Constructing the 'non-Estonian': The politics and policies of ethnic and European integration in Estonia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Wadley


Integration, Estonia, European Union, Ethnic integration, Nationalism

Subject Categories

Anthropology | International Relations | Law | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


The research examines how nationalism built into Estonia's ethnic integration policy is made possible through the process of European Union accession. Ethnic integration policy is a part of the larger tasks of state restitution, politically stabilizing the Baltic Sea region, and incorporating Estonia into a Nordic-dominated northern European economy. Specific attention is given to how four groups of elites (European officials, liberal Estonian officials, conservative Estonian officials, and non-Estonian leaders) manipulate the development and administration of the Estonian government's main document guiding ethnic integration: State Programme : ' Integration in Estonian Society 2000-2007 .' Pan-European discourses of essentialized culture, territory, sovereignty, and language inform debates surrounding this document.

The State Programme aims to create an Estonian-language environment throughout the country by transforming key institutions into repositories of the Estonian language and culture. Through their encounters with these institutions, non-Estonians are to traverse a rite of passage through which they exit the liminal status of "non-Estonian," a negative and threatening existence signified by lack of citizenship and a distant relationship to Estonian society. They are to internalize knowledge of the Estonian language and culture, which should help them to increase their job potential, to develop loyalty to Estonia, and to attain the socially achieved status of "citizen." The final conversion to an Estonian citizen should bring them in line with the government's constitutional duty of securing, preserving, and developing the Estonian nation and culture. The non-Estonian can then fulfill his or her full political and economic ambitions and contribute to the country's role in the European political economy.

The research relies on anthropological research on policy, organizations, and neo-liberalism to show how nationalism is enabled through post-Cold War forms of governance. Current explanations of nationalism are insufficient because these assume a dichotomy between a liberal west and an illiberal east. This dichotomy encourages two misleading conclusions about the persistence of nationalism. First, that the process of European Union accession involves the wholesale replacement of one set of norms and institutions with another. Second, that nationalism is strictly an act of resistance against western trends or a legacy of pre-modern modes of social organization.


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