitudes, values and political orientations among Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. Our material is largely comprised of survey data—above all, the two surveys we have commissioned, but also previous New Baltic Barometers. Put together, they offer a longitudinal perspective on political culture in the region. Most of our material is presented in fairly simple tables in order to highlight trends. We separate between majority and minority groups in each country. Thus, we system-



atically compare not just three countries, but six national groups. Majority and minority status are reported not according to self-reported nationality, but by choice of language of interview. We have selected this approach partly because it offers continuation with previous NBB surveys. It is not entirely unproblematic with regards to Lithuania, which has two minority groups of roughly equal size: Poles and Russians (in addition to several smaller groups). In our tables, Russian speakers in Lithuania include both Russian speakers as well as many, but not all, Poles. After the annexation of Crimea, it is of course also debatable if the term ‘Russian speakers’ is applicable to all non-Russian Russian speakers. We should also make the reader aware that, in the text and tables, we use terms such as ‘Russian speakers’, ‘minority’ and ‘(Baltic) Russians’ interchangeably. The authors are primarily comparative political scientists with a research focus on Central and Eastern Europe. Two of the authors have stayed in the region for longer periods of time and consider themselves rather well informed about the region. However, things change comparatively fast and we have found it necessary to consult colleagues in the region who follow political events and developments more intimately. Nevertheless, we do not exclude the possibility that we have made errors and we obviously take the sole responsibility for any mistakes. We are three authors and we take collective responsibility for the entire text. However, there has been a certain division of labour: Sten Berglund drafted the first two chapters, Kjetil Duvold drafted Chap. 3 and Joakim Ekman drafted Chap. 4. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 were drafted by Kjetil and Sten together. We would like to express our gratitude to a number of people and organisations. First of all, we would like to thank the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies for sponsoring this project, not least a fair amount of costly survey data. We would also like to thank the people and research institutes that were involved in carrying out the surveys, including Andrus Saar (R.I.P.) and Erki Saar of Saar Poll in Estonia; Vladas Gaidys of Vilmorus in Lithuania; and, above all, the friendly team at TNS Riga, notably Alise La-ce, Santa Lazdin,a and Laura Cˇekavaja. We would also like to thank a number of colleagues in Sweden, who have been helpful with technical assistance, advice or editing: Irina Seits (Södertörn University), Anders Backlund (Södertörn University), Martin Karlsson (Örebro University) and Thomas Sedelius (Dalarna University). We would also like to pay tribute to Matthew Kott (Uppsala University) and Andres Kasekamp (University of Toronto), who kindly agreed to read selected chapters and gave highly valuable feedback. Daunis Auers (University of



Latvia) and Mindaugas Jurkynas (Vytautas Magnus University) deserve a special mention for being helpful and for always providing very good company during our visits to Riga and Vilnius. Vello Pettai (Johan Skytte Institute of Political Research, Tartu) has also offered inspiring comments and encouragement. Last but not least, we would like to express our gratitude to Professor Richard Rose (University of Strathclyde). We were his junior partners in 2004 and he has been our major source of inspiration ever since. Falun, Sweden Örebro, Sweden  Stockholm, Sweden 

Kjetil Duvold Sten Berglund Joakim Ekman

Note 1. Richard Martyn-Hemphill: ‘The migrants that made this mouse roar’, Politico, 2 September 2015 (https://www.politico.eu/article/estoniamigrants-refugees-asylum-eu/).


1 Introduction  1 2 When Nation and State Are at Odds 19 3 Between Identities and Interests 55 4 Performance and Political Support 95 5 Living Next to Russia129 6 European Values Under Attack?161 7 Conclusions203 Index213


List of Figures

Fig. 1.1 Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 4.1 Fig. 4.2 Fig. 4.3

Fig. 4.4 Fig. 4.5 Fig. 4.6 Fig. 5.1

Typology of political subcultures. Source: Elaborated upon from Denk and Christensen (2016: 181) New citizens in Estonia and Latvia, 1992–2014. Source: Estonia: Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Eurostat; Latvia: Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA); Eurostat Positive ratings of the Soviet system of the past, 1993–2014 (percentages). Source: New Baltic Barometer, I–VI (1993– 2004) and Baltic Barometer (2014) Almond and Verba’s model of political culture. Source: Pettai (2007: 86), based on Almond and Verba (1963). Slightly modified by authors The conceptual framework suggested by Norris. Source: Norris (1999) and Linde and Ekman (2003) GDP per capita growth (annual percentages) in the Baltic States, 1996–2017. Source: World Bank (https://data. worldbank.org). Dashed line: Estonia; solid line: Latvia; and dotted line: Lithuania Norris’ model of political support cast within Almond and Verba’s model of political culture. Source: Pettai (2007: 88). Slightly modified by the authors Four different sets of political orientations Political subcultures among the Baltic respondents. Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Fear of Russia, 1993–2015. Note: The figures include only those who perceive Russia as ‘definitely a threat’ (1993–2000) or a ‘big threat’ (2004–2015) to the security of the country.

10 28 40 97 100

103 115 117 118



List of Figures

Fig. 6.1

Fig. 7.1 Fig. 7.2

Source: New Baltic Barometer, I–VI, Baltic Barometer (2014) and Post-Crimea Barometer (2015) Generations in the Baltic states, 1993–2014. Note: the first illustration represents Estonia, the second Latvia, and the third Lithuania. Source: New Baltic Barometer I & V; Baltic Barometer (2014) Four different combinations based on satisfaction with democracy and preference for past and present times Country and group scores based on Fig. 7.1 (percentages). Note: Satisfaction with democracy is based on the mean value, ranging from 1 (least satisfied) to 4 (most satisfied). Prefer current times is based on the mean value, ranging from 1=Soviet times, 2=Interwar period, 3=The period between re-independence and EU membership and 4=Present times. Source: Baltic Barometer 2014


195 206


List of Tables

Table 1.1 Table 1.2 Table 2.1 Table 2.2 Table 2.3 Table 2.4 Table 2.5 Table 2.6 Table 2.7 Table 2.8 Table 3.1 Table 3.2 Table 3.3 Table 3.4 Table 3.5

The impact of war on Baltic peoples 5 Relative strength of titular nationalities in the Baltic republics over time, for the period 1939–1979 (percentages) 7 Nationality, religion and language use in the Baltic countries (percentages)23 Citizenship and socioeconomic indicators by language groups (percentages) 24 Combined identities, 2014 and 2004 (percentages) 35 Proud of being an inhabitant of this country (percentages) 36 Thinking about the modern history of (this country)—in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—when would you say (this country) has been best off? 38 Perceptions of the communist system of the past according to age and nationality (percentages) 41 The contours of an ethnically driven regime divide (percentages)44 Patterns of integration among minority Russians in Estonia and Latvia (percentages) 48 Vote shares among different types of party formations contesting Baltic elections (percentages) 65 Perceptions of political divides (percentages) 68 Self-placement on a left/right scale (percentages) 71 Party support and party attachment (percentages) 72 Left-right placement according to party preferences (percentages)73



List of Tables

Table 3.6 Table 3.7 Table 3.8 Table 3.9 Table 3.10 Table 4.1 Table 4.2 Table 4.3 Table 4.4 Table 4.5 Table 4.6 Table 4.7 Table 4.8 Table 4.9 Table 4.10 Table 4.11 Table 5.1 Table 5.2 Table 5.3 Table 5.4 Table 5.5 Table 5.6 Table 5.7 Table 5.8 Table 5.9 Table 5.10

Social and economic position according to nationality (percentages)77 Perceptions of state and market (percentages) 79 Perceptions of state and market by left/right placement (percentages)79 Perceptions of democracy according to left/right placement (percentages)81 Determinants of left/right (OLS) 85 Demographic development in the Baltic States, 1990–2013 104 Perceptions of emigration and immigration (percentages) 105 Coping attitudes in the Baltic States, 2004 and 2014 (percentages)106 Vertical and horizontal trust, 2001, 2004 and 2014 (percentages)108 Vertical and horizontal trust, by ethnicity (percentages) 108 Public perceptions of the financial crisis (percentages) 111 Political dissatisfaction in the Baltic States, 2004 and 2014 (percentages)112 Political subcultures in the Baltic states (percentages) 119 Subcultures and assessments of past and present political systems (percentages) 120 Attitudes towards democracy and non-democracy (percentages)122 Subcultures and attitudes towards democracy and nondemocracy (percentages) 124 Support for alternative strategies for Latvia in the face of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine (percentages) 136 Change of attitudes towards Russia in Latvia in a postCrimea setting (percentages) 136 Support for Russia is unidimensional amongst Latvians and Latvian Russians. Factor analyses 138 Change of attitudes towards Russia among Latvians and Latvian Russians. Breakdown by geopolitical preferences (percentages)139 Threat perceptions in the Baltic states (percentages) 140 Changes in threat perceptions in Latvia (percentages) 141 Trust in political and state institutions 2001 & 2014 by ethnicity144 Baltic referendums on EU membership 146 Who were responsible for the global financial crisis in 2008? (percentages)147 Perceptions of the EU (percentages) 148

  List of Tables 

Table 5.11 Table 5.12 Table 5.13 Table 5.14 Table 6.1 Table 6.2 Table 6.3 Table 6.4 Table 6.5 Table 6.6 Table 6.7 Table 6.8 Table 6.9 Table 6.10 Table 6.11 Table 6.12 Table 6.13 Table 6.14 Table 6.15 Table 6.16 Table 6.17


Attitudes towards the EU by ethnicity (percentages) 150 Attitudes towards the EU among Latvians and Latvian Russians, 2014–2015 (percentages) 151 Combined identities in Latvia, 2015 (percentages) 154 Latvian citizens with different linguistic background on democracy, European integration and Russia (percentages) 155 Freedom scores (1–7) within the EU. 2003, 2010 and 2018 167 Baltic democracy at work in 2004 and 2014. Positive evaluations (percentages) 170 Respect for human rights and corruption perceptions, 2004–2014 (percentages) 170 Trust in public institutions. Positive evaluations (percentages)171 Trust in political institutions. Positive evaluations (percentages)171 Rule-of-law averages (2005–2016) and rule-of-law scores at the beginning and the end of the chain of measurements (N = 12) 173 Support for Baltic democracy and its alternatives in 2004 and 2014 (percentages) 174 Support for Baltic democracy and its alternatives by age groups (percentages) 175 Support for elected strongmen (percentages) 176 Elite versus the people (percentages) 178 Order versus pluralism (percentages) 179 Would not want as a neighbour (percentages) 181 Would not want as a neighbour, across time (percentages) 182 Reaction to political and economic change by nationality (percentages)185 Changing orientations across time and within age cohorts, Estonia188 Changing orientations across time and within age cohorts, Latvia190 Changing orientations across time and within age cohorts, Lithuania192



Situated on the Baltic Eastern Seaboard, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania share the same geopolitical fate. They have been caught in the middle of the tug of war between Russia and Western great powers—whether Swedes, Danes, Poles or Germans—for centuries, but have been within the Russian sphere of interest most of the time. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been part of the Tsarist Empire since 1795 when it collapsed in 1917; they were literally forced into the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1940 and they remained trapped as Soviet republics until 1991 when the pending breakdown of the Soviet Union opened up a window of opportunity for the Baltic countries to regain the independence that they had enjoyed between the two world wars (1918–1940). Their return to Europe as independent states in the early 1990s was accompanied by the restoration of competitive political pluralism and market economy. Close ties with the West were generally seen as the best way to make the region safe for democracy; and European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership soon emerged as the top foreign policy priorities of the governments in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. In the spring of 2004, less than a decade and a half later, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had become full-fledged EU and NATO member states along with a number of post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not the only new arrivals to NATO and the EU to have completed a triple transition,1 but they stand out as the only members of the West European system of alliances grappling with a Soviet past. © The Author(s) 2020 K. Duvold et al., Political Culture in the Baltic States, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-21844-7_1




The Soviet Union was the dominant power in Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Its allies within the Warsaw Pact had limited leeway for independent action, sometimes none at all. Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania were frequently reduced to mere puppet states, but they were formally independent, and their leaders free to promote national agendas to the extent that they were not perceived as politically disruptive. This is what separates the Soviet past of the Baltic countries from the communist legacy of Eastern Europe. We devote the first of the three following sections to the Soviet legacy; and the second section to the drastic demographic shift to the detriment of the majority population that accompanied the flow of migrant workers from Russia and other Soviet republics into the region, particularly into Latvia and Estonia. The focus of this book is on political culture, and the third and final section of this introductory chapter provides a preview of what is to come. We do not expect the three Baltic countries to have a common political culture. The ties between the three small neighbouring countries are close; they share the same geopolitical fate and face similar internal and external problems. They have roughly the same standard of living and all the attributes of modern European societies. But Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians do not constitute a culturally homogeneous group. When Swedes, Danes and Norwegians meet, they can communicate using their respective mother tongues. Neither of the Baltic state languages has this inter-regional bridging potential. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language related to Finnish and Hungarian; and though both part of the Eastern Baltic group of languages, Latvian and Lithuanian are not mutually intelligible. When Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians meet, they therefore have to resort to the past or current lingua franca in the region, that is, to Russian or English. Nor do they share the same religious heritage. Orthodox Christianity is dominant in Russian settlements throughout the region, while the Baltic peoples divide their loyalties between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Lithuanians have embraced Catholicism since the Lithuanian Grand Duchy and the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom (1386–1795). Latvians have traditionally been divided between Catholicism and Lutheranism, while Estonians have a long record of Lutheranism that dates back to the period of Swedish rule (1561–1710). More recently, secularism has gained momentum throughout the region, particularly in Estonia, which has earned the reputation as one of the most secularised countries in contemporary Europe. The problems facing the Baltic countries are indeed similar and, in most cases, related to the shared



Soviet past, but they are not always of the same magnitude throughout the region, and the policies designed to deal with them also differ from one country to the other. There is thus plenty of room for variations on the same underlying theme.

The Soviet Experience The treaty of non-aggression between Germany and the USSR of 23 August 1939, also known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, opened up for German and Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe based on mutual consent. In a secret protocol to the pact, the two big powers divided Eastern Europe between themselves. Estonia, Latvia and eventually Lithuania were defined as part of the Soviet sphere of interest; and the Soviet government was quick to take advantage of this opportunity and put pressure on all three Baltic countries to accept Soviet military bases on their soil. The Baltic leaders had little choice but to comply with this request. The arrival of the Soviet Red Army initiated a process that was to lead to the full-scale Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries. The parliamentary elections in the occupied countries of July 1940 and the petitions by the newly elected Baltic parliaments for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to be accepted as Soviet republics were designed to give the annexation an air of legitimacy. But the elections were held under duress and clearly rigged. By way of example, the official Soviet news agency announced the results of the elections 12 hours prior to the closing of the polling stations (Küng 2008). Most Western countries therefore maintained the position that the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries was illegal and refused to recognise it de jure. The transition from independence to Soviet rule was harsh. It involved a radical transformation of political and economic life. Communist one-­ party rule replaced the political pluralism that had co-existed with Baltic interwar parliamentarism and, eventually, strongman rule; and the once burgeoning market economies were squeezed into the Soviet five-year plan of state-owned companies and collective farming. The communist parties had little support in the Baltic countries, and Soviet rule was generally perceived as imposed by an occupying power (Miljan 2015: 151). The Soviet authorities compensated for their lack of popular support by promoting a climate of fear and terror throughout the region. The terror campaign had all the attributes of the great purges in Russia and other Soviet republics of the late 1930s—nightly raids by the security forces,



mock trials, summary executions and disposal of the dead in unmarked mass graves, and last but not least, deportation to prison and labour camps in Siberia. The first year of Soviet occupation (from June 1940 to June 1941) counted no less than 130,000 Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian victims of deportation (Buttar 2013). The Soviet authorities were about to embark on yet another wave of deportations, when Germany broke the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 (Courtois et al. 1999). The soldiers of the German Wehrmacht were hailed as liberators when marching into the Baltic countries in the summer of 1941; and many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were to join forces with the Germans in their military campaign against the Soviet Union. But life under the German swastika was not without hardship for the Baltic peoples; and for the Baltic Jews it turned out to be an existential threat. Yet, fear of Soviet rule was so deeply ingrained that hundreds of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians opted for exile in the autumn of 1944 as they were about to be locked into the Soviet empire once again (Küng 2008: 11). Their fears were well founded. The deportations of actual and potential dissidents resumed in 1944 and went on for a decade. The total number of deported in 1944–1955 has been estimated at over half a million, almost half of them from Lithuania, known for its armed resistance movement—the so-called Forest Brothers—operating under the radar of Soviet authorities until the mid-1950s (Kasekamp 2010: 140–146). The gradual defeat of the Forest Brothers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the de-­ Stalinisation process initiated by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, contributed towards a normalisation of sorts. The Baltic deportees, who were still alive after years in Siberia, were gradually allowed to return after Khrushchev’s secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1956, denouncing the excesses of Stalinism; and the Baltic economies were booming throughout the 1950s and 1960s (Dellenbrant and Berglund 1987: 26). But past injustices are not easily forgotten. When asked about their wartime and post-war experiences decades later, a staggering 45–46 per cent of Latvians and Estonians report a family history of deportations, imprisonment and executions. Amongst Lithuanians, such family histories are somewhat less frequent, but add up to 37 per cent. One out of four Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian respon-



Table 1.1  The impact of war on Baltic peoples Q. During the Second World War and afterwards, many families in this country suffered greatly. Did anyone in your family suffer? (more than one answer accepted)

Percentage of titular nationality Deported Imprisoned Executed, perished None of the above




26 30 24 54

29 21 16 56

24 16 13 63

Q. (If family member suffered): Which force was responsible? (more than one answer accepted)

Percentage of suffering families Soviet German Both Other




82 9 7 2

74 14 12 –

81 8 6 5

Source: New Baltic Barometer I (1993). Reported in Richard Rose et al. (2004: 8)

dents refer to deportations; and as brought out by the follow-up question incorporated into Table 1.1, the overwhelming majority of suffering families hold the Soviet Union responsible. While 75 per cent or more blame the Soviet Union, some 10 per cent identify Germany as responsible for the suffering of their families. Though formally a federation, the Soviet Union was a highly centralised state. The Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian communist parties were branches of the CPSU; and the Baltic republics were quickly integrated into the Soviet system of elite recruitment, also known as the nomenklatura system.2 It was based on two confidential lists—a list of important positions to be filled and a list of candidates deemed suitable for these positions. Communist party membership was not formally required, but support from within the CPSU was a sine qua non for promotion to these key administrative and political positions. Loyalty to the Soviet regime was thus a primary criterion for elite status in the Baltic Soviet republics; and as we have seen, this was a scarce commodity in post-annexation Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The ethnic composition of the Baltic nomenklatura was therefore initially tilted against the titular populations. This changed



as Stalinism began to fade out. The change was first visible in Lithuania, where the titular population secured a majority position (53.3 per cent) in the nomenklatura as early as in 1953. In 1968, their share of this elite group had increased to 79.1 per cent; and in 1986 to 91.9 per cent (Matonyté and Mink  2003: 40). Estonia and Latvia followed suit but never caught up with Lithuania. A significant feature of the Latvian and Estonian nomenklatura was the increasing number of Russified Latvians and Estonians. Baltic roots, a Russian university diploma and a Russian wife opened up excellent and seemingly stable career opportunities for many young Latvian and Estonian men when returning home from Russia. The Lithuanian communist party was run by Lithuanians, who felt free to nominate other Lithuanians for key positions in the Soviet hierarchy; and the party earned the reputation as more nationally oriented than the Latvian and Estonian counterparts. In the final analysis, however, the ethnic composition of the nomenklatura and other republican institutions did not make much difference. The regime remained totalitarian and the Baltic countries remained under Russian control, as long as the rules of the game stayed the same. Algirdas Brazauskas, the last First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party—and the first elected President of Lithuania after independence—reflects on this in his book on Lithuania’s divorce from the Soviet Union: It is important to underline the specificity of the Second Secretary. His status was exceptional. It was a man sent by Moscow. His role was to supervise our way to execute the tasks, our manner to comply with the orders of the USSR, at what level deviancies appear and why. He controlled us, and entertained relations with Moscow and the KGB.  No propositions concerning the so-called nomenklatura […] could escape the attention of the Second Secretary. On the other hand, there was always a man very close to us in order to control all national and local events and to make reports to his superiors. (Brazauskas 1992: 116; cited in Matonyté and Mink 2003: 39–40)

Put differently, the relationship between Russia and the Baltic republics was strictly hierarchical and there was no doubt that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were at the receiving end of this hierarchy. Independence put an end to this hierarchical relationship, but many Russians regret the loss of the Baltic countries and still consider them part of Russia’s historical playground, sometimes referred to as Russia’s ‘near abroad’.



The Demographic Shift Interwar Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were homogeneous nation states. In 1939, Estonians accounted for 88.2 per cent of the population in Estonia. Latvia was 75.5 per cent Latvian; and Lithuania 80.6 per cent Lithuanian. The Soviet industrialisation programme in the Baltic republics after the Second World War and the accompanying flow of migrants from Russia and other Soviet republics had a dramatic impact on the ethnic balance in the region, particularly in Estonia and Latvia (see Table 1.2). Lithuania came out of this process demographically unscathed. It was the most populous of the three Baltic countries and could fulfil its commitments within the Soviet five-year plans without large-scale recruitment of the labour force from other Soviet republics. The increasingly national character and orientation of the Lithuanian party and nomenklatura may also have served as an additional protective shield against migration from Russia. But its impact on neighbouring Latvia and Estonia was profound. Over the four decades covered in Table 1.2, the relative strength of the titular nationalities dropped by 20–25 percentage points. The development was particularly drastic in Latvia, where the number of Latvians had been reduced to 53.7 per cent in 1979. The Soviet system offered the Baltic peoples cultural autonomy in the form of public schools, public media and cultural institutions operating in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. This was yet another sphere of life closely controlled and monitored by the Soviet authorities. The All-Union Ministry of Education in Moscow not only made Russian a compulsory school subject throughout the Baltic region. It also determined what Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian school children were to learn about the history of their respective countries. The official propaganda machine took the harmonious relationship between Russians and Baltic peoples for granted, but—without explicitly saying so—Soviet statistics from the Table 1.2  Relative strength of titular nationalities in the Baltic republics over time, for the period 1939–1979 (percentages)

Estonia Latvia Lithuania




88.2 75.5 80.6

74.6 62.0 79.3

64.7 53.7 80.0

Source: Dellenbrant and Berglund (1987) and Misiunas and Taagepera (1983)



1970s conveys a picture of flawed interethnic integration. More than 75 per cent of Estonians, and 40–50 per cent of Latvians and Lithuanians, were not fluent in Russian. Reversed integration—in this case, Russians acquiring fluency in Baltic languages—was also a scarce commodity. In 1979, only 11.5 per cent of Russians in Estonia were defined as fluent in Estonian. Russians in Latvia and Lithuania did better, but only a minority of them were capable of taking part in a debate in Latvian or Lithuanian; 17.3 and 31.5 per cent respectively (Dellenbrant and Berglund 1987: 13–16). Soviet statistics thus conjures up a picture of Balts and Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as separate and unequal ethnic communities. Rejection of Russian was widespread among Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians; and learning Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian was at the bottom of the list of priorities among Russians who had settled in the region. Interaction between the two ethnic groups was therefore limited and presumably marred by mutual suspicion. Tensions were running high as the independence movements gained momentum in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the final years of the USSR. The Russian communities mobilised against Baltic independence and the Balts questioned the right of Soviet era migrants—and their descendants— to live in the region. But the conflict was not total. Many Russians accepted Baltic independence; some even worked actively towards it; and—in the final analysis—the Balts granted residence permits to all pre-independence residents. Citizenship was a more divisive issue. Lithuania opted for the so-called zero option early on and granted citizenship not only to those who could document that they, their parents or grandparents were born within the borders of Lithuania, but also to permanent residents upon signing a loyalty oath. Lithuanian language proficiency tests were not required at this juncture, but were made compulsory for subsequent applicants for citizenship. The relatively small size of the Russian (8 per cent) and, for that matter, the Polish (8 per cent) minorities may have prompted the Lithuanian authorities to choose this option. The law was introduced prior to formal independence and the anticipated reactions in Moscow may also have affected the deliberations in Vilnius. In Latvia and Estonia, the sheer size of the Russian minority population made for a more cautious strategy of integration, although it turned out to be a divisive issue. Citizenship was automatically offered only to residents with ancestral roots in the interwar Latvian and Estonian republics, including the pre-­ Soviet Russian communities in the two countries. Those not automatically included as citizens could apply for citizenship, but the language



r­ equirements were stringent and the integration process was initially slow. Non-­citizens still account for some 15 per cent of the population in Latvia and Estonia. This makes for a different political culture than that prevailing in Lithuania with its inclusive approach to ethnic minorities. But Latvia and Estonia are not interchangeable. When independence was restored, Latvia had the largest Russian population in the Baltic region. In many parts of Latvia, including the capital city of Riga, Russians accounted for 50 per cent or more. The Latvians responded to what they perceived as an existential challenge by introducing a legal framework for citizenship considerably more restrictive than that of Estonia.

Political Culture at the Crossroads Stories people tell, art and architecture, history and civic textbooks used in the public-school system, and the monuments raised or removed by those in power, all provide important cues about the political culture of a country. These indicators have the common denominator that they are based on a limited number of cases, whether individuals or events. They do not lend themselves to generalisation as easily as nationwide surveys—a method first introduced by Almond and Verba in their seminal work Civic Culture (1965). Working within their research tradition, we set out to identify attitudinal and behavioural patterns in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania highlighting similarities and differences between countries and groups within the three countries. We see political culture as the overall ‘distribution of patterns of  orientation towards political objects among members of the nation’ (Almond and Verba 1965: 13). This definition makes political culture into a macro-level phenomenon based on the aggregation of individual attitudes towards objects of support such as the political regime and the political community (cf. Easton 1965; Norris 1999). According to Almond and Verba, stable democracy is best served by civic citizens with positive attitudes towards the political system and readiness to play an active political role. More recent scholars also highlight the importance of critical citizens who are dissatisfied with the way democracy works but remain open for political participation (Inglehart 1997; Norris 1999; Rosanvallon 2008). Those who are satisfied with the way democracy works but prefer not to take part in the political process are sometimes referred to as stealth citizens (Hibbing and Theiss-Morse 2002) and represent a more elitist approach to democracy. Those with low scores on both dimensions—satisfaction with democracy and readiness to



Dimension 1: Satisfaction with democracy High Dimension 2: Orientation towards Low participation



Critical citizens

Civic citizens

Disenchanted citizens

Stealth citizens

Fig. 1.1  Typology of political subcultures. Source: Elaborated upon from Denk and Christensen (2016: 181)

take part in the political process—may finally be described as disenchanted citizens (Hay 2007; Stoker 2006). They do not necessarily think that democracy is a good thing, and some of them may be outspoken authoritarians (Fig. 1.1). Using data from the fourth round of the European Social Survey (2008), Thomas Denk and associates (2015) estimate the relative strength of these four groups or subcultures in 25 European democracies, including 10 of the new democracies in Eastern Europe. The picture that emerges is mixed but opens up for at least three major conclusions. (1) Civic citizens rarely form majorities in their own right in old and established democracies. Almond and Verba thus stand corrected. The dominance of civic citizens does not seem to be necessary for stable democracy. (2) There are major differences between old and new democracies. In Eastern Europe, the civic citizens are relatively few (an average of 12.5 per cent as opposed to 34.8 per cent in Western Europe) and the disenchanted citizens relatively numerous (an average of 35 per cent as opposed to 15.4 per cent in Western Europe). (3) There is nevertheless a great deal of within-group variation. The two Baltic countries included in the European Social Survey testify to this. Latvia ends up at the very bottom of the 25 European countries in the study, when it comes to civic citizens (3.2 per cent); and at the very top, when it comes to disenchanted citizens (47.7). Estonia displays a mixture of attitudinal patterns almost evenly distributed across the four cells in Fig. 1.1 and has more in common with France and Slovenia than with neighbouring Latvia (Denk et al. 2015: 370). The Baltic states are situated along the faultline between Europe and Russia. In the 1990s, many Baltic scholars and commentators were quick to embrace Samuel Huntington’s (1993) tenet that the ‘eastern boundary of Western Christianity […] runs along what are now the boundaries



between […] the Baltic states and Russia’. For them, and many ordinary Baltic citizens with them, it was vital to demonstrate that their countries historically, culturally, spiritually and even morally belonged to the West and not Russia. Many Russian speakers in the three countries do not share this view, as it undermines their very raison d’être as inhabitants in the region. Arguably, the most striking differences between the eponymous Baltic populations and the Russian-speaking minority populations concern space and time: they strongly differ regarding the historical and contemporary location of the Baltic states—in the borderland between Russia and the West. After 25 years of independence, this state of affairs has not led to breakdown or even major clashes. But it is a moot question whether integrated national communities can be established when the groups fail to agree on basic issues related to identity and belonging. Balts and Russians are not always at odds. They agree on a number of issues, but there are systematic differences between them on fundamental constitutional matters such as regime choice and foreign policy alignment. The leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania celebrated EU accession as a confirmation of their countries’ ‘return to Europe’ as democracies based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and protection of [national] minorities as required by EU’s Copenhagen criteria (1993). The three Baltic countries have been stable electoral democracies since the early 1990s but, at the grassroots level, strongman rule nevertheless remains an attractive alternative, not least within the Russian speaking communities (see Chap. 2). The EU expects more from its member states than good democratic performance. The EU is a supra-national organisation with legitimate claims for within-group solidarity in hard as well as soft matters. Eurozone countries are expected to help bail out other Eurozone countries in the event of a financial crisis. All EU member states are at least technically part of the resettlement programme for refugees launched to ease the burden on Greece and Italy that served as the first points of entry in the EU for most refugees from Middle East and Africa in 2014–2015; and all member states are furthermore implicitly assumed to embrace the same European values, including gay rights, which remains anathema to many East Europeans. This makes the EU a favourite target of nationalists all over Europe, including Russia. Arguing that European unification has already gone too far and that the EU interferes too much in domestic affairs, many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are part of this wave of EU-scepticism along with many of their Russian speaking countrymen. In the final analysis, however,



Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians perceive their large and mainly Russian-speaking minority populations as a greater challenge to their Baltic nation building projects than EU. * * * Political life in the Baltic states largely revolves around the cultural divide between their majority and minority populations. Aggregate indicators such the relative numbers of ‘civic’ or ‘disenchanted citizens’ by country are informative, but breakdown by country and language group provides much more information. It opens up for within- as well as between-­ country comparisons. Within-country comparisons between language groups provide cues about the level of interethnic conflict in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and between-country comparisons draw attention to systematic patterns throughout the region. Baltic Russians are, for instance, more sceptical about democracy and more positive about Russia than the core populations. But Baltic Russians are not interchangeable. Lithuania has a relatively small Russian speaking community, which includes a large group of people who define themselves as Poles. This makes the ties to Russia less pronounced. The large Russian speaking communities of Latvia and Estonia are primarily part of the post-Soviet legacy. This makes the Russian connection stronger. But regime performance also matters. Estonia is much more of an economic success story than Latvia; and ethnic Estonians embrace the current era with all its novelties—market economy, democracy, and EU and NATO membership—as something positive. This somehow seems to rub off on Estonian Russians. In the subsequent chapters, we will explore interethnic relations in the Baltic countries further. At our disposal, we have a range of Baltic Barometers from 1993 and onwards, including the surveys of 2014 and 2015 carried out by the authors of this book. The emphasis on survey data does not exclude references to other indicators, such as official statistics, democracy-related evaluations by organisations like Freedom House and Transparency International, around two dozen general elections, domestic scandals and upheavals, such as the conflict about the ‘Bronze Soldier’ in Tallinn and the ‘monument wars’ in Latvia, flashpoints in the relationship with Russia, and the liaisons with Brussels and other Western capitals.



Baltic Barometer Baltic Barometer 2014 was generated within the framework of a research project addressing the backlash against European values in a post-­ communist setting, that is, the manifold instances of populist attacks on or challenges to tolerance, liberal democracy, European integration, respect for human rights and the protection of minority rights. The three Baltic states were singled out as perfect cases for testing the magnitude and potential risk of a such a backlash; each country being in itself divided into two major groups of people: a Baltic national core and a Russian speaking minority (in Lithuania including people of Russian as well as Polish nationality). The Baltic national core and the Russian minority populations are culturally distinct and frequently at odds on fundamental issues. The minority populations were deliberately oversampled, and account for one third of some 1500 respondents in each country. Baltic Barometer 2014 is the first comparative study of the Baltic countries since Richard Rose’s most recent New Baltic Barometer (NBB VI, 2004) and covers the first decade of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian NATO and EU membership. With the financial and sovereign debt crises of 2008–2012 and mounting tensions with Russia, life within NATO and the EU was to be less smooth than presumably anticipated in 2004. Most of the fieldwork was carried out prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in neighbouring Ukraine in February/March 2014; and we therefore included Latvia along with Bulgaria and Hungary in a subsequent Post-­ Crimea Barometer (2015). Baltic Barometer 2014 uses the same marker—the respondents’ choice of language for the interview—as NBB to identify majority and minority respondents. The questionnaire includes a number of items familiar from the six NBB surveys between 1993 and 2004. This time span (1993–2014) coincides with a number of fundamental changes in the Baltic countries; and taken together the seven Baltic Barometers (1993–2014) and the Post-Crimea Barometer in Latvia (2015), offer a unique opportunity to follow the response to these changes and challenges over time.

Structure of the Book This introductory chapter was designed to provide a general overview of the topic and a short presentation of the structure of the book. The five following chapters focus on factors we believe play a significant role in the



formation of political culture in the Baltic countries. Chapter 2 is about nation building under exceptional circumstances. Covering four different but related topics, the inquiry begins by exploring the thickness of ethnic identity markers. Second, it focuses on language laws, citizenship legislation and naturalisation procedures, with an emphasis on non-citizens. Third, it revolves around conflict and integration: the ethnic divide has conflict potential, but the Baltic countries do not stand out as particularly conflict ridden. The fourth section focuses on Soviet nostalgia. Half a century of Soviet rule did not pass by unnoticed. While many people want to dissociate themselves from this era, quite a few have fond memories of Soviet rule. In this sense, the Baltic peoples may be described as caught between past and present. Moreover, this dichotomy has a distinct ethnic edge. In the concluding section, the prospects for national integration in the region are discussed. While much of this book is about mass attitudes, values and identities, Chap. 3 is also concerned with political behaviour: how and to what extent does political culture translate into support for various party alternatives? The first section is a reflection on the formation and configuration of parties and cleavages in the aftermath of the Soviet period, followed by a concise outline of the party development in the three countries. It proceeds with a section on public perceptions of conflict dimensions separating the political parties, before zooming in on the left/right dimension. Estonia and Latvia stand out in a regional context in the sense that left/ right is effectively fused with ethnic divisions; and that the majority populations tend to vote for parties on the right and the minority populations opt for leftist parties. In Lithuania, the notion of left and right was also part and parcel of the independence movement, but was never a byword for ethnic divisions. Chapter 4 presents an analysis of how Baltic people evaluate the performance of their respective political systems. The focus is thus on the evaluative dimension of political culture: do people get what they expect from their governments; and if not, what are the implications for system support and democratic stability in the region? It starts with a conceptual discussion about political culture and public support. It continues with an overview of performance-related public attitudes in the three Baltic countries, looking at ethnic differences as well as cross-national and longitudinal patterns. In the third part, a fourfold typology for classification of different political subcultures is introduced, before the question of system support is discussed in light of democratic stability.



Chapter 5 focuses on the strained and complex relationship between the Baltic states and Russia, not least in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea and the wider conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Much of the analysis centres on Latvia in particular—since the country was singled out for a special ‘Post-Crimea’ Barometer. The spotlight is on public support for the main geopolitical actors along the main faultline in Europe: Russia versus the European Union. How do ordinary people feel about Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and after the annexation of Crimea? Do they support the current membership of the European Union and the very idea of European integration? The majority and minority populations may agree on many things, but on fundamental issues such as geopolitical orientation, they are at odds. The ‘return to Europe’ was on the Baltic agenda early on; and Chap. 6 applies a longitudinal perspective. The surveys used in this book give us important information about the trajectories of the three Baltic countries during the formative years leading up to EU accession and beyond. They include questions tapping attitudes towards democracy in theory and at work, which often overlap with the political conditions for EU membership. In the second part, the chapter turns to the large question about the state of democracy in the region by asking if there is support for alternatives to liberal democracy and other values embraced by the European Union. Has there been a democracy backlash or not? If not, has the support for liberal democracy been rather hollow all along? In the final section, the question of political socialisation is raised. Are young people in the region more responsive to liberal democracy than the upper-age cohorts, and if so, what happens to them over time? In the final chapter (Conclusions), the main findings and general patterns are summed up. Second, an attempt is made to boil down the many questions raised in this book to two central themes: democracy and history. A combination of the two items shows that the majority population of Estonia tends to be at ease with contemporary democracy, while the Russian Latvians, in particular, are considerably less at ease. The final section is a reflection on the extraordinary journey the three countries have embarked on since the early 1990s, demonstrated by their many political and economic achievements. The contrasts with other former Soviet republics are dramatic. But the discussion cautions about lingering value conflicts and dissatisfaction in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which potentially could undermine many of the positive achievements. The surge in support for radical right-wing parties—anti-elitist, anti-liberal and anti­EU—may suggest the dawn of a new era in the Baltic journey.



Notes 1. The Czech Republic and Slovakia had been part of Czechoslovakia (dissolved in 1992), and Slovenia was part of the Yugoslav Federation that broke up in 1991–1992. Croatia, another Yugoslav break-away republic, has since followed suit. It became a member of NATO in 2009 and of the EU in 2013. 2. With a population of some 290 million, the Soviet Union had a nomenklatura of about 750,000, corresponding to approximately one-third of the 2.5  million administrative positions of any importance in the vast Soviet empire (Pravda 1989: 16). The small Baltic republics accounted for only a fraction of the Soviet nomenklatura; 3400 out of 750,000 or 0.45 per cent (Matonyté and Mink 2003: 36).

References Almond, G., & Verba, S. (1965). The Civic Culture. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Brazauskas, A. (1992). Lietuviškos Skyrybos/The Lithuanian Divorce. Vilnius: Politika. Buttar, P. (2013). Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. Courtois, S., Werth, N., Panné, J.-L., Paczkowski, A., Bartošek, K., & Margolin, J.-L. (1999). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Dellenbrant, J.-Å., & Berglund, S. (1987). The Baltic Republics: Years of Integration, 1940–1980. Åbo: Åbo Akademi, Department of Political Science, Series A: 27. Denk, T., & Christensen, H.  S. (2016). How to Classify Political Cultures: A Comparison of Three Methods of Classification. Quality and Quantity, 50, 177–191. Denk, T., Christensen, H. S., & Berg, D. (2015). The Composition of Political Culture: A Study of 25 European Democracies. Studies in Comparative International Development, 50, 358–377. Easton, D. (1965). A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New  York, London and Sydney: John Wiley and Sons Inc. Hay, C. (2007). Why We Hate Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hibbing, J. R., & Theiss-Morse, E. (2002). Stealth Democracy—Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work. New York: Cambridge University Press. Huntington, S. P. (1993). The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72(3), 22–49. Inglehart, R. (1997). Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Chance in 43 Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



Kasekamp, A. (2010). A History of the Baltic States. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Küng, A. (2008). Communism in the Baltic States. Stockholm: Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation. Matonyté, I., & Mink, G. (2003). From Nomenklatura to Competitive Elites: Communist and Post-Communist Elites. In S. Berglund & K. Duvold (Eds.), Baltic Democracy at the Crossroads: An Elite Perspective. Kristiansand: Norwegian Academic Press. Miljan, T. (2015). Historical Dictionary of Estonia. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Misiunas, R., & Taagepera, R. (1983). The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1980. London: C. Hurst and Company. Norris, P. (1999). The Growth of Critical Citizens. In Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance. Oxford and New  York: Oxford University Press. Pravda, A. (Ed.). (1989). The Tauris Soviet Directory: The Elite of the USSR Today. London: I.B. Tauris & Company. Rosanvallon, P. (2008). Counter-Democracy: Politics in the Age of Distrust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rose, R., Berglund, S., & Munro, N. (2004). Nation States with Multi-National Populations: Cross-cutting Cleavages in the Baltic States. Centre for the Study of Public Policy, 389. University of Strathclyde. Stoker, G. (2006). Why Politics Matters: Making Democracy Work. New  York: Palgrave Macmillan.


When Nation and State Are at Odds

Europe is frequently seen as divided into a given number of supposedly homogeneous nation states, but nation building is a complex and drawn-­ out affair and may eventually disappoint those who see ethnic and cultural homogeneity as the essence of the nation state. Europeans have a long history of mobility, migration, cultural diversity and, for that matter, geopolitical shifts and border changes. New arrivals frequently merged with the dominant nationality where they had settled, but sometimes also left traces in the form of national minorities. The Sorbs in Germany and the Albanian community in Italy would be cases in point. Europeans, who ended up under foreign jurisdiction as a result of border changes in the wake of the many wars that have ravaged the continent, were confronted with the same difficult choices—to blend into the new cultural setting or to struggle to maintain their cultural heritage as part of a national minority. The German speakers of Northern Italy and the Danish speakers of Northern Germany are just two of the many national minorities in Europe stranded in foreign lands as a result of border changes. Though sometimes used interchangeably, the terms ‘state’ and ‘nation’ are conceptually distinct. The ‘state’ is basically an organisation claiming authority over the entire population within a well-defined territory. The state is a tangible organisation with resources at its disposal to protect its international borders and uphold order within its territory of sovereignty. The ‘nation’ is an abstraction—an ‘imagined community’ based on psychological bonds between people (Anderson 1983/2006). It takes a © The Author(s) 2020 K. Duvold et al., Political Culture in the Baltic States, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-21844-7_2




state—real or in the making—to turn the nation into a political driving force. Nationalism provides the glue between the two concepts. Ernest Gellner defines it as a political doctrine arguing that ‘the political and cultural unit should be congruent’ (Gellner 1983). A good match between state and nation is thus seen as fertile ground for widespread sentiments of belonging and national identity, and a poor match as problematic for internal cohesion. Few countries have a perfect or almost perfect match between state and nation. Eastern Europe only counts one such case—Poland. It was catapulted into this position (98 per cent Polish) after unprecedented ethnic cleansing during and after the Second World War. Recent censuses put Hungary (also 98 per cent ethnic homogeneity) in the same league as Poland. But—unlike Poland—Hungary has a neighbouring diaspora. The Hungarian ‘nation’ covers a larger swathe of lands than the present-day Republic of Hungary and stretches into former Hungarian crown-lands in Slovakia and Romania. So—in the Hungarian case—there is a mismatch between state and nation anyway. Latvia and Estonia represent the opposite kind of mismatch. They have conspicuously low levels of ethnic or cultural homogeneity—61.8 (Latvia) and 68.7 (Estonia) per cent respectively (Eurydice 2018; Estonia Statistics 2017). Lithuania has a cultural homogeneity score of 84.2 per cent (World Population Review 2017). On the face of it, it is a nation state, but—at this stage of the inquiry—we are reluctant to classify any of the Baltic countries as such. Baltic nation building is of relatively recent vintage. It had a jumpy start in the interwar era (1919–1940) and was resumed under different and more difficult conditions half a century later. The Russians currently living in the Baltics are part and parcel of the enormous post-Soviet diaspora of Russian speakers stranded not only in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but throughout the former Soviet Union; and Russia closely monitors the fate of its ethnic kin outside its borders. Whether nation states or not, the direction of the three Baltic countries is clear. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all behave as is to be expected of nation states with minor cultural diversity or none at all. The nation and the national emblems are defined in terms of the titular nationality. The state language is Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian; and suggestions from their allies in the European Union (EU) to consider introducing Russian as a second state language have repeatedly been turned down. There are no constitutional provisions for territorial autonomy for minority dominated regions as in Finland and no elements of federalism or other



c­onsociational devices designed to co-opt minority groups, as in Switzerland and in Bosnia. The political establishment in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius does not see the rift between the core and minority populations as deep or threatening enough to budge from a long-term strategy of turning Russian speakers into Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian speakers. This may not be how politically correct Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanian would choose to describe their respective integration policies. But having ruled out the minority centred options, this is the only alternative they have left; and the education system therefore plays a key role in the Baltic nation building projects (cf. Weber 1976). The impact of the educational reforms will make itself felt in the long run, but short-term strategies were also called for. The strict requirements for citizenship had left large parts of the Russian speaking population in Latvia and Estonia as of 1989 without citizenship. This was a source of frustration among those directly affected and an easy target for external criticism; and raised the issue of integration through naturalisation early on in the contemporary history of Estonia and Latvia. This chapter is about nation building under exceptional circumstances. Covering four different but related topics, the chapter breaks down into four major parts. We begin our inquiry by exploring the thickness of ethnic identity markers in the most recent Baltic Barometer (2014) and define the ethnic divide as profound. The following section focuses on language laws, citizenship legislation and naturalisation procedures. The emphasis is on the large group of non-citizens or aliens in Latvia and Estonia that seems to be withering away at a pace that could not have been foreseen in the early 1990s. The third section revolves around conflict and integration. The ethnic divide has conflict potential, but the Baltic countries do not stand out as particularly conflict ridden. There are elements of conflict, but there are also strong indications of successful integration of the Baltic Russian speaking communities. The fourth section focuses on Soviet nostalgia. Half a century of Soviet rule did not pass by unnoticed. Some Balts and Russians want to dissociate themselves from this era, but quite a few have fond memories of Soviet rule. In this sense, the peoples of the Baltic states may be described as caught between past and present. In the concluding section, we let our research findings serve as a platform for a discussion about the prospects for further integration of the two major ethnic groups in the region.



Language: A Difference That Matters The Baltic Barometers offer respondents a choice between the state language (Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian) and Russian as the language of the interview; and most scholars analysing Baltic Barometer data use this item as the key identity marker. Respondents who opt for taking the interview in Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian are extremely likely to speak this very language at home, to have been brought up speaking it and to have a distinct Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian national identity. Similar comments apply to the Russian speakers of Estonia and Latvia. Nine out of ten speak Russian at home; were raised in a Russian-speaking environment; and the overwhelming majority of them say they are of Russian nationality. The Russian connection is less strongly pronounced among the Russian speakers of Lithuania. Some 60 per cent of them speak Russian at home and grew up speaking Russian, but this group of Russian speakers also includes a large number of Lithuanian Poles with Russian as the traditional regional bridging language (see Table 2.1). When prodded for their nationality, many Lithuanian Russian speakers therefore describe themselves as Polish (41 per cent) as opposed to Russian (37 per cent) or, for that matter, Lithuanian (4 per cent). The internal homogeneity of the two dominant language groups is generally high. Only a fraction of Baltic and Russian speakers in the region break language and identity barriers. The 11 per cent of the Latvian national core population (LatL) who speak Russian at home rather than the Latvian state language provide us with a conspicuous case of transgressive behaviour across the otherwise almost frozen language and identity barriers. The Latvians who see themselves as Russian (9 per cent) represent yet another step across the cultural boundaries. There are instances of such transgressive behaviour also on the Russian side of the fence. Seven per cent of Latvian Russians report Latvian as their nationality; and 4 per cent of Lithuanian Russians list Lithuanian as their nationality (see Table 2.1). But, on the whole, the Baltic and Russian pillars in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania represent vessels with very limited flow between them. Being Baltic or Russian is not just about language. It is also about religion and lifestyle. The vast majority of Russians in Estonia (73 per cent) and Latvia (63 per cent) are Orthodox—a branch of Christianity only sparsely represented among ethnic Estonians and Latvians, many of whom describe themselves as non-believers. Such patterns of religious affiliation promote compartmentalisation. Lithuania offers better prospects for



Table 2.1  Nationality, religion and language use in the Baltic countries (percentages)

Language spoken at home

Language in childhood


Religious affiliation

Baltic Russian Polish Other Baltic Russian Polish Other Baltic Russian Polish Other Catholic Lutheran Orthodox Other none Secular







99 1

1 98

88 11

3 96

96 3

1 2 94

1 84 13

1 2 90

1 98 1

4 1 83

3 83 9

7 7 70

1 2 19 5 5 68

17 1 1 73 3 22

8 26 26 13 4 31

23 17 2 63 8 9

96 2 1 1 94 3 2 1 95 2 2 2 90 1 2 2 5

4 62 33 1 2 61 36 1 4 37 41 18 54 2 32 5 7

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The six language groups in Table 2.1 are based on the language of the interview—a choice between the state language and Russian that respondents made before the beginning of the interview. Those opting for Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian as the language of the interview are classified as part of the majority population or ethnic core in their respective countries and appear under the following acronyms: EstE for Estonian Estonians, LatL for Latvian Latvians, and LitL for Lithuanian Lithuanians. Those taking the interview in Russian are considered part of the Russian minority populations and appear under the following acronyms: EstR for Estonian Russians, LatR for Latvian Russians, and LitR for Lithuanian Russians. Terms such as Estonian Estonians or Latvian Russians are at times awkward in a running text. We therefore frequently refer to the language groups in terms of their majority or minority position. The majority population or national core is also occasionally identified as Estonians, Latvians or Lithuanians. The information on language spoken at home, language spoken in childhood, national identity and religious preferences is based on valid answers to the respective survey items

c­ ommunication across cultural boundaries. Lithuanian speakers are predominantly Catholic (90 per cent); and the symbiotic relationship between Poles and Russian speakers in Lithuania has made Catholicism into the primary choice of most Lithuanian Russians (54 per cent). The cultural divide is profound. It is not closely intertwined with social class, as is frequently the case in divided societies (Horowitz 2001).



Russian speakers are consistently more likely than Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to say that they have low status. More than four out of ten Estonian and Latvian Russian speakers lack Baltic citizenship (see Table 2.2). The distribution of these two items might lend itself to interpretations in terms of polarisation along lines of class and ethnicity. The two standard indicators—income and education—do not. Russian speakers stand out as somewhat less well off than others, but the difference between the two languages groups is nowhere pronounced; and the level of education is generally high regardless of ethnic background. The most striking thing about the last two items is that they highlight the importance of the context. The living standard is higher in Estonia than in Latvia and Lithuania, leaving majority and minority Estonians relatively well off. In a similar vein, there are no systematic differences between the groups— although there is a certain variation among the countries—in terms of education. Table 2.2  Citizenship and socioeconomic indicators by language groups (percentages)

Average monthly income

Self-perceived social status



Low Medium High Low Medium High Low Medium High Baltic Russian and Other Non-citizens







21 41 38 24 37 38 28 46 27 99

23 44 32 50 35 15 27 50 24 52 24 1 23

54 33 13 33 43 23 19 55 26 96

60 31 8 48 42 10 14 65 21 56 8

51 37 12 36 38 25 11 65 24 100

56 38 6 44 36 20 12 67 24 96 3



Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: Average monthly income: low = 0–250€; medium = 251–500€; 501–900€ or more. Self-perceived social status is based on a 7-point scale from low to high social status. It has been recoded so that the first three categories (1–3) add up to ‘low’; 4 equals ‘medium’; and the categories 5–7 equal ‘high’. The level of education was recorded using a 7-point scale running from ‘0’ to ‘6’. It has been recoded so that categories 0–2 correspond to ‘low’; 3 to ‘medium’ and categories 4–6 to ‘high’. The prod for citizenship includes a total of seven options. Here, we have reduced them to four by adding other former Soviet republics explicitly mentioned in the question—such as Ukraine and Belarus—to the Russian Federation



Turning Russians into Baltic Speakers The one-nation, one-language, policy—on which the Baltic countries have embarked—is much more challenging than the nation building process in France during its Third Republic (1876–1914), when France turned its ‘peasants into Frenchmen’ (Weber 1976). Baltic Russians cannot be equated with peasants speaking vernacular versions of the state language. Most of them are self-confident city dwellers speaking the lingua franca of the former Soviet Union. Russian is furthermore linguistically far removed from Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. This reduces the motivation among Russian speakers for learning the state language and makes them dependent on the ability and willingness of majority Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to keep using Russian as a bridging language for interethnic communication. For the state languages to prevail as bridging languages, the Soviet pattern of communication across ethnic divides had to be broken; and to this end, Baltic lawmakers and authorities took steps and measures to promote the state languages familiar from other experiments in nation building in Western as well as Eastern Europe (Weber 1976; Berglund 2016). Strict language laws were introduced making the use of the state language mandatory in the public space and reducing Russian to a foreign language in public schools. In schools serving the Russian minority communities, the state language was introduced as a compulsory element. The overall ambition is to increase the students’ exposure to the state language; and, already in 1997, Estonia set out to make the state language into the language of instruction in 60 per cent of the classes taught in its Russian schools (Duvold and Berglund 2014). The reform proposal had the dual purpose of promoting Estonian proficiency among Russian-speaking students and socialising them into Estonian society with its cultural heritage and historical narrative. It became the law of the land in 2007 but was put on hold until 2012, when it was implemented in the midst of protests and court appeals (OECD 2016: 55–57; Cultural Diplomacy and Human Rights 2013). The ultimate objective, however, is 100 per cent teaching in Estonian except for minority language classes and ethnic culture projects; and a number of the Russian schools in Estonia have already been closed or adapted to Estonian as the language of instruction in all subjects but Russian language and culture (Global Legal Monitor 2016). Latvia is lagging somewhat behind Estonia. Latvia has adopted the same regulatory framework for its Russian schools as Estonia. Taking over the Russian



schools is on the agenda, and scheduled to be completed by the academic year of 2020/2021.1 This was yet another blow for the Russian activists in Latvia, who had already lost a constitutional referendum (2012) that might have turned Latvia into an officially bilingual country; and the school reforms in the making were accompanied by protests and unveiled threats of Russian military intervention (Alexsejeva 2017; Euroviews 2014). In Lithuania, the minority schools did not become a source of concern until recently. Its Russian and Polish minority groups are small and traditionally rather open to integration. Many Russian parents enrolled their children in Lithuanian schools even when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union; and this trend was reinforced after the restoration of independence. The Poles have been more vociferous than the Russians in the defence of their minority rights. They want a university of their own; they want Polish street signs back in areas where they live; and they resent the spelling of their names in Lithuanian passports. When the government tightened its grip on minority schools by making the unified Lithuanian language exam mandatory upon the completion of secondary education in all Lithuanian schools, the Lithuanian Poles called a nationwide strike in Polish schools and urged the Russian schools to join them (Law Amending the Lithuanian Act of Education  2011; Kurier  Wileński, 2 September 2011). A compromise proposal, involving increased funding for the Polish minority schools and different evaluation criteria for Polish students taking the Lithuanian exam, launched by an intergovernmental Polish and Lithuanian working group, consisting of experts from both countries, failed to remove the issue from the agenda (Baltic Times, 9 September 2011; Kurier Wileński, 14 September 2015). In the meantime, Russian schools had attracted the attention of Lithuanian authorities for their partnership with institutions in Russia offering ideological and paramilitary training. The former head of Lithuania’s State Security Department, Gediminas Grina, dismissed the country’s Russian schools as isolated ‘education ghettos’ generating disloyalty rather than good citizens and called for their removal (LT Daily, 18 December 2015). The suspicion that the Russian minority populations constitute a threat to the sovereignty of the Baltic countries is not new; and Russian aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has no doubt reinforced such apprehensions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. If the Baltic peoples fear disloyalty among their Russian-speaking countrymen, the latter are troubled by the prospect of being turned into Estonians, Latvians or Lithuanians. The distinction between integration and assimilation is a bit



diffuse; and some authors use the terms interchangeably (Laitin 1998). In the Baltic context, however, it pays off to differentiate between them. What the French nation builders of the Third Republic wanted to bring about was linguistic integration within the French language sphere and the universal adoption of French culture and values, that is, full-scale assimilation. What the Baltic nation builders set out to do is more limited in scope, and yet, more difficult. They challenge the position of Russian as the bridging language for interethnic communication in the Baltic region. To that end, they have used the educational system in a two-pronged operation. Russian has been defined as an optional foreign language in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian schools; and state language exams have become mandatory in the Russian minority schools. In the long run, this will reduce the number of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians who speak Russian and increase the number of Russians who are fluent in the official state language. This is linguistic integration on Baltic terms, but it stops short of assimilation and—given the situation on the ground—the Russian minorities are not likely be absorbed by the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian national core populations any time soon. The Russian minority groups are sizeable; they live in densely populated areas; they are well organised and not without internal or external connections. The initial exclusion of Soviet era migrants from citizenship gave Latvia and Estonia a reputation as ‘ethnic democracies’ (Smooha and Järve 2005; Duvold and Berglund 2014). An ethnic democracy may be described as a diminished democracy. It is a political system with formal democratic institutions, the rule of law and basic rights and freedoms, but is constrained by the privileged position of the national core. Under the South African apartheid regime (1949–1995), democracy was confined to the white master race. Though less extreme, Israel is also frequently cited in this context. Israel is formally a multi-national, multi-cultural, liberal democracy, yet constitutionally committed to serve the interests of the Jewish nation. This is not the logic governing Latvian or Estonian democracy. It revolves around citizenship and not ethnicity; and citizenship is within reach of all permanent residents with documented proficiency in the state language. This is standard procedure in most European nation states. Classifying Estonia and Latvia as ethnic democracies thus seems a bit drastic. Lithuania adds strength to our argument. Few, if any, would see Lithuania as a candidate for ‘ethnic’ democracy. Yet, this country operates within the same culturally protective legal framework as neighbouring Latvia and Estonia. Indeed, the three Baltic countries are not alone: the



revival of dormant nation building projects in the early 1990s has made national and cultural protectionism into a prominent feature throughout Eastern Europe. Though pursuing similar citizenship policies, Latvia and Estonia have responded differently to internal as well as external pressure for speedy integration of Soviet era migrants. Latvia was not open to naturalisation until 1995, and then only on very restrictive terms (see Fig.  2.1). The quota system foreseen by the new law limited the number of new citizens to approximately 1000 on a yearly basis from the turn of the century and onwards (Krūma  2014: 342; Morris 2003). It put citizenship beyond reach for the vast majority of some 700,000 non-citizens in Latvia in the early 1990s. The Council of Europe ruled that this was unacceptable, and acceptance by the Council of Europe was a crucial part of Latvia’s bid for EU membership. President Guntis Ulmanis refused to sign the original version of the Citizenship Law and sent it back to the Saeima with a strong recommendation for the MPs to consider the modifications proposed by the Council of Europe. The revised law scrapped the quota system and replaced it with a ‘window’ system favouring the youngest age cohorts. This system was to be in force between 1996 and 2003, but it was phased 25000 20000 15000 10000 5000 0



2000 2005 Estonia

2010 2015 Latvia


Fig. 2.1  New citizens in Estonia and Latvia, 1992–2014. Source: Estonia: Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Eurostat; Latvia: Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA); Eurostat



out sooner than anticipated. An amendment to the Citizenship Law of June 1998 gave all legal residents of Latvia the right to apply for citizenship, if and when they so wished. This was a politically difficult decision. It took years of internal debate and a great deal of pressure from the Council of Europe, the EU and their common minority rights watchdogs in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to bring this about. This finally made Latvian citizenship legislation in tune with that of Estonia, but Latvia did not come anywhere close to the levels of naturalisation in Estonia in the early and mid-1990s until ten years later on (see Fig. 2.1). The two countries have since converged towards the lower end of the scale; and the number of new citizens sworn in now seems to have stabilised somewhere between 1000 and 2000 a year. The new arrivals to citizenship between 1992 and 2014 add up to 157,707 in Estonia; and to 141,618 in Latvia. In Estonia, 29 per cent of the approximately 600,000 non-citizens as of 1989 had obtained Estonian citizenship, and 14 per cent had obtained Russian citizenship, by 2000. By September 2012, the number of individuals with undetermined citizenship had been reduced to 92,351, or slightly less than the number of residents in the country with passports issued by the Russian Federation (Järve and Poleshchuk 2013). This represents a considerable shift in favour of the core nationality since the early 1990s, when almost half of Estonia’s 1.3  million inhabitants were non-Estonians. Naturalisation played an important role in bringing this about, but other demographic factors such as mobility, mortality, and acquisition of foreign citizenship must also be taken into account. This is highlighted by the authors of a recent study on the integration of Latvian non-citizens (Šūpule et al. 2014). Comparing the unbroken decline of this group from 1996 and onwards with the yearly inflow of new citizens, the three authors conclude that the erosion of this group has a dynamic of its own. More than half of the standard annual decline of some 15,000 is attributed to mortality, some 25 per cent to the acquisition of foreign citizenship and the remaining 10–15 per cent to the Latvian naturalisation programme (Šūpule et al. 2014: 75–76). In the process, the number of non-citizens dropped sharply, from 722,167 in 1996 to 282,876 in 2014. Two years later, their number had gone down by an additional 30,000, as foreseen by the three authors cited above. Residence without citizenship thus seems to be on its way out in Estonia and Latvia. The number of minors in this group is small; and, if not sooner, they will acquire proficiency in the state language at school.2



Between Conflict and Integration The attitudinal gap between the national core and minority populations does have conflict potential. The increasing emphasis on the state language in public schools has been accompanied by demonstrations under the banner of Russian minority rights. Soviet war memorials have been a constant issue of contention throughout the Baltics, and new memorials have at times stirred up sentiments. In Estonia, the so-called Lihula monument commemorating Estonians who fought the Soviet Red Army in German uniforms was moved twice under tumultuous circumstances before reaching a safe haven in a privately owned museum in the outskirts of Tallinn. The most serious—and dramatic—incident in the Estonian war of monuments occurred on 27 April 2007, as the statue known as the Bronze Soldier was removed from a centrally located square in Tallinn. The Bronze Soldier was originally designed as a tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany, but, to many Estonians, the statue served as a reminder of Soviet occupation. It attracted pro- as well as anti-­Russian activists; and the government wanted it removed from the centre of the city to a military cemetery. But the timing was bad as 9 May—celebrated as Victory Day in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ among Russians throughout the former Soviet Union—was approaching; hundreds of Russian activists had pledged to defend the Bronze Soldier; and the protests turned into an outright riot with short- as well as long-term casualties. One person was stabbed to death and several people were injured as the Bronze Soldier was being dismounted. In an otherwise peaceful environment, this was a dramatic event; and one of the long-term casualties was trust in Estonian government institutions among Estonian Russians, which dropped sharply in the wake of the Bronze Soldier (Kivirähk 2014: 20). The majority and minority populations are frequently seen as living in parallel societies. Russian speakers tend to see Russia as their ‘mother’; and as one of them put it, ‘What son would bear hearing only ill spoken about his mother?’ (Maaleht, 17 April 2014).3 Many Baltic Russians still cling to the Soviet and contemporary Russian narrative about the incorporation of the Baltic states into the USSR and see Russia as a well-meaning and friendly regional actor. Many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians perceive the Soviet Union as an occupying power and its Russian successor state as a potential threat to their sovereignty. Such divergent opinions are not likely to converge anytime soon, but there seems to be a mutual ­agreement to disagree based on empathy for the advocates of the opposing point of



view. A majority of Russians interviewed in connection with the 9 May celebrations in Riga in 2011 say they understand that history never is straightforward and that they can come to terms with the fact that different people have different interpretations of the Second World War and its consequences; a majority of them also say they can understand why some people do not like to see 9 May being celebrated in Riga; and the 18–25 years old tend to be particularly open minded. The latter are even inclined to agree that Latvia was forcefully annexed by the Soviet Union against the will of its inhabitants—a statement that remains anathema to the upper-age cohorts. Annexation may have slipped into the political vocabulary as a suitable description of Soviet ambitions in the Baltics, but occupation has not. This term is shunned by Baltic Russians because it might reflect negatively on them as descendants of ‘occupiers’; and an overwhelming majority of the Russians interviewed on 9 May 2011  in Riga interpret the return to Soviet rule in 1944 as liberation from fascism and not as a return to Soviet occupation (Cheskin 2016: 129–148). Though frequently living next door to one another, Baltic peoples and Russians live in separate media landscapes. The two media landscapes largely handle the same daily flow of news, but the framing is different. The Russian media landscape is closely intertwined with Russian sources of information and reflects Russian strategic interests in the Baltics. These have varied a bit over the last two decades. In the early part of this century, Russia cultivated good relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which boosted the support for NATO accession to 52 per cent among Estonian Russians in June 2003 (Kivirähk 2014: 16–17). As the relations between Russia and NATO turned sour in connection with the Russia–Georgia August war in 2008, Estonian Russians became increasingly critical of NATO. The relations between Russia and NATO hit a post-Cold War all-time low in 2014, as Russia annexed Crimea and provided military assistance to pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. In the Baltic countries, this raised the fear that they would be the next targets for Russian military aggression, whether cast in the form of hybrid warfare as in in Crimea or a swift military operation taking their allies in NATO by surprise. This was a matter of primary concern to the Baltic national core populations, but not to their Russian speaking minorities. In a Post-Crimea Barometer of Latvia, Hungary and Poland of November 2015, 13 per cent of Latvian Russians defiantly say that they sympathise with Russia even more after the annexation of Crimea and the military conflict in Ukraine; and 46 per cent claim that the Russian military intervention in Ukraine did



not change their positive attitudes towards Russia. Of the Latvian speakers, 47 per cent are critical of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine; and only 10 per cent explicitly supportive (Post-Crimea Barometer, 2015). The attitudes towards NATO and President Putin of Russia are also telling. 45 per cent of Latvians see NATO as something positive; 46 per cent of Latvian Russians rule it out as something negative. 83 per cent of Latvia’s Russians express admiration for Putin; two-thirds of the Latvians express the opposing point of view (Post-Crimea Barometer, 2015). Tensions have since mounted further after NATO’s decision to go beyond sanctions against Russia and enhance the presence of the alliance in Eastern Europe on a rotational basis from 1 July 2016. The troops to be deployed include four multinational battalion-size groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The move was designed to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and serve as a reminder that ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’, in line with Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It changed the balance of power in the region; and following a tit-for-tat strategy, Russia pledged to respond. The response came in the form of stepped up Russian military activity in the region accompanied by a series of negative stories about the deployment floated by pro-Kremlin and Russian state-­ funded media. The Digital Forensic Research Laboratory of the Atlantic Council monitored the coverage of the first two months of deployment (February–March 2017) in the Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish media (Nimmo et al. 2017). The analysts find a striking difference between the Russian-language media and the local-language media. The latter are either factual and neutral in tone or positive towards the deployments, and the former consistently more critical. The negative stories in the Russian language media set out to challenge the pro-Western orientation of the Baltic states. The bottom line is that ‘Russia is not a threat’. Those who say so are ‘paranoid’, ‘Russophobes’ or both; and ‘NATO cannot protect the Baltic states’ anyway. What NATO is doing is ‘aggressive’ and ‘provocative’ and the troops to be stationed in Eastern Europe are ‘not welcome’ but come as ‘occupants’. With 50 hostile articles within the seven-week period covered by the report, Estonia was the primary target of Russian propaganda; but Latvia (47) and Lithuania (42) were not far behind. Most of these posts went by more or less unnoticed, but some of them had a significant impact with thousands of views and hundreds of shares. Three of the articles in the analysis were classified as ‘fake news’, including the widely publicised story about the alleged rape of a Lithuanian teenage girl by a German NATO soldier (Nimmo et al. 2017).



Local Russian-language media do not confine themselves to critical comments about foreign and security policy. They challenge the official Baltic historical narrative and they work towards undermining the democratic and European credentials of the Baltic states. The interpretation of history they offer is that of the Soviet Union and now of Russia. It says that the Soviet Red Army came to Baltic countries with the consent of their respective governments and not as occupants. This is the theme of two of the articles cited by Cheskin (2016) in his analysis of the discursive practices of the Latvian Russian-language daily Chas between 2008 and 2010. One of the articles features an unflattering comparison between Finland, which fought the Soviet Red Army, and Latvia that did not; the other is based on an interview with a historian reminding the readers of the newspaper that Kārlis Ulmanis, Latvia’s dictator since May 1934, ‘provided all aspects of legitimacy for the advance of Soviet troops into the country’ in 1940 (Cheskin 2016: 85–86). Both articles make the point that there was no resistance and hence no occupation. By bringing Kārlis Ulmanis into the picture, the second article indirectly questions the restoration of Latvian statehood. A consequent application of the principle of legality would have called for the installation of strongman rule rather than for the return to very parliamentary institutions that Ulmanis dissolved in 1934. The Russian-language media tend to measure Baltic democracy in terms of Russian minority rights. This makes Estonia and Latvia easy targets with their large number of ‘stateless’ Russian speakers. Estonia has given its Soviet era migrants who do not hold Estonian passports the right to vote in local elections, but not in national parliamentary elections. In this sense, they have the same political rights as EU migrants in Estonia. In Latvia, citizenship is a sine qua non for participation in national as well as local elections; and Latvia’s Soviet era migrants who are not citizens of the country therefore have less political influence than its EU migrants. This makes it tempting for Latvia’s critics to describe Latvia in harsh terms. As members of the European Union, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are committed to and bound by European norms and values, including minority rights. This provides Baltic Russian speakers with yet another platform for their grievances. Estonian and Latvian pro-Russian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been quick to seize this opportunity and submit a number of petitions on behalf of would-be voters in elections to the European Parliament. In the Baltic context, a Russian speaker is more than someone who speaks and reads Russian. Most of them are descendants of Soviet era migrants and have their roots in different parts of the vast Soviet empire.



Many of them ended up as aliens or non-citizens after the restoration of Estonian and Latvian independence. They see themselves as left and frequently as oppressed; and they are at odds with a succession of post-Soviet Baltic governments on fundamental issues such as geopolitical orientation and how to organise political life. Russian-language media work towards forging cohesion in this culturally heterogeneous group and draw a sharp line of demarcation between the Russian speakers and the Baltic ‘Other’ (Cheskin 2016). But this line of demarcation is becoming difficult to uphold as more and more Russians become fluent in the state languages and qualify for citizenship. The Baltic Russians are not just Russians. They are Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian Russians; they are attached to the country, where they were born and raised, and the last decades of Baltic and European integration have given them new incentives and perspectives. The impact has been particularly profound among naturalised young Russian speakers. Estonian males under 40 have the same readiness (around 75 per cent) to take part in the defence of Estonia in the event of an attack, regardless of their linguistic background; and more than 50 per cent of Estonian non-citizens—mainly Russian speakers—in the same age cohorts would be ready to take up arms to defend Estonia (Kivirähk 2014: 22). The financial crisis made EU accession less of a success story than anticipated, but the Baltic countries are better off than neighbouring Russia, and EU membership is widely seen as beneficial ten years on. The EU gave Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians free access to the European labour market and pushed up the number of applications for citizenship in Estonia and Latvia (cf. Fig. 2.1). Most importantly, however, it provided the Baltic Russian speakers with a point of reference, not only for their grievances, but also for their vision of a multicultural society. Referring to the European regulatory framework, they can cast themselves as patriotic Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian defenders of ‘European norms’ and ‘values’ in a setting dominated by excessive Baltic nationalism. This conciliatory pro-European strategy squares poorly with the traditional confrontational approach, but seems to be gaining ground (Table 2.3). This is a somewhat unexpected strategy considering the overall mood in the region in the most recent New Baltic Barometer (NBB VI 2004). The 2004 NBB data on Baltic patterns of territorial identity makes Estonia and Latvia stand out as poorly integrated in contrast to Lithuania. A majority of Lithuanian Russians (53 per cent) identify with Lithuania first or second; and 14 per cent with Russia or the USSR. In Estonia and Latvia, a fraction of the Russian speakers (3 and 11 per cent respectively) identify with the state where they live; and the vast majority (66 and 61



Table 2.3  Combined identities, 2014 and 2004 (percentages) EstE






2004 European Nation state first Integrated national Local, regional Russian Don’t know

11 54 22 11 1 1

18 2 1 13 66 0

9 54 23 9 3 1

6 5 6 19 61 2

12 32 38 16 1 1

14 23 30 15 14 3

2014 European Nation state first Integrated national Local, regional Russian Don’t know

12 33 35 19 2 1

19 28 37 10 11 0

8 42 33 16 1 1

10 31 32 17 10 3

15 32 39 15 1 3

14 26 33 9 11 11

Source: New Baltic Barometer (2004) and Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: European: identifies with Europe first or second. Nation state first: identifies with country first. Integrated national: identifies with nation second AND local or regional identity first. Local, regional: identifies with local or regional identity first or second AND other identity is either local or regional. Russian: Specifies Russian as first or second identity AND does not specify country of residence as first identity. Don’t know: for both first and second identity

per cent respectively) with Russia. A Latvian survey (SKDS 2014) cited by Cheskin (2016) suggests a massive shift of loyalties towards Latvia among Latvian Russians (Cheskin 2016: 92). The Baltic Barometer 2014 corroborates this finding (Table 2.3). The most striking thing about the distribution of preferences in Table 2.3 is the virtual collapse of the Russian/Soviet identities between 2004 and 2014. The meltdown is particularly conspicuous in Estonia and Latvia, whose Russian minorities expressed very strong Russian or Soviet identities in 2004. Shifts of this magnitude are not unparalleled in the history of the New Baltic Barometers. In 1997, no less than 83 per cent of Lithuanian Russians identified with Russia or the USSR (NBB III); five years later, this number had gone down to 50 per cent (NBB V) and, in 2004, it had dropped to 14 per cent (NBB VI). In Estonia and Latvia, the change came later and largely went unnoticed until Rose’s territorial identity questions were repeated in Baltic Barometer 2014. The erosion of Russian and Soviet identities has far-reaching consequences for state and nation building in all three Baltic countries. Majority Latvians and



Estonians no longer emphasise the importance of the state to the extent that they did in 2004. An increasing number of them now do what the Lithuanians did a decade earlier: they divide their loyalties between the region where they live and the nation state, and thus end up among the integrated nationals. Both categories must be taken into account, when we estimate the degree of integration. 33 per cent of majority Estonians identify with the nation state first and 35 per cent identify with the state second. Together, this makes a total of 68 per cent well-integrated majority Estonians. The corresponding numbers for majority Latvians and Lithuanian are 75 and 71 per cent respectively. The Russian speaking minorities are not far away from the benchmarks set by the majority populations. 65 per cent of Estonian Russians identify with the nation state first or second; 63 per cent of Latvian Russians and 59 per cent of Lithuanian Russians. In Lithuania, the change since 2004 is modest: in Estonia and Latvia, it is dramatic. In 2004, an overwhelming majority of the Russian speakers of Estonia and Latvia shunned the Baltic nation state as an object of identification; a decade later, more than six out of ten of them embrace it. The frequent references to Europe in 2004 as well as 2014 add an extra flavour to the ongoing Baltic nation building projects. It is partly a post-­ enlargement phenomenon, but it also provides a way out for respondents who do not feel comfortable with a dichotomous and confrontational cultural climate. The same logic may incidentally apply to the relatively large number of respondents whose loyalty does not go beyond the territorial boundaries of local and administrative units. Baltic Barometer 2014 also provides other indicators of attachment to the Baltic countries (Table 2.4). In the fifth New Baltic Barometer (NBB V 2001) people were asked if they were proud of their citizenship. Around eight out of ten ethnic Table 2.4  Proud of being an inhabitant of this country (percentages)

Very proud Somewhat proud Not very proud Not at all proud Refused Don’t know







35 47 12 3 0 2

12 46 26 12 1 3

46 41 10 2 0 1

25 49 20 5 0 1

45 38 10 3 2 2

30 39 14 6 3 9

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014)



Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, and among the minority population of Lithuania, stated that they were somewhat or very proud. Also, 60–70 per cent of the Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia were proud of it. The item is based on a standard measure of patriotism usually addressed to the citizens of a country. The problem is that many residents of Estonia and Latvia were not citizens at all. And some of them were citizens of the Russian Federation. Hence, it is too narrow in the Estonian and Latvian setting, where many residents still lack Baltic citizenship; and for the 2014 study, the question was therefore rephrased to tap pride in being an inhabitant of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. The answer to this query is strongly in the affirmative (as it was in 2001). An overwhelming majority of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are very or somewhat proud of living in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania rather than anywhere else. The Russian-­ speaking minorities are also on board, the Latvian Russians most (75 per cent), and the Estonian Russians least (58 per cent), enthusiastically so. The critical voices notwithstanding, the Baltic countries arguably provide fertile ground for patriotism across ethnic divides.

Between Past and Present The majority and minority populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have perceived the breakup of the Soviet Union inversely; the shift from political subordination to national independence affected the communities differently and, arguably, the end of the Soviet Union and the establishment of three independent states left the minorities, dominated by Soviet-era immigrants, in a state of confusion. The minorities were by and large not very keen on independence, and some of them actively opposed it. Ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, in contrast, mobilised widely for independence in the late 1980s, and most of them held the view that their countries were occupied by the Soviet regime in 1940 and, once again, in 1944. For the Russian speakers, the transition to the post-Soviet era led not only to political marginalisation, but also to something amounting to an identity crisis, in many ways echoing the development in the Russian Federation in the 1990s (Evans 2008; Malinova 2014). For his second presidential term in 2004, Vladimir Putin had made ‘patriotism’ an important part of his priorities, which included a positive reassessment of the Soviet legacy. He made numerous references to the wartime achievements of the Soviet Union and called the breakup of the Soviet Union ‘the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century’. This resonated well



with many ordinary Russians, who indeed tend to take a particular pride in the achievements of the Soviet Union—not least as an entity that gave Russia influence and superpower status. Subsequent V Day markings have become grandiose celebrations—not only in Russia, but also in other post-­ Soviet cities like Riga (Oushakine 2009). In fact, V Day has become perhaps the day of national celebration and a crucial marker of identity among Russians in Russia and beyond. In contrast, few ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians celebrate that day and do not consider it as a day of liberation, but merely as the beginning of another painful occupation. The ethnic divide thus makes a significant difference on an issue such as how to interpret the past. This can be illustrated by the reaction of the respondents, when asked to identify the time period when their country was best off—the interwar era, the Soviet era, the years between the restoration of independence and EU membership in 2004; or the current time period from 2004 and on (Table 2.5). For Baltic Russians, the Soviet era stands out as the unquestionable golden age. The Baltic national core populations tend to disagree—the Estonians most strongly so. Only a meagre 11 per cent of them think the Soviet era was the best. Latvians (27 per cent) and Lithuanians (35 per cent) are actually much more inclined to indulge in Soviet nostalgia. The interwar era is mentioned somewhat less frequently: 20 per cent of Estonians, 31 per cent of Latvians and a surprising 14 per cent of Latvian Russians refer to it as the best time period in the modern history of Latvia. In the case of Latvians, this is in fact the most cherished period. The two most recent time periods in the table rarely attract a majority of the respondents. The Russian minority populations have the Baltic Soviet republics as their primary point of reference; and though almost evenly split between the interwar republic and the Soviet era, majority Latvians are also firmly anchored in the past. The majority populations of Estonia and Lithuania Table 2.5  Thinking about the modern history of (this country)—in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—when would you say (this country) has been best off?

Interwar era Soviet era From Independence until EU-membership Today/present time Source: Baltic Barometer (2014)







20 11 31 38

2 56 20 21

31 27 22 19

14 66 13 7

7 35 25 33

3 59 18 20



break this pattern; the Estonians most distinctly so. A total of 69 per cent of Estonians single out either of the two most recent time periods as the best one in the modern history of Estonia. Almost as if adapting to cues from the majority populations, Lithuanian and Estonian Russians land on a total for the two most recent time periods (38–41 per cent) on par with that of the Latvian core population and about twice as high as the corresponding score for Latvian Russians (20 per cent). On balance, many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians remember the Soviet Union as a repressive regime—a political entity that turned their countries into Soviet republics for half a century. Conversely, most Russian speakers—or their parents—arrived during the Soviet era and many of them—particularly older people—are likely to feel a special attachment to this period and the Soviet system as such. However, ordinary people— across the ethnic divide—can distinguish between their personal history and the larger picture of the Soviet Union as a superpower or an occupant. To phrase it differently, people might be either dismissive or supportive of the Soviet Union regardless of their ethnic background. Hence, we are well advised to search for factors other than ethnicity in order to explain attitudes towards the political and economic system of the past. Perceptions of Soviet rule may be shaped by people’s current position in society. People who are thriving in the current setting might be more likely to reject the communist past, while those who are not coping well might be prone to express support for the communist system that they remember as less competitive and more accommodating for people with limited resources. Age is also a factor in this respect: older people faced a comparatively greater chance of losing out under the transition to a market economy than younger people. Some of them faced redundancy or early retirement. Conversely, young people were more flexible and better adapted to take advantage of the opportunities raised by the newly opened markets. Attitudes might also be related to how people rate the current political system, be it in terms of political and economic reforms, growth, or in combating corruption. But perceptions of the Soviet system can also be ideological and driven by the idea that the Soviet Union was a superior system. Many people who were socialised within the Soviet system and who adopted what we might call ‘Soviet values’ are likely to stick with them for the rest of their lives. In a similar vein, the Soviet system was authoritarian and, in many ways, antithetical to liberal democracy. It is therefore plausible to argue that people who consider themselves democrats today also reject the Soviet past



Fig. 2.2  Positive ratings of the Soviet system of the past, 1993–2014 (percentages). Source: New Baltic Barometer, I–VI (1993–2004) and Baltic Barometer (2014)

because it was non-democratic. Conversely, many of those who stay loyal to the principles and ideas of the Soviet ideology might reject the idea of liberal democracy in favour of authoritarian rule. Looking towards Russia, there are strong indications that many of its citizens are uncomfortable with liberal democracy and in favour of a strong leader, while they also look back at the Soviet system with fondness. This might also be valid in other parts of the former Soviet Union, including the Baltic states. Figure 2.2 displays the trend from the first New Baltic Barometer from 1993 and up to 2014. It clearly reveals that the Russian speakers have held a more positive view about the Soviet system throughout the entire period. It also shows that it increased throughout the 1990s within both groups, before facing a slight decline. These trends seem to indicate that an initial rejection of the Soviet past among the majority of people increasingly gave way to more positive views, possibly as a result of disappointment with the new, post-Soviet realities. Eventually, the economic conditions improved and membership of the European Union became a crowning achievement in 2004. Obviously, generational changes may also have contributed to these trends. In 1993, the entire adult population had strong memories of the Soviet past. By 2004— let alone by 2014—many of them had, at most, only childhood memories from Soviet times to consider. We will in the following table take a closer look at how Soviet ratings vary according to age in the study from 2014. For the sake of simplicity, we have divided age into three relatively large groups.



Table 2.6 can be read in several ways. On one level, it once again shows that minority populations on the whole are considerably more favourably disposed towards the Soviet system of the past. But the difference between majority and minority is certainly sharpest in Estonia. Two-thirds of the Russian-speaking Estonians rate it highly while only one out of ten are negative. Among the majority population, only one third is positive and 40 per cent are negative. In Latvia and Lithuania, ethnic differences are clearly present, but not to the same extent. Table 2.6  Perceptions of the communist system of the past according to age and nationality (percentages) 15–29




Majority Minority

21 37

36 69

45 82

36 70


Majority Minority

14 11

10 9

9 6

11 8


Majority Minority

33 18

43 12

44 8

41 11

Don’t know or refuse

Majority Minority

33 34

10 9

3 5

12 11

Majority Minority

36 44

47 57

46 63

44 58


Majority Minority

16 23

15 15

14 15

15 16


Majority Minority

27 7

26 14

35 12

29 12

Don’t know or refuse

Majority Minority

21 26

12 14

5 10

12 14

Majority Minority

23 55

60 74

64 69

55 68


Majority Minority

15 7

6 5

8 6

9 6


Majority Minority

31 21

23 9

23 20

24 16

Don’t know or refuse

Majority Minority

32 17

12 12

5 6

12 10

Estonia Positive

Latvia Positive

Lithuania Positive

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The exact question reads: ‘Where on this scale would you put the former Communist regime?’ The intervals −100 to −1 are collapsed into ‘negative’; 0 is ‘neutral’; and 1 to 100 is ‘positive’



Another important observation can be found among the age groups: on the whole, appreciation for the communist system increases with age. This is hardly a major surprise: after all, older people are likely to be positive about a period when they were younger. What is more interesting is that these differences are most pronounced among the majority populations. In Estonia, twice as many of those 50 or more are positive compared with those under 30. In Lithuania, the differences are even sharper (64 per cent vs. 23 per cent). Another interesting trend is that the share of people who are negative about the Soviet system also increases with age. This is not the case within all groups, notably in Lithuania, but it is evident in Latvia and among the majority population in Estonia. This trend can to a large extent be explained by the increasing number of young respondents who say they do not know, refuse to answer the question or indicate a neutral position. Meanwhile, the Soviet legacy has become a frequently used instrument in the toolbox designed to restore a sense of community across generations of Russians (Kalinina 2014). The old political system is associated with national pride and international recognition. It is consequently plausible that a more ideological and political Soviet nostalgia has taken roots among the Russian speakers in the Baltic states. This is also a question of collective identity: to have a sense of belonging; to mark distance to the majority population; and to justify your presence in the region. Either way, we can expect the legacy of the Soviet Union to be a permanent battlefield of Baltic politics for years to come.

The Contours of a Regime Divide The Baltic countries were part of the Soviet nation building experiment for almost half a century. They have since regained independence; introduced democracy and market economy; joined NATO and the European Union; all within the span of one and half decade (1991–2004). The initial response to this fundamental change was positive. But it was accompanied by an undercurrent of scepticism, and the critical voices became louder as time went by. This was the standard pattern in the new democracies of Eastern Europe; and in the Baltic countries, the impact of the regime divide was reinforced by ethnicity. The national core and minority populations gravitate towards different poles on issues of crucial importance for Baltic state and nation building.



The Baltic regime divide is complex and multi-faceted; and the few indicators in Table 2.7 do not do full justice to it. Our sample of indicators covers three issue domains—planned versus market economy, regime ­preferences, and alternative foreign policy orientations. Two of the indicators explicitly refer to the Soviet way of organising society and may be used to tap the level of Soviet nostalgia among our respondents. Yet another indicator revolves around Russia as a regional actor and may be interpreted as a measure of overall trust in this neighbouring great power. A quick glance at Table 2.7 tells us, once more, that Soviet nostalgia is widespread among Baltic Russians. More than 70 per cent of them evaluate the Soviet socialist economic system in positive terms; and 58 per cent or more think highly of the Soviet political system. The Baltic national core populations are also under the spell of Soviet nostalgia, albeit to a lesser extent than Russian speakers. Overall trust in Russia as a peaceful neighbour turns out, in fact, to be more divisive and polarising in the current Baltic context than the Soviet experience. More than 80 per cent of Estonian and Latvian Russians believe that Russia constitutes no threat; only 10 per cent of Estonians and 33 per cent of Latvians agree. Lithuania’s Russian speakers, which include both ethnic Poles and Russians, are less optimistic about Russia’s peaceful intentions than Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia but at quite some distance from the rather pessimistic Lithuanian core population. Widespread Soviet nostalgia reduces support for the market economy and democracy. Baltic Russians are generally much more sceptical about the new political and economic order than the national core populations. But the national core and minority populations are by no means interchangeable. Majority Latvians are in fact less enthusiastic about the current economic system than Estonian and Lithuanian Russians; and minority Latvians are considerably more sceptical about the current economic system and its future prospects than other respondents. The Baltic majority populations are more inclined to express principled support for democracy and less inclined to call for strongman rule than their Russian speaking countrymen. But only majority Estonians seem to have been won for democracy. 53 per cent of them express principled support for democracy, while 81 per cent reject strongman rule. For an all-regional high, this is not particularly impressive; and it is difficult to escape the impression that Baltic democracy rests on somewhat shaky ground.

Table 2.7  The contours of an ethnically driven regime divide (percentages) Alternative economic regimes (I) Positive evaluation of the socialist economic system before 1990/1991 Estonians EstRus Latvians LatRus Lithuanians LitRus

Positive evaluation of Positive evaluations of our our current economic current economic system system in five years

48 71 58 76 63 76

80 58 53 38 62 57

80 58 61 39 64 54

Principled support for democracy as preferable to any other kind of government

Positive evaluation of the former Soviet regime

Support for strongman rule

53 41 43 38 48 36

35 68 44 58 50 66

19 39 42 62 29 45

Alternative political regimes (II)

Estonians EstRus Latvians LatRus Lithuanians LitRus

Alternative foreign policy orientations (III) Yes, EU membership has been beneficial for our country Estonians EstRus Latvians LatRus Lithuanians LitRus

79 58 59 34 71 62

Yes, EU interferes too much Russia constitutes in our domestic affairs no threat 69 69 81 84 55 54

10 87 33 83 20 54

Source: New Baltic Barometer (2004) and Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The table is based on Baltic Barometer 2014 and divided into three sections (I–III). The first section (I) draws on a set of questions, where respondents are asked to evaluate the socialist economic system before 1990–1991, the current economic system, and the current economic system in five years from now on a scale from 100 to −100. Only positive ratings are included in the table. (II) Principled support for democracy is operationalised as agreeing with the statement that democracy is preferable to any other kind of political regime. The item about the former Soviet political regime is based on the same scale as used in the previous section. The question about strongman rule reads ‘Best get rid of parliament and elections and have a strong leader who can quickly decide everything’. Respondents who agree are considered supporters of strongman rule. (III) The question about benefits from EU membership reads ‘Taking everything into consideration, would you say that (your country) has on balance benefitted or not from being a member of the European Union’. The next item is based on agreement or disagreement with the following statement: The EU tends to interfere too much in our domestic affairs. Strongly agree and somewhat agree are counted as affirmative answers. The last item is based on the last category in a grading of the threat possibly posed by Russia from big to none



The notion that EU membership has paid off is widespread in Estonia and Lithuania, but contested in Latvia. Most Latvians (59 per cent) believe EU membership has been beneficial—an opinion shared only by 34 per cent of the Russian speaking Latvians; and as may be gauged from the following item in Section III, there is a strong undercurrent of EU-scepticism throughout the Baltics (Table 2.7, see also Chap. 5). A sizeable majority of the national core and minority populations in all three countries think that the EU interferes too much in domestic affairs. In Latvia, 81 per cent or more express this opinion; in Estonia 69 per cent; and in predominantly Catholic Lithuania only some 50 per cent. The evaluation of the EU that emerges from the data is thus somewhat mixed. Membership is widely seen as useful and the EU as too intrusive. The table includes only one question about contemporary Russia and—as already mentioned—it turns out to be the most divisive and polarising of the indicators we have used to tap the Baltic regime divide. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians generally see Russia as a threat of some magnitude. The Russian minorities strongly disagree, while the culturally heterogeneous Lithuanian Russian speakers somewhat less so than the culturally homogeneous Russian speaking communities in Estonia and Latvia. Table 2.7 thus leads us to the three following conclusions. (1) The contours of a regime divide are visible throughout the Baltic region. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are part of the East European syndrome of looking back upon the communist past with nostalgia and questioning the new economic and political order. (2) In the Baltic context, the regime divide is ethnically driven. The attitudinal gap separating the majority population from the Russian speakers in Table  2.7 lends substance to this conclusion. (3) The attitudinal gap between the majority and minority populations is smaller in Lithuania than it is in Latvia and Estonia. This tells us that the regime divide in Lithuania is not intertwined with ethnicity to the same extent as it is in Latvia and Estonia. There is opposition to the market economy, democracy and the pro-Western foreign policy orientation in Lithuania as well, but it is more evenly distributed across the ethnic divide than in Estonia and Latvia. * * * Russian language and culture remain deeply embedded in all three Baltic countries. It is the primary language of around 35 per cent of those who live in Latvia; some 28 per cent of those who live in Estonia; and some



7–14 per cent of Lithuanians.4 When proclaiming the language of the titular core nationality as the state language and opting for a restrictive citizenship regime, the political elites of Estonia and Latvia risked fuelling tensions between their majority and minority populations. This was the scenario that the Council of Europe, the EU and the OSCE had in mind when calling upon Latvia and Estonia to speed up the integration of their Soviet era migrants in the early 1990s. Two and half decades later, the Baltic societies remain divided on crucial matters such as constitutional design, foreign policy orientation and international security arrangements. The new pro-Western orientation remains questioned; and there is a great deal of post-Soviet nostalgia. With their large Russian speaking communities, originally counting hundreds of thousands of Soviet era migrants who did not automatically qualify for citizenship, Estonia and Latvia were particularly vulnerable. The plight of the Soviet era migrants and other ‘injustices’ to Baltic Russian speakers such as the language laws and the school reforms were reported on a daily basis by local Russian-language media with ties to Russia and mobilised many Russian speakers to air their grievances in public. The protests were as a rule peaceful; the interethnic rhetoric gradually became more conciliatory; and some 300,000 Estonian and Latvian Russians successfully applied for Baltic citizenship. This helped bring down the number of non-citizens to more manageable proportions; and in the meantime, the Russia/Soviet identity pattern prevalent among Baltic Russians virtually collapsed. In Lithuania, there was a massive shift of identification towards the nation state between 2002 and 2004; in Estonia and Latvia, it occurred within the ten-year period between 2004 and 2014. This bodes well for the integration of the Russian speakers throughout the Baltic region. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all seem to qualify as nation states. But integration remains more of a problem in Estonia and Latvia than it is in Lithuania. Estonian and Latvian Soviet era migrants have three alternative options. They can apply for naturalisation and become Estonian or Latvian citizens; they can remain permanent residents of Estonia and Latvia with undetermined statehood; and they can apply for citizenship of the Russian Federation. Russian citizenship is the easiest solution for Baltic Russian speakers. All applications from the ‘Russian world’ are welcome; and there are no tricky language tests to pass. This option has been more popular in Estonia than in Latvia. This is largely because Estonia’s Law on Aliens from 1993 required non-citizens to obtain permanent residence permit, which created uncertainty about their



future status in the country and forced them into choosing between Estonian and Russian citizenship at an early stage. A Latvian law on non-­ citizens from 1995 guaranteed them permanent residence permit, and thus less pressure to become citizen of one country or the other (Muižnieks et al. 2013), In Estonia, the group of Russian citizens is about the same size as the non-citizens (95,000–100,000) and accounts for some 7 per cent of the population (Kivirähk 2014: 8). In Latvia, the Russian citizens (55,000) account for 2.6 per cent and the non-citizens (237,759) for 11.2 per cent of the population (Latvian Population Register, July 2017).5 In Table  2.8, we have divided the Russian speakers of Estonia and Latvia into three groups—those with Estonian or Latvian citizenship, those with underdetermined citizenship, and those with Russian citizenship. The focus is on democracy, foreign policy orientation and territorial identification; and data on the national core populations is introduced as a point of reference. Estonian analysts describe the Russian citizens as the least integrated group of residents; and it is tempting to expect the respondents in the four categories in Table 2.8—the national core, Baltic citizens with a Russian-language background, non-citizens and citizens of the Russian federation—to display decreasing levels of support for democracy and the political alignment with the West and to express less attachment to Baltic nation states as we move from the left- to the right-hand corner of the table. Yet, this is not what happens. Majority Estonians are distinctly more favourably disposed towards democracy and the EU than minority Russians in whatever guise they might appear. Estonian citizenship does not necessarily make Estonian Russians into an extension of the Estonian majority population. The three groups of Estonian Russians are in fact strikingly similar in their approach to the first four issues of contention. They dismiss Russia as a potential threat; they tend to cherish EU membership and to question democracy as the best form of government. The spread of pro-EU and pro-­democracy sentiments among Estonian Russians testifies to a slow but ongoing process of political integration in Estonia. Majority Latvians have not yet mobilised a majority of their own for democracy and the minority Russians are even more sceptical about it. Most Latvians (59 per cent) favour EU membership, but—unlike their ethnic kin in Estonia—Latvian Russians tend to dismiss it as non-beneficial. Latvian citizens with a Russian-­ language background and Russian citizens living in Latvia are interchangeable on questions of democracy and dictatorship; and authoritarianism is widespread also among Latvia’s many non-citizens.



Table 2.8  Patterns of integration among minority Russians in Estonia and Latvia (percentages) Estonians

Estonian Russians Estonian citizens

Principled support for democracy Support for strongman rule EU beneficial Russia—no threat European identity Nation state first Integrated nationals Russia

Russian citizens





19 79 10 12 33 35 2

36 56 93 10 22 45 5

39 72 85 26 34 38 2

49 64 93 14 23 36 11


Principled support for democracy Support for strongman rule EU beneficial Russia—no threat European identity Nation state first Integrated nationals Russia

Non-­ citizens

Latvian Russians Latvian citizens


Russian citizens





42 59 33 8 42 33 1

66 36 89 8 32 38 5

65 36 81 11 30 32 5

57 33 85 6 23 40 NA

Source: The Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: In the 2014 Baltic Barometer, 99 per cent of Estonians are Estonian citizens; and 96 per cent of Latvians are Latvian citizens (see Table 2.2). The first four items in the table are familiar from the discussion about the Baltic regime divide (see Table 2.4); the last four items are familiar from the discussion about the shifting territorial identities (see Table 2.5). Local or regional first and second was left out as the emphasis here is on the Estonian and Latvian nation states

The last section of Table 2.8 tells us how the three groups of Russian speakers distribute their loyalties among the key territorial objects of identification—Europe, the nation state and Russia. The nation state (Estonia or Latvia) appears twice—nation state first or second (integrated nationals). Together, these two categories generate convincing majorities for Estonia and Latvia across the three groups of Estonian and Latvian Russians, including the Russian citizens living in Estonia and Latvia.



Territorial attachment to Russia has been reduced to one-digit numbers among all Russians in the region but Russian citizens living in Estonia (11 per cent). Europe is actually a more important identity marker than Russia for all of them, including the Russian citizens in Estonia (14 per cent). The widespread attachment to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania testifies to a shared sense of political community and provides a platform for political integration. But political integration is nevertheless likely to be a drawn-­ out affair. The Russian speakers are overrepresented among the anti-­system critics in the Baltic countries; and Baltic citizenship will not make them into an extension of the national core. The regime divide affects national core and minority populations alike. Many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are also caught up in Soviet nostalgia, lean towards authoritarian rule and distrust the European Union; and it is difficult to say what will come out of the ongoing tug of war along the Baltic regime divide.

Notes 1. This will be done in a stepwise fashion: (1) Pre-school children from the Russian speaking minority will receive sufficient language training to successfully complete primary education in Latvian. (2) The Ministry of Education will make centralised exams in Latvian compulsory for 12th graders in 2017/2018 and for 9th graders from 2019/2020. (3) Starting in 2019/2020, 7th graders will move towards a new competence-based approach ensuring that Russian language schools will teach 80 per cent of the subjects taught in Latvian. (4) From 2020/2021 and onwards, schools will teach general subjects in Latvian, while still giving minority pupils the opportunity to learn minority languages, literature and culture in their preferred language (Alexsejeva 2017). 2. Citizenship is nowadays automatically offered to children who otherwise would have been born into the status of non-citizens. In Latvia, this ­regulatory framework has been in force since October 2013; and in 2015, 99 per cent of the babies born in Latvia were registered as Latvian citizens (Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2016). Estonia somewhat uncharacteristically adopted similar amendments to its Citizenship Act later on—in January 2015. It has the potential of eliminating childhood ‘statelessness’ in Estonia—a group with an annual influx of approximately 300 individuals on an annual basis as of 2014. But the new law did not enter into force until January 2016; and its impact remains to be ascertained (Semjonov et  al. 2016). 3. We owe this reference to Juhan Kivirähk (2014: 16). 4. Ethnic Russians account for 25.6 per cent of Latvia’s population as of 2016. Latvia is also home to 9.6 per cent Russian speakers from other former



Soviet republics, mainly Belarus and Ukraine. Its Russian speakers therefore add up to 35.2 per cent. The ethnic Russians in Estonia account for 25.1 per cent of the population and Russian speakers from other parts of the Soviet empire for an additional 3.1 per cent (Estonia Statistics 2017). Together this adds up to a total of 28.1 Russian speakers in Estonia. In Lithuania, the Russian speakers account for some 14 per cent of the population, but this is a rather heterogeneous group, including some 7–8 Poles with Russian as their traditional bridging language (Grigas 2014). 5. This is reflected in the 2014 Baltic Barometer data. The Latvian data set includes only 27 Russian speakers with Russian citizenship; in the Estonian data set, the citizens of the Russian Federation add up to 100.

References Alexsejeva, N. (2017). Lash Out Over Language in Latvia: Latvia Transitions to Native Language Requirement in Schools, as Russian Population Protests. Digital Forensic Research Laboratory (DFRLab) of the Atlantic Council. Retrieved from https://medium.com/dfrlab/lash-out-over-language-in-latvia7991825c7563. Anderson, B. (1983/2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso. Baltic Times. (2011, September 9). Polish PM Visits Lithuania Amidst Anti-­ Lithuanian Hysteria in Poland. Retrieved from https://www.baltictimes.com/ news/articles/29490/. Berglund, C. (2016). Borders and Belonging: Nation Building in Georgia’s Armenian and Azerbaijani Ethno-Regions, 2004–2012. Uppsala: Uppsala University. Cheskin, A. (2016). Russian Speakers in Post-Soviet Latvia: Discursive Identity Strategies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Cultural Diplomacy & Human Rights. (2013, August 7). The Russian-Estonian Debate: The Language of Instruction for Schools in Estonia. Retrieved from https://culturaldiplomacyandhumanrights.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/ estonia-versus-russia-the-language-of-instruction-in-schools/. Duvold, K., & Berglund, S. (2014). Democracy Between Ethnos and Demos: Territorial Identification and Political Support in the Baltic States. East European Politics & Society, 28(2). Retrieved from https://doi. org/10.1177/0888325413511851. Education Act of the Republic of Lithuania. (2011). Ministry of Education, Vilnius. Retrieved from https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAD/df672e20b9 3311e5be9bf78e07ed6470?jfwid=rivwzvpvg. Ekman, J., Duvold, K., & Berglund, S. (2014). Baltic Barometer. Huddinge: Södertörn University.



Ekman, J., Berglund, S., & Duvold, K. (2015). Post-Crimea Barometer. Huddinge: Södertörn University. Estonia Statistics. (2017). Population by Ethnic Nationality. Retrieved from https://www.stat.ee/34278. Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tallinn. Retrieved from https://vm.ee/ en/contact. Eurostat, Database, Brussels, European Commission. Retrieved from https://ec. europa.eu/eurostat/data/database. Euroviews. (2014, April 13). Russian Speakers Protest in Riga for the Preservation of Their Language. Retrieved from http://www.euroviews. eu/2014/2014/04/13/russian-speakers-protest-in-riga-for-preservation-oftheir-language/. Eurydice. (2018). Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religion. Retrieved from ­ https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/population-demographic-situation-languages-and-religions-40_en Evans, A.  Jr. (2008). Putin’s Legacy and Russia’ Identity. Europe-Asia Studies. Special Issue: Power and Policy in Putin’s Russia, 60(6), 899–912. Gellner, E. (1983/2009). Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Global Legal Monitor. (2016, August 29). Court Confirms Russian Not a School Language. Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/law/foreignnews/?post_type=glm_article&p=8389. Grigas, A. (2014). Russia-Baltics Relations After Crimea’s Annexation: Reasons for Concern, Cicero Foundation, Great Debate Papers, 5. Retrieved from http:// www.cicerofoundation.org/lectures/Agnia_Grigas_Russia-Baltic_Relations.pdf. Horowitz, D.  L. (2001). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press. Järve, P., & Poleshchuk, V. (2013). Report on Estonia, European University Institute, Florence. Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and EUDO Citizenship Observatory. Retrieved from http://eudo-citizenship.eu/admin/? p=file&appl=countryProfiles&f=Estonia.pdf. Kalinina, E. (2014). Mediated Post-Soviet Nostalgia. Stockholm: Södertörn University Dissertations. Kivirähk, J. (2014). Integrating Estonia’s Russian-Speaking Population: Findings of National Defence Opinion. Tallinn, International Centre for Defence and Security. Retrieved from https://icds.ee/integrating-estonias-russian-speakingpopulation-findings-of-national-defense-opinion-surveys/. Krūma, K. (2014). EU Citizenship, Nationality and Migrant Status: An Ongoing Challenge. Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Kurier Wileński. (2011, September 2). Polish Schools in Lithuania Have Begun the Protest. Retrieved from http://media.efhr.eu/2011/09/02/polish-schoolsin-lithuania-have-begun-the-protest/.



Kurier Wileński. (2015, September 14). Lithuanian Government Turns a Deaf Ear to Poland’s Appeal. Retrieved from http://media.efhr.eu/2015/09/14/ lithuanian-government-turn-a-deaf-ear-to-polands-appeal/. Laitin, D. (1998). Identity in Formation: The Russian Speaking Populations in the New Abroad. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2016). Basic Facts About Citizenship and Language Policy of Latvia and Some Sensitive History-Related Issues Riga. Retrieved from http://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/policy/society-integration/ citizenship-in-latvia/citizenship-policy-in-latvia/basic-facts-about-citizenshipand-language-policy-of-latvia-and-some-sensitive-history-related-issues. Latvian Population Register. (2017, July). Cited by Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-citizens_(Latvia)#cite_ref-8. Law Amending the Act of Education. (2011). Republic of Lithuania, Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://uil.unesco.org/system/files/lithuania-lawamending-the-law-on-education.pdf. Lithuania Population. (2017). World Population Review. Retrieved from http:// worldpopulationreview.com. LT Daily. (2015, December 18). Lithuanian-Russian School Teachers Say Their Schools Are Not Vehicles for Russian Propaganda. Retrieved from http://www. lrt.lt/en/news_in_english/29/122970/lithuanian_-russian_school_teachers_ say_their_schools_are_not_vehicles_for_moscow_propaganda. Malinova, O. (2014). Russian Political Discourse in the 1990s: Crisis of Identity and Conflicting Pluralism of Ideas. In P. Casula & J. Perovic (Eds.), Identities and Politics During the Putin Presidency: The Foundations of Russia’s Stability (pp. 107–124). Stutgart and Hannover: Ibidem-Verlag. Morris, H. (2003). EU Enlargement and Latvian Citizenship Policy, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, Belgium, 1. Retrieved from https://i.de/fileadmin/downloads/publications/JEMIE/2003/nr1/Focus1-2003_ Morris.pdf. Muižnieks, N., Rozenvalds, J., & Birka, I. (2013). Ethnicity and Social Cohesion in the Post-Soviet Baltic States. Patterns of Prejudice, 47(3), 288–308. Nimmo, B., Barojan, D., & Aleksejeva, N. (2017). Russian Narratives on NATO’s Deployment: How Russian-Language Media in Poland and the Baltic States Portray NATO’s Reinforcements. Digital Forensic Research Laboratory (DFRLab) of the Atlantic Council. Retrieved from https://medium.com/dfrlab/russian-narratives-on-natos-deployment-616e19c3d194. OECD. (2016). School Education in Estonia, OECD Reviews of School Resources. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264251731-en. Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA). Riga, Latvia. Retrieved from http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/en/home/about-ocma/. Oushakine, S.  A. (2009). The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.



Rose, R. (1993–2004). New Baltic Barometer I–VI. Centre for the Study of Public Policy. Glasgow: University of Strathclyde. Semjonov, A., Karzetskaja, J., & Ezhova, E. (2016). Ending Childhood Statelessness: A Study on Estonia. European Network on Statelessness and Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion. Retrieved from https://www.statelessness.eu/search/node/Childhood%20Statelessness?page=2. SKDS. (2014). Piederı-bas saju-ta Latvijai: Maza-kumtautı-bu Latvijas iedzı-vota-ju aptauja/Feeling of Belonging to Latvia: A Survey of Latvia’s Inhabitants. Retrieved from http://www.mk.gov.lv/sites/default/files/editor/atskaite_ piederiba_08_2014.pdf9. Smooha, S., & Järve, P. (Eds.). (2005). The Fate of Ethnic Democracy in Post-­ Communist Europe. Budapest: Open Society Institute. Šup ̄ ule, I., Bebriša, I., & Kl ̧ave, E. (2014). Analysis of Integration of Latvian Non-­ Citizens. Riga: Baltic Institute of Social Sciences (BISS). Retrieved from http:// biss.soc.lv/downloads/resources/nepilsoni/BISS_Noncitizens_2014.pdf. Weber, E. (1976). Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Between Identities and Interests

Overcoming the Soviet Past The Baltic states declared independence in 1990 (Lithuania) and 1991 (Estonia and Latvia). Their leaders, unquestionably with broad popular support, sought to untangle the tight links that had kept them under the spell of the Kremlin for half a century. The overall aim was clear enough: statehood, democracy and integration in the European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and adjoining international bodies. There were external advisors, foreign governments and parties on board, and international and regional bodies involved. There were policy plans, legal frameworks and economic blueprints presented. But there was no fixed path ahead and all the key components of democratic governance inevitably had to be carried out by doing and learning. Nor was this some kind of ‘zero hour’ for the three countries; the Soviet past could not be undone or wished away. For better or worse, that legacy formed the starting point for the newly established democracies. ‘You can turn an aquarium into fish soup, but you cannot turn a fish soup into an aquarium’, runs an old joke about post-communist civil society. The Baltic states have, like any post-communist country, had to wrestle a lot with their communist legacies. But the societies were of course not damaged beyond repair and new societies have emerged over the years. While much of this book is about mass attitudes, values and identities, this chapter is also concerned with political behaviour: how and to what extent does political culture translate into support for various party © The Author(s) 2020 K. Duvold et al., Political Culture in the Baltic States, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-21844-7_3




a­ lternatives? How well do the parties reflect popular preferences? We will begin this chapter with some reflections on the formation and configuration of parties and cleavages in the aftermath of the Soviet period, followed by a concise outline of the party development in the three countries since the first competitive elections. We will proceed with a section on public perceptions of conflict dimensions separating the political parties, before zooming in on the left/right dimension.

Building Party Systems from Scratch In most political systems, left and right provides some form of mental map for voters and parties alike. It is the most frequently cited dimension of conflict in Western Europe and has its structural roots in tensions between the working class and the middle and upper classes in newly industrialised societies in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Class conflict was translated into an attitudinal divide generating a deep societal rift and corresponding voting patterns. Although the class structure in contemporary Western Europe has become too blurred to sustain a fully fledged class-based cleavage, left/right nevertheless lives on in the minds of most West Europeans as a divide revolving around attitudes to, for instance, government interventionism, taxation and welfare—in addition to a number of cultural issues (Bobbio 1996; Dalton et al. 2011; Jahn 2011). The class structure is certainly no less blurred in Eastern Europe; and in the final analysis, left and right often boils down to a cultural divide—linked to the former communist regimes. Most post-communist democracies are modelled on the same template as European first-wave democracies, but there is good empirical evidence for claiming that the political competition is structured around different issues in countries that have experienced decades of communist rule. Even after a quarter of a century, the legacy of communism has survived as an enduring political divide in Central and Eastern Europe (Berglund et al. 2013). Largely corresponding with a self-proclaimed left and right division, attitudes towards the communist past do not necessarily translate into a classic socioeconomic divide—with a state-centred, redistributive left and a libertarian, market-oriented right. In fact, the economic priorities of the left and right have in much of the post-communist world seemed confusing—or confused. ‘Left’ has a particular resonance in the context of post-communism, if only because the communist regimes for decades ‘monopolised’ socialism



and robbed citizens of choosing between reformist and ‘revolutionary’ socialism (Markowski 1997; Lewis 2000; Grzymala-Busse 2002). Whereas socialism and social democracy in long-standing democracies are associated with social change and demand for greater economic equality, socialism was inexorably identified with status quo under communism. After the collapse of the communist regimes, socialism to a significant extent became associated with a particular blend of conservatism (if not outright reactionarism). ‘Conservatism’ undoubtedly has a slightly different ring in post-communist societies: to what extent can self-declared conservatives in post-communist countries be traditional when they so urgently want to steer society away from the legacy of communism? Family values, Christian ethics, tradition and nationhood might be associated with conservative values. But in societies that have undergone radical transformation over the last couple of decades, the meaning of ‘traditional’ can be rather perplexing. Certainly, there are those who might be called ‘communist traditionalists’, who struggle to accept that the communist economic system was unsustainable and, accordingly, regret its passing. Available survey data, some of which will be presented in this book, overwhelmingly indicate that significant shares of East Europeans believe that Soviet-style communism was a superior political and economic system to the political and economic system that succeeded it (see for instance Okulicz-Kozaryn 2014). Arguably, these people represent a genuinely ‘conservative’ voice. But there are other types of traditionalists—sometimes, but not necessarily, antithetical to communist nostalgia: those who take a restrictive approach to personal lifestyle and family values. Borderline hostile to modernity and liberal democracy, yearning for a ‘pure’ nation as of several generations ago, they can be found within the Catholic Church and smaller religious groups, but also among more secular nationalists. These are groups of individuals who most likely identify themselves as right-­ wing. But there is considerable conceptual confusion also when it comes to the meaning of the ‘right’ (Hellén 1996; Hanley and Szczerbiak 2006). Mainstream conservative parties in Central and Eastern Europe have more often than not taken a fairly pragmatic view on liberal values, such as religion and lifestyle, but the aforementioned brand of conservatism—with its heavy emphasis on issues like nationalism, family, abortion, gay rights and, more recently, anti-immigration—seems to have grown stronger in recent years. In the long run, it may open up for a clearer division between liberals and authoritarians, a process that seems well under way in some countries in the region (Vachudova 2008).



The development of political parties and cleavages in Baltic states follow the overall patterns of Central and Eastern Europe in many respects, but also offer a few rather unique properties. Half a century of social engineering guided by the Soviet leadership offered scant opportunities to build party systems based on distinct social interests and contemporary political ideologies. Whereas the interwar republics had started off as parliamentary democracies, they were also marked by a large number of parties, deep divisions and a generally chaotic political climate, which ultimately paved the way for strongman rule (Kasekamp 2010; Auers 2015). Practically none of the parties established in the late 1980s and early 1990s could reasonably claim roots back to the pre-Soviet era.1 It was ultimately the emerging question of independence that gave shape to the party systems; although the first signs of political activism revolved around environmental issues, questions of national heritage and autonomy were never far from the surface. In Estonia and Latvia, political parties sprung from three sources: first, the broad and relatively moderate popular fronts, which united reform-­ minded communists, anti-communists, ‘environmentalists’ and, of course, different shades of nationalists. But the fronts also reached out to ethnic minority groups (Muižnieks 1995). Set up in 1988, the popular fronts were immensely important players in the endgame of Soviet rule and the reestablishment of independence. However, the rapidly changing political landscape caught up with the fronts and eventually made them look like yesterday’s news. But although they did not manage to transform themselves into political parties, they gave birth to several. As the political game changed and new, hitherto impossible goals suddenly became plausible, the minority-inclusive approach of the popular fronts was no longer felt to be relevant, necessary or desirable for many national-minded Estonians and Latvians—let alone their fellow nationals in exile, who often took a far less forgiving approach to the Soviet era. Since they stressed the illegality of the Soviet annexation and insisted that the newly born states were the continuation of the pre-Soviet republics, the Soviet period was to be called ‘occupation’ and the people who moved there during this time were consequently ‘occupants’. Hence, plans to register all pre-Soviet citizens and their descendants and exclude those who arrived later, including their descendants, went ahead—a radical and potentially explosive idea at the time, but which ultimately won the day. Hence, the second source came from the citizens’ committees, which organised registration of citizens



and, most successfully in the case of Estonia, set up parallel parliamentary structures. The first nationalist parties in Estonia and Latvia are successors of the congresses. A third form of mobilisation could be found in the pro-­ Moscow interfronts, which were strongly against any form of Baltic independence and gathered support from significant parts (but by no means the lion’s share) of the Russian and Russian-speaking minorities. Also, these groups gave birth to political parties, but managed to sustain them only in the case of Latvia. Since the late 1990s, no specific minority parties have been represented in the Estonian Riigikogu and Keskerakond (Centre Party), which many of the Russian speakers have opted for, is an offshoot of the Rahvarinne (Popular Front). In Latvia, the situation has been more complex and the Russian-speaking electorate have been offered various constellations of parties and actors with roots in the moderate Tautas fronte as well as the hard-line Interfront. In Lithuania, the development took—for a number of reasons—a different course. There was, like in Estonia and Latvia, a popular front. But Sąjūdis, as it was called, never faced a serious challenge from more radical nationalists. The difference between Lithuania and the other two countries can to some extent be explained by the size of the minority populations. First of all, Lithuania’s share of Soviet-era immigrants was significantly smaller and posed a much smaller threat to the independence project (it was in fact Polish minority leaders who challenged the idea of it2). Moreover, the citizenship question, which became a burning issue in Estonia and Latvia in the early 1990s, was in Lithuania’s case essentially settled already in 1989—at a time when the idea of full independence was somewhat farfetched and Baltic leaders still had to proceed very carefully with the Kremlin. But although there was no external nationalist challenge, Sąjūdis itself became radicalised in the early 1990s. While the popular fronts in Estonia and Latvia gave birth to centrist parties (and even parties that must be called leftist by local standards), Sąjūdis remained conservative and, in the form of the so-called Kaunas faction, outright nationalist. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Lithuanian Communist Party broke away from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1990 (leaving a small, pro-Moscow party behind, which was banned the following year) and re-emerged as the Democratic Labour Party (eventually renamed the Social Democratic Party after a merger). One might argue over the exact meaning of left and right in Lithuanian politics, but there can be no doubt that the parties locate themselves along such an axis, as do the voters (Duvold and Jurkynas 2013).



The CPSU—which had entirely dominated public life during Soviet times—produced no direct successor parties in Estonia and Latvia. In this respect, the two countries represent a fairly unique development in post-­ communist Europe (Duvold 2017; Saarts 2016). Meanwhile, when the two countries eventually introduced their citizenship laws, the Soviet threat was gone, Russia was relatively weakened and the radicals had won the argument: practically all Soviet-era immigrants were automatically excluded, and it would take several years before the bulk of them were citizens. Many Estonians and Latvians feared that a forceful Russian population, vested with strong political representation, could disassemble the newly independent states and unravel several key priorities (such as security and defence arrangements and European alignments). The overriding notion was that the minority population would have to be co-opted into the citizenry on a gradual basis (Pettai and Hallik 2002). But even with a weak minority presence in the party systems, the ethno-linguistic cleavage was in fact firmly established from outset and became more dominant as the minority electorate grew stronger and more vocal. Hence, the political parties of Estonia and Latvia cannot so neatly be arranged from the left to the right. Instead, the left/right division has effectively been fused with the ethnic divide; the majority populations tend to vote for parties that describe themselves as ‘right-wing’ and the minority populations opt for self-proclaimed leftist parties. But this description is more accurate for Latvia than for Estonia. In the latter case, the main party catering for the Russian speakers—Keskerakond—is not explicitly a minority party, and not even self-proclaimed left-wing. Furthermore, in Estonia, there is also a serious social democratic alternative receiving most of its votes from the majority population.

Baltic Party Systems at a Glance A comprehensive overview of the party systems of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is beyond the scope of the book at hand. Rather, we intend to examine to which extent the party systems reflect the orientations, values and preferences of ordinary citizens and voters. But in order to do so, a brief presentation of the party landscape is in order. (Tables on significant parties in the three countries can be found in the Appendix.) At its heart, centre-right parties have governed Latvia since the first fully democratic election was held in 1993.3 Two centrist parties, Latvia’s Way and the short-lived Saimnieks, were contenders in the first part of the 1990s; the former with roots in the Popular Front. Eventually, the



c­onservative People’s Party took over the mantle, before New Era— another right-of-centre party, established by a former central bank executive—emerged from nowhere in 2002 on an anti-corruption ticket. The People’s Party again became the dominant party in the following election, but was overtaken by yet another right-of-centre party, Unity, in 2010. A conflict between the Saeima and the president over a corruption scandal caused the latter to call for a referendum on whether to dissolve the former. A whopping 94 per cent of the voters agreed and a snap election followed suit. President Valdis Zatler was not re-elected as president, but decided to stand in the election under his quickly launched Zatler’s Reform Party, which finished ahead of Unity but ultimately was side-lined in the next government formation. Unity ended up taking over the Reform Party and went on to form another coalition government three years later. Meanwhile, the centre-right Union of Greens and Farmers—a marriage of two distinct parties—has separately and together taken part in several governments since the 1990s. The national conservative National Alliance, which since 2011 includes the far-right All for Latvia!, has also formed part of several governments. The Harmony Centre, known as the Social Democratic Party ‘Harmony’ since 2014, is on the one hand a leftist party, but above all a party drawing support from the Russian-speaking electorate, even though it also receives support from some Latvian speakers who reject the prevalent position taken by the other parties regarding citizenship, language and education. The Harmony Centre mainly has its roots in the Popular Front (via the National Harmony Party), but has also included successor parties to the Interfront (such as the Socialist Party until 2014). Additionally, there have been other, rather hard-line minority parties with ties back to the Interfront. Currently, the Russian Union seems to be the main challenger and claimed one out of eight seats in the election for the European Parliament in 2014. However, it failed to win seats in the 2018 Saeima election. The party is also more left leaning than the Harmony Centre. There have been several institutional overlaps between the radical and more moderate minority parties. For instance, the predecessor of the Russian Union was For Human Rights in a United Latvia, a coalition that at some point also included the National Harmony Party. The parties that have catered mainly for the Russian-speaking voters, including the Harmony Centre, have been treated almost as pariahs by the other political parties and have yet to serve in a government coalition at the national level. The Harmony Centre became the largest party in the Saeima in the general elections of 2011, 2014 and 2018, but was unable



to enter the executive branch due to massive opposition from other parties. Two new parties, the centrist and regionalist Association of Regions and the right-­ wing, populist For Latvia from the Heart, entered the Saeima in 2014. Four years later, their support had largely evaporated and forced them out of the legislative chamber. However, the 2018 election saw no less than three newcomers. The largest of them was called Kam pieder valsts? (KPV LV)—or ‘Who owns the state?’—a name that pretty much gives away its profile: anti-establishment, right-wing populist and rather Eurosceptic. The second newcomer was the New Conservative Party, which partly took over the position as standard-bearer of pro-European conservatism from Unity (which was repackaged as New Unity) after yet another major corruption scandal. A social liberal party named Attı ̄stı ̄bai/Par! (‘Development/For!’) also entered the fray. Centre-right parties have also been able to dominate Estonian governments and the basic outline of the Estonian party system in many ways resembles a much tidier version of that of Latvia. In the first election, a coalition dominated by conservatives and nationalists (Fatherland and the Independence Party) won the day, superseded by the more liberal-centrist Coalition Party, People’s Union and the Reform Party4 in the 1995 election. Between 1999 and 2016, the Reform Party was involved in every government, either with the nationalist Pro Patria, the vaguely populist Res Publica (which eventually merged with Pro Patria) and the People’s Union (a centrist, agrarian party, which eventually ended up in several other parties to the left and right, including EKRE—Conservative People’s Party of Estonia; see below). But the Reform Party has also formed governments with the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party. The Social Democrats claim to be exactly what the name indicates and are aligned with the larger European family of social democratic parties, but has in fact mixed and rather centrist roots in the Moderate Party. The party enjoyed a boost in 2004, when former foreign minister and later president Toomas Ilves was their top candidate in the European Parliament election. After the Reform Party, Keskerakond is the second main actor of Estonian politics. The party describes itself as social liberal, but is arguably to the left of the other parties in the Riigikogu (including the Social Democrats). Like the Social Democrats, the party has roots in the Popular Front, and has successfully managed to broaden its appeal to include minority voters, thus holding back the challenge from pure minority



­ arties.5 It has been either the largest or second largest party of Estonia for p much of the time since independence and has joined government coalitions four times—mostly as a junior partner, but in 2016 it became the senior partner—and dominates several local councils, including the capital. The strength of the party among the Russian speakers might indeed have contributed to the party’s reputation as something of an outcast in the Estonian political establishment. However, there are other, somewhat related, reasons why the party is held in contempt: notably, the authoritarian leadership style of its former leader, Edgar Savisaar; several high-profile corruption scandals in Tallinn city council, where they have held power for several years; and a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party, which has included financial support (Milne 2015). However, it cannot be described as a party exclusively catering to minority interests. And in this respect, as well as the fact that the party has been in government, the Estonian case is rather different from that of Latvia. Under the leadership of Jüri Ratas, the party has moved even further away from its Russian-speaking core electorate (Braghiroli and Petsinis 2019). Whether it will remain the dominant party for minority interests is a moot question. In 2015, two new parties entered the Riigikogu: the centre-right Free Party and the nationalist-populist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE). The latter arguably represents—in the Baltic context—a novel form of right-wing populism in the Baltic context: anti-EU, fiercely anti-­ immigration (even if migrants are few and far between), and with a strongly developed anti-elite rhetoric. In short, the party resembles several West European populist platforms, but is perhaps also a cousin to Fidesz in Hungary and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland. In the 2019 election, EKRE more than doubled its share of the votes and became the third-­ largest party in the Riigikogu. The Free Party was already a spent force and no newcomers passed the 5 per cent threshold either. The three governing parties (Keskerakond, the Social Democrats and Pro Patria) all lost ground, while the second major winner of the election was the Reform Party, the closest thing to a ‘natural party of government’ in the Baltic states. The case of Lithuania differs from both Estonia and Latvia, for reasons mentioned earlier. During the first decade of independence, two rather antagonistic parties dominated the game—one of them with roots in the old Communist Party and the other the heir to the Sąjūdis. In succession, the Labour Democratic Party (later the Social Democratic Party, after a merger) and the Homeland Union (currently the TS/LKD), each of them strong enough to withstand messy coalitions, dominated the scene for a



whole decade. While Lithuanian politics during the first decade appeared bipolar in character and rather divisive in temperament, a range of centrist parties with a soft populist touch eventually emerged after a decade. In short succession, the liberal New Union and Liberal Union appeared, followed by the more right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (later Order and Justice) and the centrist-populist Labour Party, which became a sensation in the 2004 elections. Four years later, the National Resurrection Party, an explicit ‘anti-party’, sailed into the Seimas from nowhere. A similar story would appear for the next election, when an anti-­establishment (or, more pointedly, outright conspiratorial) group called Path of Courage would make some success. Both of these parties would disintegrate rather quickly, paving the way for other contenders. But for the 2016 elections, it was actually an established but reinvigorated party that represented the (inevitable) surprise component: the Farmers and Greens Union has no international affiliation,6 but must be described—like its name sibling in Latvia—as a centre-right party. The party went on to form a coalition with the Social Democrats, which had led the previous government in a coalition with Labour and Law and Order.7

Party System Consolidation Parties may come and go, and the Baltic party systems have certainly experienced a great deal of change over the last quarter of a century. It has unquestionably been more driven by supply-side volatility than demand. But it is worth keeping in mind that Estonia and Latvia had a rapid increase of eligible voters in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as many Russian speakers became citizens of the two countries. During the first decade after independence, Estonia and Latvia had some of the highest electoral volatility in Central Europe (Auers 2015). The Lithuanian party system seemed, by comparison, fairly stable at the time. In the former two cases, an expanding electorate—many Russian speakers, especially in Estonia, became naturalised during this period— contributed to this volatility. Meanwhile, the two main parties in Lithuania had considerably greater capacity than any of the contenders and managed to dominate the political game during the 1990s. But eventually, the roles were partly reversed: the Lithuanian party system entered a phase of much greater volatility, while that of Estonia became increasingly consolidated around a handful of major parties (see Table 3.1). Meanwhile, the Latvian system remained volatile also in the new millennium. The greater volatility

2.5 94.9 2.3 2.6 54.8 42.1 13.7 21.5 64.9

2.4 39.1 57 30.8 46.4 22.2 19.6 37.1 43.3

Third election 24.6 16.3 58.7 27.6 21.5 50.5 28.7 49.7 21.7

Fourth election

Source: Pettai et al. (2011) and own calculations Note: ‘Partially new’ parties include alliances, post-alliances, mergers and fissions

Genuinely new Partially new Unchanged Latvia Genuinely new Partially new Unchanged Lithuania Genuinely new Partially new Unchanged


Second election 7.1 17.9 75 4.3 25.1 70 19.4 43.5 37.1

Fifth election 0 0 100 2.6 75.1 20.1 8.3 20.7 71

Sixth election 16.8 0 73.2 18.8 0 81.2 0 5.7 94.3

Seventh election

0 0 100 13.6 21.9 64.5

Eight election

Table 3.1  Vote shares among different types of party formations contesting Baltic elections (percentages)

39.8 6.7 53.5

Ninth election





in Latvia can to some extent be explained by the naturalisation of many Russian speakers—a similar process to that of Estonia, but somewhat delayed by prolonged indecision on the citizenship question. But another important reason is the absence of state funding of political parties: while the largest Estonian parties have enjoyed rather substantial state funding and thus managed to monopolise the political space, Latvian parties were for a long time subsidised mainly by private and corporate donations; state funding was not introduced until 2012, 18 years after Estonia and 13 after Lithuania. At the same time, Latvian legislation has required a significantly lower threshold on party membership than Estonia (Auers 2015). Indeed, many Latvian parties have been practically hostile to the notion of a large membership body, possibly because they were concerned about the integrity of the parties (Ikstens 2018). Compared with Estonia, political opportunists in Latvia have been offered much more space and incentives to throw their hats into the ring. And unlike the case of Latvia, the Estonian party system eventually started to consolidate. The Lithuanian case falls somewhere between the two in terms of membership basis, public funding and overall consolidation, although it has evolved in a rather distinct way by starting from order and developing into a more chaotic landscape.

Perceptions of Party Divisions As developed by Lipset and Rokkan (1967) and later elaborated on by scholars such as Rae and Taylor (1970), Bartolini and Mair (1990) and Knutsen and Scarbrough (1995) the cleavage concept involves three distinct dimensions: the ascriptive, the attitudinal and the behavioural. According to Deegan-Krause (2013), a ‘full’ cleavage involves all three dimensions, while a divide, or a partial cleavage, only involves two. Whether partial or full, cleavages are analytical constructs based on inferential evidence. On the elite level, government coalitions, parliamentary voting patterns and electoral manifestos provide important cues about the underlying cleavage structure in a society. Mass-level data drawn from representative samples of actual and potential voters is another rich source of information for the understanding of cleavage formation. Opinion surveys usually include a broad range of attitude items that may mobilise certain social strata into specific behavioural patterns. The survey instrument also opens up the possibility of turning to the respondents for cues about the importance of cleavages in the current party system. With the possible exception of questions about left/right self-placement and left/right



e­ valuations of political parties, this is a path rarely trodden in comparative politics. We take this path and explore the potential of an item specifically designed to tap the relevance of the cleavages most frequently cited in comparative political studies in a Baltic context. It was first introduced by Professor Richard Rose at the Centre for the Study of Public Policy (CSPP) at Strathclyde in his New Europe Barometers in 2001 and has since been taken over by the present authors for the Baltic Barometer of 2014. The term ‘cleavage’ is not mentioned in the question put to the respondents; instead, respondents are asked which [two out of six] alternatives best explain differences between parties in their [own] country. The alternative explanatory statements were handed out to the respondents in the course of the interview and are phrased in terms such that they can easily be translated into cleavages familiar from the debate in and on Eastern Europe. This allows us to identify the most relevant cleavages or potential ‘cleavages’ in the Baltic setting. For instance, the communist/anti-­ communist divide is included in the form of a statement pitting the ‘achievements’ of the communist regimes against the ‘harm’ they did. But once again, the regime divide is not explicitly mentioned in the question and its importance will therefore have to be indirectly inferred. Moreover, these issue perceptions tell us little about the respondents’ own stance: the ardent anti-communist and the communist may both acknowledge the political relevance of the communist/anti-communist divide. In Chap. 2, we suggested the presence of a regime divide—or at least the contours of a regime divide—based on systematic ethno-lingual differences in perceptions of democracy, the Soviet past as well as geopolitical orientations (see also Chap. 5). In this chapter, we consider public perceptions of the regime divide as well as other potential markers of party differences. On the whole, Table  3.2 discloses a fair amount of variation between and within the three countries as well as across time. Around one in five think the regime divide (item 1) is an important marker between the parties. Though its salience has declined in Lithuania after the charged political climate of the 1990s, it has gone up in Latvia, just as the Russian speakers have become more assertive. The Baltic states are small and fairly centralised states, but around one-third believes there is a centre-­periphery dimension to the Baltic party systems (item  2). However, the majority populations of Estonia and, increasingly, Latvia are more-than-averagely inclined to recognise this dimension. The Russian speakers in the two countries are overwhelmingly urban dwellers, which might explain the lower salience of this dimension within



Table 3.2  Perceptions of political divides (percentages) Potential cleavages 1. The communist regime did more harm than good, while other want to preserve many of its achievements 2. Some parties represent big cities, while others defend rural and peripheral regions 3. Some parties want government to manage the economy, while others prefer the market 4. Some parties represent ethnic minorities, while others oppose special policies for minorities 5. Big personalities are the big appeal of some parties, while others ask voters to support their political ideas. 6. Some parties promote national traditions, while others emphasise integration in Europe 7. No opinion

EstE EstR LatL LatR LitL LitR 2001 2014

23 21

27 22

12 18

14 26

29 20

27 14

2001 2014 2001 2014

41 41 20 29

22 20 30 32

13 36 28 30

10 28 26 28

25 26 50 34

18 24 48 25

2001 2014

9 11

35 31

8 14

19 24

8 19

18 26

2001 2014

35 46

30 33

39 47

24 32

43 29

29 28

2001 2014

36 25

30 24

36 26

24 17

33 25

31 24

2001 2014

12 8

12 13

27 12

34 22

4 14

12 20

Source: The New Baltic Barometer (2001) and the Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The introductory question for items 1–6 was: ‘Here are some reasons that people give about the differences between political parties in this country. Which of the following best explains these differences?’ Each item is coded as a dummy variable (mentioned/not mentioned). They are part of the same question and the numbers in the six columns therefore add up to 100. Left/right self-placement is a different variable, included in the table as a point of reference. It is based on an 11-point scale (0–10). We use the first five steps (0–4) to define the leftist

these groups. Lithuania has a mixed electoral system, in which half the MPs are elected in single-­mandate districts, but it is difficult to explain why this dimension is seen as less relevant here than in the other two countries. The state-market division (item 3) is the backbone of most party systems, but seen as relevant for only a minority of Baltic voters. Lithuania has developed a party system that at least resembles the leftright divide of most Western democracies, but the erosion of this dimension since the early 2000s is echoed in our data (Duvold and Jurkynas 2013). As we will return to below, Estonia and Latvia have mainly experienced right-of-centre governments while left-of-­centre parties are, to a large extent, ethnic minority parties (not least in Latvia). Unsurprisingly,



the minority populations are more often inclined to identify an ethnic dimension of the respective party systems (item 4). In Estonia, one-third of the Russian speakers indicate that this dimension matters. By contrast, only one in ten ethnic Estonians agrees. The differences are somewhat smaller in the two other countries. It is noteworthy that the ethnic divide has such low salience in countries as ethnically mixed as Estonia and Latvia. It should nevertheless be pointed out that there are clear differences between the two cases: as we will explain later, the ethnic divide is never far from the surface in Latvia, while it is considerably easier to overlook the ethno-political dimension of the party system altogether in Estonia (Auers 2015). There has been no shortage of ideologically driven parties in the Baltic states in the course of time since the early 1990s, notably related to the Soviet past and national identity, but strong personalities, relatively thin ideology and underdeveloped party organisations have been key ingredients of many of the political parties that have been founded, disbanded or merged. Close to 50 per cent of the majority populations of Estonia and Latvia recognise this dimension (item 5). Curiously, the issue of personality-­ driven politics versus ideology has lost some salience in Lithuania and remains somewhat less noticed by the minority populations. For many years, there was a near-consensus on the question of EU membership in the Baltic states. There has been a certain degree of backlash against what might be termed ‘European values’ after EU accession in 2004 and the, correspondingly, severely diminished leverage from Brussels (see Chap. 6). Even so, and perhaps not so self-evidently, only a quarter of the respondents recognise a conflict between integrationists and nationalists (item 6), a clear drop from 2001. Finally, around 15 per cent have no opinion on possible dimensions dividing the parties, which is also a clear drop from 2001 (item 7). On the other hand, the minority populations are somewhat more likely than the majority populations not to recognise any potential cleavages in Baltic politics. The following sections will revolve further around cleavages, manifest as latent, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The emphasis will be on the left-right scale, but we will also take up the relevance of personalities versus ideology in Baltic party politics. Geography is yet another aspect of party politics and, in this chapter, we will discuss it in relation to the minority question as well as European integration. The latter will also be brought into focus in Chap. 5.



Left and Right Voting is a matter of interests as well as identity. Although many voters are likely to be naturally partisan and vote according to long-held sympathies and identification, it is a core assumption in political science that voters in stable, relatively homogenous democracies tend to vote according to self-­ interests (Downs 1957; Feldman 1984). Obviously, some people prefer alternatives that do not immediately bring personal gains. High-income earners may vote for higher taxes even if their disposable income decreases and people may support expensive environmental regulations or lower thresholds for immigration regardless of their narrow self-interests. But we often assume that voters make rational calculations based on preferences and issue ranking. However, identity-based voting offers an alternative explanation or, alternatively, there could be competition between economic and identity-based voting (Jenke and Huettel 2016). Identities are categorical and non-divisible by nature; they are about either-or rather than more-or-less. Ethnically, religiously or ideologically fragmented societies often wrestle with the latter.8 Naturally, distributional issues matter in these societies too, but are often eclipsed by questions such as ‘who are we?’. Voting for the ‘right’ candidates could matter more than the ‘right’ policies. In ethnically segmented societies, casting a vote is often a direct expression of group identity (Horowitz 1985). While the left/right dimension is about both interests and identity, it usually also co-exists with other dimensions, such as geography, comprising a complex political configuration. This is often a source of stability: if a certain cleavage crosscut another division, the two might ‘dilute’ each other and appear less explosive. But such equilibrium does not always exist: if two different divides are not crosscutting, but systematically overlap, they are likely to reinforce each other and create a much more volatile situation—particularly if at least one of the divides is of a categorical/non-­ divisible character. If, for instance, left/right voting overlaps with ethnic identification, the two dimensions may reinforce each other and provide a potent cocktail (Horowitz 1985). Like in most parliamentarian democracies, Baltic voters are able to position themselves on a left/right scale and many of them—around one-­ third—locate themselves in the middle of that scale (see Table 3.3). This is more or less in line with voters in most Western democracies—presumably because many of them genuinely feel centrist, but others might simply locate themselves in the middle because they are uncertain, uninformed or even ignorant about the question (Inglehart and Klingemann 1976).



Table 3.3  Self-placement on a left/right scale (percentages)

(Extreme left) Left-of centre Centrist Right-of-centre (Extreme right) Refuse/DN








(1) 16 39 33 (3) 12

(2) 30 37 16 (2) 16

(1) 15 36 34 (3) 14

(7) 33 38 5 (2) 22

(1) 20 29 23 (4) 29

(5) 31 25 13 (4) 33

(2) 21 34 24 (3) 20

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The question reads: ‘In politics people sometimes talk of “left” and “right”. Using this card, where would you place yourself on this scale, where 0 means the left and 10 means the right?’ ‘Extreme left’ denotes 0, ‘left-of-centre’ denotes 0–4, ‘centrist’ denotes 5, ‘right-of-centre’ denotes 6–10, and ‘extreme right’ denotes 10. Note that the extreme left and right categorisations are subsets of, respectively, the left-­ of-­centre and right-of-centre categories. Majority and minority are denoted by the first language of the respondent

But a closer examination of Table 3.3 reveals at least one striking pattern: that the minority populations appear more left-wing than the majority populations. Roughly one-third of them locate themselves to the left politically. By contrast, only one out of five or six among the majority populations claim to be on the left. Conversely, a third of the ethnic Estonians and Latvians place themselves on the right. In Latvia, only 1 out of 20 of the Russian speakers places themselves to the right of the centre. Ethnic Lithuanians are more evenly spread on the scale. It should also be pointed out that a quarter of the minority Latvians and close to a third of all Lithuanians do not give any indication where they stand on the scale. Comparable figures for Estonians and ethnic Latvians are much lower. The Baltic Barometer 2014 asked the respondents about which party they would vote for ‘if there was an election tomorrow’. Table 3.4 offers slightly different figures than comparable election results would do, since they include options such as independent candidates, blank voting or abstention. Estonian speakers are fairly evenly spread across different alternatives—with non-voters and those who wish to cast a blank vote as the largest single group. Among the Russian speakers in Estonia, an overwhelming majority indicates that they would vote for Keskerakond. The picture is very similar in Latvia, where the bulk of the Russian speakers would opt for the Harmony Centre. Like in Estonia, the majority population of Latvia is spread across a number of parties. In Lithuania, the ­picture is more mixed, but the minority population—partly Polish and partly



Table 3.4  Party support and party attachment (percentages) Party

Ideology/EU parl. affiliation

Keskerakond Reform Party Pro Patria/Res Publica Social Democrats Other/Independent Blank/Not vote/Refuse/Don’t know Identify with a party

Centre-left/ALDE Centre-right/ALDE Right/EPP Centre-left/S&D


Ideology/EU parl. affiliation

Harmony Centre Unity Union of Farmers and Greens National Alliance Other Blank/Not vote/Refuse/Don’t know Identify with a party

Left/S&D Centre-right/EPP Centre-right/ALDE Right/ECR

Estonians EstRus 9 13 13 13 20 31 35

58 1 1 6 8 25 53

Latvians LatRus 11 16 14 10 13 36 26

56 1 2 0 6 35 44


Ideology/EU parl. affiliation Lithuanians LitRus

Homeland Union Social Democrats Polish Electoral Action Law and Order Labour Other Blank/Not vote/Refuse/Don’t know Identify with a party

Centre-right/EPP Centre-right/S&D Centre-right/ECR Right/EFDD Centrist/ALDE

7 19 1 9 7 23 34 34

1 9 16 20 8 7 41 36

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The ideological placements of the parties are approximate and based on a mixture of self-placement, international affiliations and the Chapel Hill expert survey (http://chesdata.eu/). The level of party support is taken from the Baltic Barometer 2014. The survey item reads as follows: ‘In this envelope is a ballot with the names of political parties. Please put a cross by the name of the party that you are likely to vote for if a parliamentary election were held tomorrow’. The exact question for ‘close to a party’ reads: ‘Is there a particular political party you feel closer to than all the other parties?’. Only positive responses are reported

Russian—tend to opt for either the Polish Electoral Action, an archetypal minority party, or Order and Justice, a right-wing, nationalist party founded by impeached president Rolandas Paksas. According to survey results from a decade earlier, the minority population of Lithuania tended to opt for the Social Democrats (New Baltic Barometer 2004). It should also be noted that the Lithuanian respondents are more likely than



Estonians and Latvians to opt for independent candidates; perhaps a result of the mixed electoral system of the country. Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia are also much more likely to ‘feel close to a political party’ than the majority populations. This trend appears to be of recent vintage: previous studies indicate that the Russian speakers were, if anything, even less likely to feel attached to a political party than ethnic Estonians and Latvians (New Baltic Barometer 2004; Duvold 2010). It might suggest that the Harmony Centre and even Keskerakond have become increasingly consolidated as ethnic minority parties. The electoral stability of the two parties corroborates our data. In Lithuania, which according to previous findings had higher degree of party identification than Estonia and Latvia, there is no significant difference between the majority and minority groups (New Baltic Barometer 2004). Table 3.5 offers yet another perspective on party placement, namely, how party choice is distributed according to the left/right scale. Although many of the parties draw centrist voters, there are some clear differences in the sense that parties that are usually regarded as left or right also attract Table 3.5  Left-right placement according to party preferences (percentages)

Left-of centre Centrist Right-of centre Undecided

Left-of centre Centrist Right-of centre Undecided

Left-of centre Centrist Right-of centre Undecided


Social Democrats

Reform Party

37 34 18 11

29 36 27 7

10 23 61 7

Pro Patria/Res Would not Publica vote 10 29 51 10

13 49 19 20



Farmers and Green

National Alliance

Not vote

39 40 7 15

9 29 34 29

15 41 19 26

1 29 30 41

19 40 12 30

Social Democrats


Law and Order

Polish Electoral Action

Homeland Union

Would not vote

53 20 11 15

45 25 8 22

37 25 13 25

26 29 20 26

9 11 44 37

14 30 8 49

Source: New Baltic Barometer (2014)



voters who regard themselves as respectively left and right. Only 20 per cent of Keskerakond voters locate themselves on the right, while two-­ thirds of the Reform Party voters do. Only 1 in 15 Harmony voters claim to be on the right, while very few voters of the other mainstream parties in Latvia consider themselves as left-wingers. While the majority of Lithuanian Social Democrats locate themselves on the right, only one out of ten Homeland Union voters do the same. Curiously, Social Democrats in Estonia are less ideologically consistent than Social Democrats in Lithuania. The high share of left-wingers among Law and Order voters is also rather surprising. Otherwise, it is noteworthy that the share of voters who are undecided about their position on the left-right scale is significantly higher in Latvia and Lithuania than in Estonia. Somewhat unexpectedly, voters of the National Alliance and the Homeland Union are most reluctant to position themselves on the scale. Half of the non-voters in Lithuania do not have a left-right placement, considerably more than in the other two countries, which both have large numbers of people who cannot take part in parliamentary elections. There is no evidence to suggest that there is an overlap between class or social status and ethnicity in any of the three countries. Russian-speaking voters may vote for left-wing parties regardless of their socioeconomic interests, while Estonians and Latvians may opt for right-wing parties— despite the fact that many of them might be described as working class. Conversely, one might argue that the parties of the right will primarily be looking out for the interests of ethnic Estonians and Latvia. It basically means that rightist parties support, for instance, a restrictive line on citizenship and mono-lingual schools, while the left has a strong emphasis on the minority community (i.e. supporting various minority interests, such as bilingualism). It should also be pointed out that the two most popular parties among ethnic minorities in Lithuania are right-wing parties, although a plurality of them identify with the left. There are several factors that make the cases of Estonia and Latvia slightly different. In Estonia, there has in fact for a long time been a relatively successful social democratic party, which could not be described as a minority party. Second, every Latvian government from the early 1990s has been run by coalitions of centre-right parties without the presence of parties catering for Russian-speaking voters. By contrast, Keskerakond, one of the consistently largest parties in Estonia and which could be classified as a centre-left party, has participated in coalition governments with centre-right parties. The party has also to a greater extent managed to



appeal to voters across the ethnic line. Having said that, the party is far from universally appreciated among Estonians, mainly due to its former leader Edgar Savisaar’s rather personalistic leadership style, which involves several corruption charges, and its long-held ties to the Kremlin.9 In Latvia, it appears to be difficult to simultaneously vote for a ‘left-wing’ party and be seen as a ‘patriotic Latvian’: politics still tend to revolve around ethno-political questions like integration, citizenship and language rights, and Latvia’s Russian speakers have been more inclined to vote according to group interests. It might indeed be argued that ethnicity is the only salient cleavage of Latvian politics (Auers 2013). In a historical perspective, the absence of a viable left-of-centre alternative in Latvia is actually surprising. Latvia’s capital, Riga, was a city of major industry and a distinct working class movement before and during the interwar period. The social democratic movement in Latvia, which originally took its cues from Germany more than Russia, enjoyed a much stronger position in cities like Riga and Liepāja than anywhere else in the neighbouring countries (Lieven 1993: 57; Kasekamp 2010: 88–89).

Perceptions of State and Markets Why are the minority populations inclined to place themselves on the left side of the ideological scale and the majority populations on the right? As we discussed in Chap. 2, we find the contours of a regime divide in the Baltic states. The national communities—certainly in Estonia and Latvia— experienced the breakup of the Soviet Union very differently in the sense that the shift from political subordination to national independence affected the relationship between these communities and, arguably, left the minority groups in a state of confusion. The minorities were not always keen on independence and some of them actively opposed it. The majority populations, in contrast, mobilised widely for independence in the late 1980s, and most of them held the view that their countries had been occupied by the Soviet regime in 1940 and, once again, in 1944. These factors were clearly present around the time of the independence struggle, but they continue to affect perceptions of the past a quarter of a century later. As we saw in Chap. 2, the majority populations are more negative about the Soviet system of the past and many of them regard the Soviet Union as a repressive regime—a political entity that turned their countries into Soviet Russian colonies for half a century. In Russia itself, leaders and ordinary citizens tend to take a particular pride in the achievements of the



Soviet Union—as an entity that gave their country influence and superpower status. This particular discourse affects Russians residing outside Russia as well.10 The Soviet experience covers a period of 50  years and affected generations of people who were brought up as Soviet citizens. Many of them—particularly older people—are likely to feel a special attachment to this period and the Soviet system as such. Thus, the meaning of left and right might well be labels denoting attitudes to the current states, Russia, the West and the legacy of the Soviet Union, rather than contemporary public policy: they are to some extent labels denoting attitudes to Baltic independence and the legacy of the Soviet Union. While being ‘right-wing’ is for many ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians a matter of patriotism and a way to mark distance to Russia and the Soviet past, being ‘left-wing’ for the Russian speakers is borne out of long-held ties to Russia and, in particular, the Soviet socialism of the past. Table 3.3 makes it clear that the Russian speakers not only tend to identify with the left, but also intend to vote for parties on the left (see above). To that end, there is a clear link between political beliefs and political behaviour. But being left-wing is usually also associated with being underprivileged and/or holding certain positions on attitudes towards redistribution. Many of the Russian speakers did indeed arrive during Soviet times as manual workers and, even today, tend to reside in compact Soviet-­ era settlements on the outskirts of urban areas. Clear-cut separations between national communities can be particularly felt in the case of Estonia, while the majority and minority populations of Latvia are more intertwined and diverse in origins.11 It would be inaccurate to claim that there is an overlap between class and nationality in the Baltic states, but Table 3.5 indicates that there are certain systematic differences related to nationality and status, most clearly pronounced in the case of Estonia and least so in Lithuania. The Russian speakers are for instance much more likely to indicate that they belong to the lower end of the social status ladder—which obviously can be related to other factors than socioeconomic status. The Russian speakers are also more likely to report that they have too little money at their disposal to get by. Again, there might be differences between perception and objective conditions, but the interethnic differences are rather striking. Reported income is an unreliable indicator of socioeconomic differences—certainly between the countries, since there are clear income differences between Estonia and the other two countries. At any rate, those who earn less than 500 euros per month make up a vast majority in Latvia and Lithuania and



Table 3.6  Social and economic position according to nationality (percentages)

Low social status Too little money Low income Job in industry







25 21 62 36

45 41 75 49

34 27 76 37

47 37 79 48

39 19 87 37

45 35 79 39

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: ‘Low social status’ includes those who classify themselves as 1–3 on a 7-point scale. ‘Too little money’ includes those who answer ‘definitely not enough’ to the question ‘Do you get enough money from your main source of income to buy what you really need?’. ‘Low income’ includes those who earn less than €600 from all sources of income. ‘Job in industry’ include those who answer ‘qualified worker and craftsman; plant and machine operator’ or ‘unqualified worker’

a slight majority in Estonia. The minority groups earn somewhat less than the majority populations in each country. Finally, we consider those who work as unskilled or skilled workers: almost 50 per cent of the Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia classify themselves as such, while a mere third of the remaining groups do the same (Table 3.6). Our next steps are to, first, examine if the Russian speakers also more likely to be left leaning in terms of policy orientation and, second, if left/ right placement in general corresponds with certain policy orientations. The Baltic Barometer asked a number of questions related to the role of the state versus the market: income differences; individual versus collective responsibility for material security; state versus private ownership of enterprises; job security; and taxation (see Table 3.7). These items cover general ideological orientations, which can be attributed to left/right placement. The picture is predictably mixed, and it turns out that Baltic citizens often are divided into two fairly equal camps. For instance, there are roughly as many who believe in a more egalitarian income distribution than those who take a more laissez-faire approach, although Lithuanians appear slightly more egalitarian than the rest. Importantly, the minority groups also tend to be more egalitarian than the majority groups. It should be kept in mind that the three countries have inequality levels that well exceed the average level in the European Union.12 Furthermore, more than half of the respondents are willing to settle for a lower salary in return for greater job security. Latvians, who were most severely hit by the financial crisis in 2008, appear to be more cautious than Estonians and Lithuanians in this respect. Not surprisingly, younger people are more willing to trade in security for



money. In Estonia and Lithuania, but not in Latvia, the minority groups are more likely to choose money over security. Yet another interesting pattern emerges when it comes to higher taxes in return for more spending on, for instance, education and health: the majority of all Estonians are in favour of this, while only a third of the Latvians and Lithuanians agree. Quite possibly, these differences are the result of institutional performance and trust: Estonia has made considerably more progress than Latvia and Lithuania when it comes to building well-­functioning and transparent public institutions (see Chaps. 4 and 6). The Estonians might simply feel more certain that higher public spending will benefit ordinary citizens. It should also be highlighted that, in 2004, a majority of Latvians were inclined to see public spending on welfare and education instead of tax cuts. But that was well before the financial crisis, which wiped out much of the confidence the Latvians had in their leaders.13 The remaining two items are of a more ideological nature: to what extent should the state be the chief provider of welfare? Should there be limits to state involvement in the economy? Overall, the support for an all-encompassing role of the state as a welfare provider seems to be decreasing in the Baltic states. However, there are noticeable differences between and within the three countries. The majority populations of Estonians and Lithuania clearly favour individual responsibilities over welfare and livelihood. By contrast, the Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia, but to some extent also ethnic Latvians, hold far more collectivistic attitudes in this respect. A similar pattern emerges when it comes to ownership of enterprises: the greater part of the Russians speakers do favour a model based on state ownership over privately owned companies. The figures are considerably smaller among the majority populations, but nevertheless significant. In terms of left-right placement, we can detect some variations along expected lines (see Table 3.8). But the differences are rather small and, when it comes to job security and higher taxes, there are no systematic differences. Do these figures indicate that large shares of Baltic citizens would like to see the return of full-scale state monopolies? Probably not: the bulk of them are acutely aware that turning back the clock to the Soviet economy is not an option, even if many of them indeed rate the former Soviet economy highly (see Chap. 6). Rather than principled support for a Soviet-­style economy, it is above all a question of safety and stability.14 It also suggests that many ordinary citizens are more cautious than their politicians and business leaders when it comes to the market economy and that the leading parties in the three countries deviate from the populations at large in this



Table 3.7  Perceptions of state and market (percentages)

Incomes should be more equal State responsibility for welfare State ownership of enterprises Job security first Public spending before tax cuts

2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014







45 47 38 35 38 32 53 60 57 57

49 52 64 61 54 53 45 40 61 59

50 43 55 52 40 40 57 64 55 39

55 56 72 62 55 61 66 60 52 35

55 61 43 31 33 36 67 61 45 39

48 59 54 50 52 40 57 42 32 34

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: The first statement reads: ‘Incomes should be made more equal, so there is no great difference OR Individual achievement should determine how much people are paid’; the second reads: ‘Individuals should take responsibility for themselves and their livelihood OR The state should be responsible for everyone’s material security’; the third reads: ‘State ownership is the best way to run an enterprise OR An enterprise is best run by private entrepreneurs’; the fourth item reads: ‘A good job is one that is secure even if it doesn’t pay very much OR A good job pays a lot of money, even if it is not so secure’; the fifth item reads: ‘Government should cut taxes even if it means reducing spending on education, health care and pensions OR Even if it means people like myself pay more in taxes, government should spend more on education, health and pensions’. The figures include those who ‘definitely’ or somewhat’ agree with the relevant part of the statement

Table 3.8  Perceptions of state and market by left/right placement (percentages) Estonia



Left Centrist Right Left Centrist Right Left Centrist Right Incomes equal Public welfare State ownership Job security Higher taxes

56 53 46 52 72

56 46 42 58 61

39 32 32 56 67

53 61 57 67 42

40 57 48 63 40

41 50 39 67 52

72 40 52 61 54

60 40 43 63 44

60 27 37 69 49

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: See Table 3.7 for details

respect. This discrepancy suggests that there is untapped support for political alternatives promoting state intervention. Voters who appear more left leaning in terms of redistribution, equality and welfare than the parties they vote for is of course not unheard of in Western democracies either: even parties that are voted into power on a left-wing ticket are often forced to



readjust their priorities according to political and economic circumstances (Kitschelt 2001; Bojar 2018). Still, there is plainly smaller scope for public spending and generous welfare provisions in the Baltic countries—and, for that matter, in most new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe— than in many established democracies. Thus, given the clear evidence that many of the voters continue to cherish leftist, state-­ oriented ideas— although far fewer of them actually vote for left-wing parties—it should come as no surprise that large segments are disillusioned about politics and cynical about their politicians: the gap between public expectations, on the one hand, and the limited scope or willingness to fulfil them, on the other, appears to be significant. We will return to this issue in Chap. 4. However, it should not be taken for granted that yearnings for more state intervention will necessarily play into the hands of left-wing parties; it could also benefit right-wing and socially conservative parties akin to the Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland. The latter party has managed to fuse conservative values and nationalist rhetoric with a strong emphasis on welfare, such as generous child benefits and lowered retirement age (Adekoya 2017). Thus far, there has been no comparable phenomenon in the Baltic states. Right-of-centre parties like the Reform Party (Estonia), Unity (Latvia) and the Homeland Union (Lithuania) have been responsible for fairly orthodox pro-market policies. The same can be said about left-of-­ centre parties, such as the Social Democrats in Estonia or Lithuania. As a final exercise in this quest to unlock patterns of ideological placement among and within the Baltic states, we will consider attitudes to democracy: is there a left/right dimension to satisfaction with the ­performance of democracy and to support for democracy as a form of government? Table 3.9 shows that those who place themselves on the left are considerably less satisfied with the performance of democracy, the extent to which they feel treated fairly by the government and their perceived influence on decision making. The exception here is satisfaction with democracy among Lithuanians, where there is no left/right variation. Similar differences make themselves present in terms of democracy as the best form of government and preference for strongman rule: right-wing citizens in the three countries are indeed both more supportive of democracy in principle and how it is performing in their country. But this is more the case in Estonia and Latvia than in Lithuania. Finally, although there is some left/right variation in terms of attitudes, a majority of Balts do in fact hold the Soviet system in high esteem regardless of left/right placement.



Table 3.9  Perceptions of democracy according to left/right placement (percentages) Estonia



Left Centrist Right Left Centrist Right Left Centrist Right Satisfaction with democracy Treated fairly Influence on politics Democracy preferable Strongman rule Positive Soviet rating










27 16 45 31 60

28 17 46 27 56

49 29 63 20 41

19 16 34 56 62

20 20 39 50 56

33 32 50 41 45

18 14 46 43 70

20 23 47 34 65

30 32 46 24 54

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: ‘Satisfaction with democracy’ includes those who answer ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ satisfied to the question ‘On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in our country?’; ‘Treated fairly’ includes whose who answer ‘Definitely’ or ‘Somewhat’ to the question ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Under our present system of government people like yourself are treated equally and fairly by government?’; ‘Influence on politics’ include those who answer ‘A lot’ and ‘some’ influence on the question, ‘Under our present system of government how much influence do you think people like yourself can have on government?’, ‘Democracy preferable’ includes those who agree that ‘Democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’, the other alternatives being: ‘Under some circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one’ and ‘For people like me, it does not matter whether we have a democratic or a non-democratic regime’; ‘Strongman rule’ includes those who ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agree with the statement ‘Best to get rid of Parliament and elections and have a strong leader who can quickly decide everything’ (the introductory part of the question reads: ‘Our present system of government is not the only one that this country has had. Some people say that we would be better off if the country was governed differently. Please tell me to what extent do you agree with the following statements’); ‘Positive Soviet rating’ includes those who rank positively the Soviet regime. The question reads: ‘Where on this scale would you put the former Communist regime?’ The intervals −100 to −1 are collapsed into ‘negative’; 0 is ‘neutral’; and 1 to 100 is ‘positive’

* * * Indeed, the Baltic states have thus far experienced little of the right-wing populism that has become so prevalent in several European countries.15 Anti-immigration rhetoric is perhaps harder to sell in countries that are more worried about the consequences of emigration than immigration (for instance, Lithuania’s Farmers and Greens Union emerged as clear winners in the 2016 election on an anti-emigration ticket). But this does not mean that anti-establishment parties and populist-style politics have been absent in the three countries. Lithuania and Latvia have over the years seen the rise and decline of several political projects that in one way



or another could be described as populist: thin on ideological substance; strong people-versus-elite rhetoric; parties founded and dominated by strong leaders. Furthermore, there have been ‘oligarch parties’ (notably in Latvia) and several cases of businessmen-­turned-­politicians, media profiles-turned-politicians and so on. However, in most respects, these parties have not been strikingly different from other parties, marked as they are by centrism, pragmatism and general willingness to take part in governments (Sikk 2006; Hanley and Sikk 2016; Auers 2018). And although the distinction between populist and non-populist parties sometimes seems a bit blurred even in certain established democracies, it is practically invisible in countries like Latvia and Lithuania. However, the most recent elections suggest a few notable changes. In Estonia, the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) has established itself as a potent right-wing nationalist alternative with anti-immigration and EU-sceptical rhetoric. To some extent reminiscent of Nordic right-wing populist parties, the party occupies some of the political space held for many years by Pro Patria; a national conservative party essentially borne out of the independence struggle. However, EKRE seems to belong to a new generation of right-wing parties (Kasekamp et al. 2019; Makarychev and Sazonov 2019; Braghiroli and Petsinis 2019). In Latvia, a similar space has been held by the National Alliance, which includes both moderate and more extreme nationalist factions. The party is a merger between For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (which itself was a merger), which basically grew out of the more nationalist elements of the independence movement, and the far-right party All for Latvia! In fact, nationalist rhetoric has for a long time had more enduring appeal in Latvia than in Estonia. While Estonia’s Pro Patria Union, the standard bearer of nationalism in the early 1990s, became a fairly moderate conservative party in the European mould, Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom/ LNNK retained its nationalist credentials even before merging into the National Alliance (Duvold 2010; Bennich-Björkman and Johansson 2012). But, in the 2018 election to the Saeima, the New Conservative Party, led by a former member of the National Alliance, outperformed the established nationalists on a socially conservative, anti-corruption but also pro-EU ticket. Another successful newcomer, the KPV represents an even clearer example of contemporary populism: Who Owns the State?—its English name—suggests a classic populist message of ordinary people standing up against a corrupt and self-serving political elite. The Lithuanian Seimas hosted a strongly anti-establishment party between 2012 and 2016. But the idiosyncratic Path of Courage, which rose to prominence



on the back of an eerie and rather bizarre paedophilia case (Davoliūtė 2012), turned out to be short lived. Positioning himself as an outsider, Rolandas Paksas presidential campaign in 2003 must also be described as populist. He also launched the Liberal Democratic Party, later renamed Order and Justice, as a vehicle for his presidential ambitions. The party has managed to tap into anti-establishment sentiments with its mildly Eurosceptical and patriotic-minded message.16 But by and large, the rather impressive number of new and vaguely ‘populist’ or ‘anti-­establishment’ parties that have surfaced in Lithuania and Latvia (and to a smaller extent in Estonia) have turned out to be rather pragmatic and policy-oriented— as long as they have lasted. Naturally, populist attitudes also make themselves present within the Baltic populations. We will return to this topic in Chap. 6.

Concluding Remarks With the exception of Estonia, the Baltic party systems remain in a certain state of flux. New parties make their appearance, established parties run out of luck and struggling parties decide to merge. It is difficult to talk about cleavage-based politics under such circumstances. Still, there are recognisable patterns of each of the party systems. We have discussed the crucial starting point of competitive politics in the region, namely, the independence struggle and the decision to exclude the Soviet-era immigrants from the electoral arena in Estonia and Latvia, but not Lithuania. Thus, we believe there is a regime divide at the heart of the party systems. In Lithuania, this took the form of a sharp left-right division, which eventually became more blurred and centrist. In Estonia and Latvia, the left was initially very weak, associated with the Soviet era and the Russian-­ speaking minorities as it was. But even with a weak minority presence in the party systems, the ethno-linguistic cleavage was in fact firmly established from the outset and became more dominant as the minority electorate grew stronger and more vocal (Saarts 2016; Duvold 2017). This process is still taking place. Moreover, as the two Russians-speaking electorates continued to grow, these voters also seemed to converge on one particular party in each country. As a result, more Russian speakers identify with a political party than ethnic Estonians and Latvians. Although the two parties in question—Keskerakond and Harmony Centre—have some common features, notably, that they occupy the space to the left on the political spectrum and that they often have been shunned by other parties,



they also differ: Keskerakond is more liberal than socialist, attracts votes from ethnic Estonians and has taken part in several governments; the Harmony Centre is clearly to the left of the other mainstream parties and remains a pariah without government experience, although it has tried to reposition itself as a mainstream social democratic party. We have also seen that most Balts can locate themselves on a scale from left to right and that there are systematic differences along ethnic lines in how they locate themselves (see Table 3.2). To that end, there is an overlap between ethnic identification and ideological placement—in Latvia in particular and to some extent also in Estonia. These patterns also make themselves present in terms of voting behaviour (except in Lithuania, where the parties attracting minority votes appear more right-wing than the average voter of minority background). Finally, we have considered how left/right placement actually translates into principled views on state/ market relations. Table 3.9 reveals that the Baltic populations are divided on issues like ownership of enterprises, social equality, job security, welfare provision and taxation, but not dramatically so according to ethnic belonging or left-right placement. In this concluding section, we will sum up our discussion by presenting a model on determinants of left/right placement according to the ­dimensions we have discussed in this chapter—namely, socio-demographic characteristics, attitudes to democracy and market/state relations (Table 3.10). There can be no doubt that majority versus minority status is the most salient factor behind self-perceived left/right placement. It is strongest in Latvia, but also a powerful predictor in the other two countries. According to other socio-demographic features, the picture is more mixed. In Estonia and Latvia, it appears that social status is important, in the sense that people who rank themselves highly in society tend to identify with the right. This relationship is weaker in Lithuania. Age is a strong predictor in Lithuania, in the sense that younger people are more likely to identify with the left. This is in line with patterns found in many Western democracies. In Latvia, the relationship is reverse and, in Estonia, there is no such relationship at all. The more ‘ethnicised’ left/right division in the two latter cases is at least partly a factor in this respect. As we saw in Table 3.9, there is a democracy aspect to left/right placement: people who are satisfied with how it works are more likely to identify themselves with the right. This is clearly the case in Estonia and Latvia, but less so in Lithuania. However, the desire for strongman rule does not correlate strongly with support for the right and while the correlation between support for an



Table 3.10  Determinants of left/right (OLS)

Adjusted R square Language Age Social status Household economy Satisfaction with democracy Strongman rule Soviet economy Income equal State responsible for welfare State ownership Secure job first Cut taxes





0.111 −0.129∗∗∗ −0.001 0.109∗∗ −0.013 0.090∗∗ −0.015 0.123∗∗∗ −0.103∗∗ −0.026 −0.045 −0.002 0.065∗

0.157 −0.253∗∗∗ 0.073∗ 0.080∗ −0.004 0.188∗∗∗ −0.037 0.019 −0.037 −0.049 −0.082∗∗ −0.010 0.013

0.067 −0.094∗ −0.132∗∗ 0.056 −0.007 −0.028 0.033 0.113∗∗ −0.070 −0.010 −0.016 0.080∗ 0.055

0.104 −0.167∗∗∗ −0.025 0.080∗∗∗ 0.001 0.113∗∗∗ 0.013 0.082∗∗∗ −0.085∗∗∗ −0.037 −0.044∗ 0.020 0.036

Source: Baltic Barometer (2014) Note: Dependent variable: Self-placement on the left/right scale: 0 = left, 10 = right. Independent variables: Language: 1 = Baltic language of interview, 2 = Russian language of interview; Age: recorded year of birth; Self-ascribed social status: 1 = lowest, 7 = highest; Rating of household economy: 1 = very satisfactory, 4 = very unsatisfactory; Satisfaction with democracy in the country: 1 = very dissatisfied, 4 = very satisfied; Strong leader instead of parties and elections: 1 = strongly agree, 4 = strongly disagree; Positive rating of the Soviet economy of the past: 1 = best rating, 7 = worst rating; Incomes should be made more equal, so there is no great difference, or individual achievement should determine how much people are paid: 1 = agree or strongly agree with first, 0 = agree or strongly agree with the latter; The state should be responsible for everyone’s material security or individuals should take responsibility for themselves and their livelihood or: 1 = agree or strongly agree with first, 0 = agree or strongly agree with the latter; State ownership is the best way to run an enterprise or an enterprise is best run by private entrepreneurs: 1 = agree or strongly agree with first, 0 = agree or strongly agree with the latter; A good job is one that is secure even if it doesn’t pay very much or a good job pays a lot of money, even if it is not so secure: 1 = agree or strongly agree with first, 0 = agree or strongly agree with the latter; Government should cut taxes even if it means reducing spending on education, health care and pensions, or even if it means people like myself pay more in taxes, government should spend more on education, health and pensions: 1 = agree or strongly agree with first, 0  =  agree or strongly agree with the latter. ∗  =  p