Understanding the "Conditionality Gap" in Estonia and Latvia: The Influence of EU Conditionality and Russia's Activism on Minority Inclusion Open Access
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Latvia and Estonia, which joined the EU in 2004, are lauded as "success" cases for those scholars concerned with demonstrating the positive effects of EU conditionality on democratic nation-building. This is because pressure from European institutions led to changes in citizenship and language policies in both states in the late 1990s. However, the impact of these policy changes on minority integration actually remains unclear in Estonia and Latvia, as the Russian-speaking minority remains marginalized in these societies with respect to their economic, political and social standing. The Russian-speaking minority has responded to this marginalization with expressions of discontent in the form of vandalism, demonstrations, and riots, the most recent of which were the Bronze Soldier riots in Estonia in April 2007 and the protests over educational reform in Latvia in spring 2004. If EU conditionality was supposed to ensure that universal standards regarding minority rights were adopted by accession states, then what explains these growing expressions that international norms and domestic understandings of those norms have not converged? Through an analysis of both international conventions and domestic minority policy documents, an innovative "Q method" study, and semi-structured interviews with policy elites in both states, the dissertation addresses four primary research questions: 1) Are domestic policies in the areas of citizenship, language, and education consistent with European minority rights standards?; 2) How are European "minority rights norms", and "integration", understood by policy elites and to what extent are these understandings consistent with international standards?; 3) How does normative pressure from European institutions to integrate the Russian minority influence the development of minority policies and elite attitudes toward minority integration in the post-accession period?; and 4) How does Russia's activism impact the integration process and the acceptance of minority rights norms by elites in these societies? The dissertation calls the success of EU conditionality in the area of minority rights into question, by pointing to both the shallowness of changes in citizenship and language policies in the late 1990s and disagreements over the meaning and importance of minority rights norms among Estonian and Latvian elites. In addition, it illustrates that previous studies on the comparative impact of kin-state activism and EU conditionality on minority policies in these states should not be so quick to dismiss Russia's influence on attitudes toward integration processes. While Russia's activism may not always have a direct impact on changing policies in the direction of greater minority inclusion, it does produce a defensive reaction among elites and can cultivate and perpetuate "myths" in society, both of which work against the integration process and the development of more inclusive minority policies.