Host land or homeland?: Civic-cultural identity and banal integration in Latvia
Ekmanis, Indra Dineh
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This dissertation challenges conventional approaches in the study of minority integration by looking at the spaces in which integration occurs, rather than at instances of conflict. It develops a framework that considers banal manifestations of social integration in quotidian and national life. Concentrating on the case study of Russian-speakers and ethnic titulars in Latvia, it compares top-down, elite-led discourse on integration with lived interethnic interactions. In many conventional analyses, Latvia is considered a divided society wherein ethnic, linguistic, and cultural cleavages separate ethnic Latvians from the proportionally large population of Russian-speakers “left behind” when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. This population has been analyzed through immigrant, diaspora, and fifth column frameworks that suggest Russian speakers remain outside of the Latvian state and nation, if not always civically, then certainly culturally. This dissertation argues the frameworks and indicators traditionally used to measure integration do not sufficiently consider integration in everyday experiences, and therefore overlook much of the integration that is occurring on the ground. Rather, banality – or the lived experiences that fade into the hum of everyday life – is an indicator of significant interpersonal and socio-national integration that incorporates minorities as active members of the nation. The dissertation considers relevant theories in the study of integration, nationalism, and identity to create frameworks of interpersonal and socio-national banal integration. These capture both person-to-person experiences and minority engagement with society and the state. The dissertation then links the theoretical concept with three critical elements in the Latvian integration debate. First, it notes the disconnect between top-down integration priorities and ground-level realities. Second, it examines banal integration in daily life, looking at interpersonal interactions, public spaces, and civic connections with the state. Finally, the dissertation considers the ways in which minorities engage as embedded members of the Latvian nation, looking at participation in cultural events and national holidays. Theoretically, this dissertation highlights the necessity of prioritizing banal, quotidian experiences over elite-led discourse in the study of integration. Methodologically, it accomplishes this goal through a multi-method approach, using extant document summary and analysis, medium-n survey data, and qualitative ethnography. Empirically, the dissertation pushes back against a narrative of conflict in Latvian and Russian-speaker relations. Indeed, it argues that not only is Latvian society far less divided than it discursively appears, in many cases, minorities see themselves as active members of the Latvian cultural and civic nation, not tangential to it. This dissertation is a dedicated analysis of the Latvian case, but contributes more broadly to the literature on post-Soviet diaspora and migration studies, integration studies, and questions of nationalism and identity in the modern global context.