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‘Societal Security’, the Baltic States and

EU Integration

The concept of ‘societal security’ has been formulated to account for
the phenomenon of societal identity as a source of instability. This
article discusses the concept as articulated by Buzan et al. and applies
it to the post-Soviet experience of the Baltic States. It examines the
process of Sovietization and the way in which migration and horizon-
tal and vertical competition created tensions and stresses between
societies in the Baltic States which then carried over into and shaped
the first decade of restored independence. The reasons for and nature
of the state-building policies in the three states, particularly the for-
mulation of citizenship policies and the emergence of classic societal
security dilemmas, are analysed. Within an empirically based section,
the authors then explore the way in which the prospect of European
Union membership has impacted on the societal security sectors in
Estonia and Latvia. It argues that the normative power of the EU has
prompted Estonia and Latvia to resolve their societal security dilem-
mas in a manner acceptable to the EU, but that the ‘magnetic attrac-
tion’ of EU membership increasingly has the power to repel within an
emerging post-sovereign security order.
Keywords: citizenship; identity; migration; sovereignty


The Baltic States have all sought to ‘return to Europe’ in the post-
Soviet period, a project which has been variously conceptualized by
the different political elites of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. For some,
it has been considered a logical reassertion or restoration of their nat-
ural and rightful position within a ‘common European home’.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia explicitly underscored this
perception when, following the European Union Helsinki Summit’s
decision in December 1999 to open up negotiations with Latvia, she
stated that Latvia had turned its back to and walked away from the
cooperation and conflict Copyright © 2001 NISA. SAGE Publications
(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), vol. 36(3): 273–296. ISBN:
0010–8367 [200109]36:3; 273–296; 019653
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274 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

‘post-Soviet realm’ forever, to become a democratic and open

European country (LETA news agency, Riga, 15 February 2000).
European Commission President Romano Prodi reinforced such a
perception in an address to the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) in
February 2000, implicitly stressing the power of normative commonal-
ties: ‘When joining the Union, Lithuania will bring with it its love of
freedom and democracy, which has been the basis of the restoration of
independence’ (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 10 February 2000).
For all three Baltic States the security benefits flowing from EU
integration are perceived to be paramount. The strengthening of state
sovereignty, territorial integrity, societal, economic, and political stabil-
ity would follow EU integration. In the early 1990s the expectation
was that Baltic–EU integration would occur in the medium rather
than short term. EU integration was thus understood as a medium-
term security generator. The integration process itself contains a mutu-
ally reinforcing or self-promoting dynamic: both the end goal of
integration and the process of integration itself enhanced democrati-
zation in these states. The very process of integration would hasten the
dissemination and assimilation of these security benefits. As political
and economic integration into EU market-democratic norms and
values was perceived as the key hurdle to admission in the early 1990s,
the societal security sector received the least attention. However, as
the process of EU integration gathered pace and the argument for
‘integration to avoid fragmentation’ advanced, the linkages between
integration, security and identity were revealed.

Conceptualizing ‘Societal Security’

With the end of the Cold War, scholars analysed the ‘structural trans-
formation in European security’ (Wæver et al., 1993: viii), as the state-
centric, military-dominated security thinking of Cold War superpower
rivalry became obsolete. Security agendas characterized by new
threats and actors began to dominate and ‘societal security’ emerged
as a discrete, although contested, area of study (McSweeney, 1996;
Buzan and Wæver, 1997). Leading scholars analysing this ‘novelty in
the field of security studies’ (Wæver et al., 1993: 27) at first perceived
societal security as a sector of state security — the state was the core
referent object and society merely one of the five sectors through
which it could be threatened. Wæver et al. (1993: 24–5) argued that this
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approach was untenable, as state and society boundaries were rarely

coterminous: state and society could represent two different entities,
and referent objects of security could generate different logics (Buzan
et al., 1998: 119). Wæver proposed a duality of state and societal secur-
ity, arguing that state security concerned threats to sovereignty, while
societal security concerned threats to identity. Society could be a sec-
tor of state security as well as a referent object in its own right (Wæver
et al., 1993: 24–6).
‘Societal security’ concerns ‘identity, the self-conception of com-
munities and of individuals identifying themselves as members of
a community’ (Buzan et al., 1998: 119). It refers to ‘identity-based
communities’ (Wæver, 1996: 113) and can be understood as ‘identity
security’ (Buzan et al., 1998: 120). A society gains its core identity
through the shared ethnic, religious or national identities of social
groups living in communities. This shared identity can transcend inter-
national state borders, which are fixed to particular state territories.
The survival of these communities in the face of perceived (‘con-
structed’) potential threats is paramount. The greater the threat to the
identity, the stronger the identity, and the determination to preserve
the identity, become: societal security ultimately concerns the survival
of a society. According to Buzan et al.: ‘Societal insecurity exists when
communities of whatever kind define a development or potentiality as
a threat to their survival as a community’ (1998: 119). Communities
construct threats to their identities in a number of different ways.
Buzan et al. focused on three key factors that prompt the construction
of a threat to the identity and survival of these societies, namely, migra-
tion; horizontal competition; and vertical competition. All three fac-
tors can be ‘placed on a spectrum running from intentional,
programmatic, and political at one end to unintended and structural at
the other’ (1998: 121).
Migration undermines the unifying effect of strong societal identity
as host societies are ‘overrun or diluted’ by the influx of the migrants
who cause a ‘shift in the composition of the population’. This is partic-
ularly so if migration is used instrumentally to homogenize minority
societies — the Sinofication of Tibet is an example of this process.
Horizontal competition entails a transformation in the identity of a
society due to ‘the overriding cultural and linguistic influence from
a neighbouring culture’ (Buzan et al., 1998: 121–3). This process can
reflect the unintended impact of myriad interactions between large,
vital, expanding cultures upon those that are geographically proximate,
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276 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

smaller, more conservative and introspective in nature. It can also be

fuelled by intent, as in the Americanization (‘Mc-Coca-cola-ization’)
of Japan or Germany. Vertical competition acknowledges the impact
of an ‘intended’ integration process that pulls a culture into a wider
definition, such as the EU, or a secessionist project that focuses on a
narrower definition of identity. These centripetal and centrifugal pro-
jects can occur simultaneously: the slogan ‘Scotland: Independent
within Europe’ is a prime example.
Ole Wæver and other scholars have utilized the concept of ‘securi-
tizing’ to refer to security discourses that dramatize an issue as having
absolute priority, presenting an existential threat (Wæver, 1996: 113;
1995). Buzan et al. (1998: 119–40) further developed the notion of
‘securitization’, and in his latest work, Wæver clearly associates securi-
tization with the identification of a threat (Wæver, 2000: 251–2). Thus,
Estonia and Latvia, as this study will argue, ‘securitized’ what they per-
ceived to be a threat to their independence following the collapse of
the Soviet Union, namely, the identity of Soviet-era minorities. As
Russian and Russian-speaking minorities within Estonia and Latvia
were widely perceived to constitute a threat to the independence of
the states, and in particular the dominant position of the titular nation-
alities within these states, the societal sector quickly became securi-
tized and a classic societal security dilemma emerged.
A societal security dilemma can occur in independence when polit-
ical and economic disenfranchisement of new minorities takes place.
This can be accompanied by an upsurge of nationalism within the
majority society and the passing of legislation which legitimizes the
downgrading of minority political and economic rights. Within this
hypothetical context, the majority society might perceive a potential
threat to their identity through the domination of the political com-
munity by ‘colonial’ minorities, hence the necessity of avoiding mod-
erate legislation. As a consequence, the restoration and reinforcement
of the identity of the majority society is perceived as the weakening
of the minority society’s identity and so promotes greater instability
within the state (Roe, 1999). Moreover:

. . . security action on behalf of identities typically decreases the sense of

security even for those defended because problematizing the security of an
identity and triggering attempts to define and complete it tend to expose its
contingency, incompleteness and impossibility and thus lead to further
action. (Wæver, 2000: 253)
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Sovietization and Societal Security in the Baltic States

Although Stalinization projects were imposed on almost all newly lib-

erated territories in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after the
‘Great Patriotic War’ (1941–45), the three Baltic Soviet Socialist
Republics were more deeply integrated into the Soviet system, com-
pletely enmeshed within its state structures. Unlike other CEE satel-
lite states, for example, vertical integration was particularly effective
and the impact of horizontal competition notable. The Baltic Soviet
republics had no independent armed forces or economic systems, and
although governmental institutional structures existed, they were
largely emasculated and under the control of a highly centralized and
hierarchical political system controlled through Communist Party of
the Soviet Union structures based in Moscow. The politico-economic
infrastructure had been totally integrated and orientated towards the
dominant Soviet modus vivendi. Soviet society was subservient to the
party state, with control maintained more through force and coercion
than negotiation, particularly during the Stalinist era of mobilization
following the Great Patriotic War. However, despite this Stalinist
legacy, by the 1960s and 1970s (during the Brezhnev era of stagnation)
the Baltic States had nonetheless achieved a better standard of living
than other areas of the USSR. They held the unofficial status as the
most ‘Western’ and ‘liberal’ of the Soviet Socialist Republics.
The experience of ‘deep’ Sovietization was critical in shaping the
post-independence Baltic political, economic and societal landscape.
The Sovietization project was advanced within the Baltic states on
three key fronts. First, it was advanced in political and economic terms
through the vertical integration of the Baltic States by forced assimi-
lation into the Soviet Union with the status of Soviet Socialist
Republics. Second, in psychological, cultural and linguistic terms this
project was advanced through horizontal competition that aimed to
promote the Sovietization/Russification of all aspects of life within
these republics. In Latvia, for example, only 22% of non-Latvians had
knowledge of Latvian, while 68.7% of Latvians claimed knowledge of
Russian (Chinn and Kaiser, 1996: 115). Mass migration into the three
Baltic States from the rest of the Soviet Republics, particularly the
RSFSR, reinforced this interlinked process. As Buzan has argued,
these processes were mutually reinforcing: ‘although analytically dis-
tinct, in practice these three types of threats to identity can easily be
combined’ (Buzan et al., 1998: 121).
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278 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

In terms of migration, the Soviet nationalities policy differed greatly

from the earlier period of independence in the Baltics (1918–40), when
policy was directed at various minorities, mainly Russians, Poles and
Jews, whose local culture had been shaped over generations. Yet the
‘native’ population, by this time defined more by language than by
standards of ethnic purity, was in the majority: in Estonia 92%; in
Latvia 77%; and, in Lithuania 83%. Wartime occupation by German
and Soviet forces and subsequent reoccupation by Soviet forces
resulted in drastic changes in the ethnic composition of Estonian and
Latvian societies. Especially in the latter decades of Soviet occupation,
mainly Russian-speaking workers came from other parts of the USSR
to work in all-union factories in Estonia and Latvia (Smith, 1996:
150–1), much less so in Lithuania. In most other European countries,
less than 10% of the population is foreign-born. According to the 1989
census, in Estonia and Latvia around 26% of the population were
foreign-born, compared to only 10% in Lithuania (Sipaviciene, 1996:
17). The overall changes in the ethnic composition of the Baltic popu-
lations are reflected in Table 1.
As is clear from the data, both Estonia and Latvia experienced a
severe decline in the relative proportion of the native population by
1989. In Latvia, for example, ethnic Latvians were a minority in seven
of the eight largest urban centres. In Lithuania the indigenous popula-
tion remained dominant due to a number of factors. These included: an
overall larger population and higher rate of population growth; a
slower pace of industrialization, which did not justify such a large
migrant labour force; and availability of labour from rural areas for
urban industries. Note also that the majority of non-native residents

Titular/Native Population in the Baltic States (%)

1939(a) 1959 1989(b) 1991 1999(c) 2000(d)

Estonia 92.4 74.6 61.5 62.0 65.2 67.0

Latvia 77.0 62.0 52.0 54.0 56.0 57.0
Lithuania 83.9 79.3 80.0 81.0 82.0 83.0
Includes data from 1923, 1935, 1939.
Figures include migrants’ children born in the Baltic States.
‘Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in figures 2000’, Statistical Office of Estonia (Tallinn, 2000),
p. 4.
Eesti Statistika Aastaraamat 2000 [Estonian Statistical Yearbook 2000] (Tallinn, July 2000).
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herd and löfgren: societal security 279

are Russians in Estonia and Latvia, whereas in Lithuania they are

divided mainly between Russian speakers and Poles. The slight
increase in the native population since independence is due in part to
emigration, which reached its peak soon after independence (for
example, the departure of military forces and defence industry
employees) and has now dropped to more expected levels.
In the Soviet period the three Baltic States also attracted migrants
because their economies were better developed than the rest of the
Soviet Union, they offered a higher standard of living, and they
retained their European character (Chinn and Kaiser, 1996: 96). The
geostrategic environment, the fact that the Baltic region had histori-
cally served as a staging-post and launch pad for military attacks upon
Muscovy, the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, ensured that there
were high troop concentrations within the Baltic Military District
(Viksne, 1995: 44). Demographic change exacerbated the fear that
titular populations were becoming a minority in their own homeland.
Between 1959 and 1989 in Latvia, for example, immigration exceeded
emigration every year. The Russian population increased by 350,000,
while the Latvian population by only 90,000 (Moshes, 1999: 36). More-
over, as migrants perceived the Baltic States as part of a Soviet West
rather than as independent states, they demonstrated little desire to
acculturate by, for example, learning Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian;
the expectation was that titular populations would adapt to the Soviet
environment (Chinn and Kaiser, 1996: 115). Thus throughout the
Soviet period vertical integration served to pull previously narrower
national identities towards a wider Soviet one.

Societal Security, State-Building and Foreign Policy Formation

In the late 1980s, as Baltic nationalists began to believe that the ‘end of
occupation’ was near, they embarked on debates about how to define
the political community in their soon-to-be-independent states. By
1991 and beyond, when citizenship rights and naturalization proced-
ures were in the process of being established, the dominant political
orientation was ‘restorationist’, and this applied especially to citizen-
ship (Park, 1994). Estonia and Latvia established citizenship on the
basis of constitutions elaborated during the First (‘inter-war’)
Republics, with some exceptions — for example, those applying under
special Congress of Estonia rules (Öst, 1994). This proved highly
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280 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

controversial in both the domestic and international arenas. However,

Lithuania, with its much smaller and better integrated minority, chose
a more inclusive approach to citizenship, adopting a ‘zero option’ pol-
icy of granting citizenship to all residents on Lithuanian territory at the
time of independence. This stance was considered more politically
palatable, since the dominant national group did not perceive them-
selves to be threatened as in Estonia and Latvia.
Although Wæver et al. (1993: 191) noted: ‘for threatened societies,
one obvious line of defensive response is to strengthen societal iden-
tity’, in Estonia and Latvia the key obstacle to creating a broad multi-
ethnic support base to secure independence — Soviet-era migrant
opposition — appeared at first to be overstated. Russia was the first
state to recognize Baltic sovereignty after the August putsch in 1991 and
initial relations between Baltic elites and Yeltsin were positive. Yeltsin
promoted Baltic independence in part as a strategy to undermine the
authority of the President of the USSR — Gorbachev — and so secure
political hegemony within the Russian Republic (soon to be renamed
Russian Federation). Moreover, the majority of ethnic Russians and
Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia had voted for independence in
the referendum on 3 March 1991 (Karklins, 1994: 101–2).
However, events both domestic (‘Fifth Column’ or ‘Trojan Horse’)
and international (threat of annexation) quickly shaped perceptions,
which in turn drove the more exclusive, ethno-nationalist state-
building strategies adopted in Estonia and Latvia. Here the reactions
of some Russians and Russian speakers in support of the August
putsch of 1991, the fact that the titular population constituted a weak
majority, and the perception of migrants as a ‘civil garrison of the occu-
pying power’ (Smith, 1996: 161) helped determine Estonian and
Latvian state-building policy. The phenomenon of ‘nationalist outbid-
ding’ in the first parliaments — the mobilization of ethnic identity in
lieu of economic or political goods to offer constituents — and the fear
that a ‘zero option’ would legitimize past injustices were also factors at
Once independence had been achieved, the realities of Russian
geopolitical interests and goals gradually became apparent. In the
early and mid-1990s Russian policy towards the region was reactive,
receiving its direction and drive from external influences, particularly
the Euro-Atlantic response to the strategic reorientation of the Baltic
States themselves. Russia developed a strategy of ‘differentiated
engagement’, linking resolution of one outstanding issue of dispute
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(borders) with another (diaspora). This proved a very effective means

of maintaining influence within the region and shaping the strategic
environment. Essentially, Russia sought to link ‘domestic’ and internal
Baltic issues connected with the Soviet legacy (minorities, borders,
transit trade) to external Baltic strategic reorientation towards the
West. By focusing on the ‘internal’ political, economic and above all
societal points of conflict, Russia sought to oppose Baltic westward
strategic reorientation by proxy (Herd, 1999: 201).
The passing of citizenship legislation generated grievances among
the minority communities of Estonia and Latvia (Smith et al., 1994). In
Latvia, for example, a law on citizenship (July 1994) allowed non-
citizens (approximately 30% of the total population, almost exclu-
sively Russian speakers) to become naturalized. They had to offer
proof, however, of five years’ residence and pass tests in Latvian
language competence and history, and demonstrate a basic knowledge
of the constitution. Frustrations over naturalization and residence
permits, and socio-economic inequalities, were three of the most
important sources of ethnic minority grievances. Comments by Timo
Lahelma, a diplomat and expert in human rights, on citizenship policy
in Europe are particularly relevant for Estonia and Latvia:

If the citizenship law of the state conforms to the requirements of interna-

tional law, one cannot speak of a violation of human rights or discrimination
prohibited by international law . . . However, the regulation of nationality is
not exclusively a legal but also a political question. In the long run the pres-
ence of a large proportion of population in the territory of the state without
citizenship, and consequently without the rights that nationals of the state
normally enjoy, may eventually lead to the danger of serious instability in
the political situation. (Lahelma, 1994: 93)

The citizenship policies adopted by Estonia and Latvia can also be

explained with reference to the emergent foreign policies of the newly
independent states. On regaining independence in 1991, the main
danger to Baltic sovereignty and territorial integrity was perceived to
arise from an ill-defined post-Soviet re-integrationist impulse, gener-
ated by a vague combination of Russian nationalist chauvinism, Soviet
nostalgia and imperial patriotism (Jubulis, 1996). The high-water mark
of this policy is best expressed in the Long Term Policy Guidelines
towards the Baltic States published in February 1997 by Yeltsin’s
Presidential Office. The policy document outlined six interlinked
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issues that were central to Russo–Baltic relations. It began by reiterat-

ing Russian opposition to Baltic inclusion in NATO, a sweeping con-
demnation of the primary foreign policy objective of all three Baltic
States. It then stated that until the protection of ‘compatriot rights’ was
guaranteed in Estonia and Latvia, border ratification between Russia
and these two Baltic States would be delayed (Cichock, 1999: 99). The
document emphasized the necessity of Russia maintaining profitable
economic ties to the Kaliningrad oblast (region), while calling for
Russo–Baltic co-operation to combat the threats posed by organized
crime. Lastly, increased bilateral cultural co-operation between Russia
and the Baltic States was encouraged. Russia thus clearly highlighted
societal security concerns among its ‘persecuted’ compatriot minori-
ties in Estonia and Latvia as the motor that drove Russian policy
(Herd, 1999: 201).
In this context, security could only be enhanced by a dramatic
strategic reorientation westward. NATO integration, with its Article V
nuclear security ‘guarantees’, was the key foreign policy goal of all
three Baltic States (Bajarunas et al., 1995). However, it was quickly
realized that NATO integration could only be a long-term security
strategy. In the medium term membership in the EU could provide
security commitments and benefits (but not ‘guarantees’), and in the
short term successful democratization transition projects would stabi-
lize and secure the sovereignty of these states (Asmus and Nurick,
1996). EU membership presented the Baltic States with the opportu-
nity of consolidating economic prosperity. Membership and economic
co-operation, the extension of financial solidarity, also offered an
important security benefit, as any Russian intervention — or threat of
intervention — to an EU member state would have serious conse-
quences for its strategic partnership with the EU as a whole.
Thus, two important factors were already shaping Baltic attitudes
towards the EU. First, in lieu of the prospect of rapid NATO integra-
tion, and in the context of the elaboration of a flexible and increasingly
sophisticated Russian Baltic policy, the EU was marketed by Baltic
elites to their publics as a ‘soft security’ generating institution. That is,
EU membership and the ‘return to Europe’ would extend security
commitments, generating benefits in the political, economic, societal
and environmental security sectors, rather than the military ‘guaran-
tees’ offered by NATO membership. Second, embedded within this
first expectation was the understanding that greater security was inex-
tricably equated with enhanced stability and sovereignty.
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herd and löfgren: societal security 283

From the outset, then, there was an elite consensus about the nature
of the security environment that characterized the Baltic region in the
early 1990s. This had a defining impact upon the way in which EU inte-
gration strategies were to be developed and upon the way in which the
EU would enhance stability in the region. Membership/non-
membership was sharply polarized and perceived in terms of
increased/decreased stability and security of Baltic sovereignty and
territorial integrity. For this reason, there was little public or elite
debate on whether or not to join; arguments in the domestic political
arena between government and opposition parties only revolved
around which policies to pursue in order to gain rapid integration
(Ozolina, 1998: 115–16). Indeed, in the early 1990s the opposite was
true: ‘Emphasising the Europeanness of Baltic cultures serves to
heighten what many see as a clear cultural contrast with Russian,
“Eastern” culture. “Rejoining the European family” is seen by many as
a way to bolster national identity, rather than threaten it’ (Löfgren,
1996: 47). In the early and mid-1990s nationalists embraced the notion
of EU integration as an opportunity to fulfil and further national state
interests; the ‘integration dilemma’ — the inherent tension between
integration gains and sovereignty losses — appeared to be largely
lacking in the Baltic region. Each of the three Baltic States expressed
its sovereignty most strongly, paradoxically, in its commitment to inte-
grate with the EU: ‘International integration is seen in Estonia not
only as a manifestation or outcome of the practice of state sovereignty
but also as a prerequisite of sovereignty’ (Feldman, 2001).

The EU, Societal Security and Policy-Making in Estonia and Latvia

When considering the possibility of eastern EU enlargement, current

member states insisted that democratic stability be a precondition for
accession, as underlined in the 1993 Copenhagen Council Conclusions,
while acknowledging that the actual criteria had yet to be elaborated
in detail. The European Council (meeting in June 1993 in Copen-
hagen) agreed that a candidate country in CEE would be eligible for
EU membership when the candidate country

. . . has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of

law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence
of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with com-
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284 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

petitive pressure and market forces within the Union. (European Council in
Copenhagen, 1993: 11)

For Estonia and Latvia, particularly with regard to societal security, it

was clear that the timing and terms of full EU integration would
depend in part on progress in these sensitive and subjective areas; but
how that progress was to be interpreted by the EU Commission and
member states would prove critical.
Within the EU a polity is usually defined as a ‘politically organised
society regardless of its form of government’ (Roberts and Edwards,
1991: 108). In a broader sense it denotes the political community, which
today might extend to groups outside formal political institutions with
other means to influence political decision-making, for example
through demonstrations, boycotts or media campaigns. The idea that in
a given state there might be one main polity is predicated on an
assumption of a unified state with at least one dominant national
group. Minorities are integrated into the larger political community,
gaining a civic identity associated with the state, while retaining a dis-
tinct cultural or national identity. This ideal picture of a polity in a
nation state applies to very few European states today: perhaps only
Iceland. And yet the ideal image of a single, national polity has been a
powerful and driving definitional ‘myth’ for the nation state and one
which Baltic nationalists have pursued with great energy.
The EU decision in 1997 to begin membership negotiations with five
aspirant states has had a profound domestic and foreign policy impact
within all three Baltic States. In foreign policy terms, each of the three
Baltic countries stated that EU integration was now to be the primary
foreign policy objective, rather than membership in NATO. The privi-
leging of EU integration in Baltic foreign policy was reflected in
renewed and increased EU influence over external and domestic legis-
lation and policy-making, particularly on the issue of minority rights
and inter-ethnic relations in Estonia and Latvia. At the 1999 Helsinki
European Council meeting it was agreed to widen enlargement nego-
tiations from six to 12 mainly East European states, including both
Latvia and Lithuania, starting in February 2000 (Aalto, 2000). In par-
ticular, the prospect of Baltic–EU integration placed renewed stress
within the domestic Baltic political agenda on ‘third-pillar’ issues. Prime
Minister Skele of Latvia hailed the EU invitation to participate in talks,
stressing: ‘The most important emphasis at the moment, of course, will
be on co-ordinating legislation. What is important is the emphasis
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placed on third-pillar issues, the issues relating to the internal affairs

and justice systems, combating corruption in the country, the further
democratization of society’ (Latvia Radio, Riga, 10 December 1999).
The extent to which the EU increasingly influences the internal
domestic policies of aspirant states, particularly when the policies
relate to societal security, was most graphically illustrated in the latter
half of 1999, when both Latvian and Estonian minority legislation was
modified to adhere to the demands of EU harmonization. In July 1999,
for example, the Head of the European Commission’s Mission to
Latvia, Gunter Weiss, argued that stringent restrictions encoded into
the Estonian language law (Estonian language skills required of any-
one selling goods or services) might create foreign policy problems. He
stated that by approving amendments to its language law, Estonia
ignored the EU’s recommendation at a time when it had already
started membership talks with the EU. This law also met with sharp
criticism from political parties of Estonian Russian speakers, the
Russian Foreign Ministry and the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) high commissioner for national
minorities, Max van der Stoel (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 7 July 1999).
The Estonian government subsequently adopted an implementation
act to amend the language law in response to OSCE demands by
imposing the language requirement initially on workers in the public
sector only (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 14 July 1999).
Moreover, a UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination criticized Estonian citizenship policy in March 2000.
For example, committee member Mario Jorge Yutsis was critical of
Estonia’s restricted definition of a minority as it ignored ‘non-citizens’,
so ‘unbalancing’ Estonia’s integration process. He argued that the
stipulation in Estonian law by which the annual immigration quota
should not exceed 0.05% of the permanent population of Estonia was
discriminatory, as it did not apply to the citizens of the EU, Iceland,
Norway and Switzerland (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 21 March 2000).
These recommendations have resulted in a lively policy debate
among the Estonian political elite. Prime Minister Mart Laar stated as
recently as October 1999 that the European Commission’s criticism of
the Estonian language law was not fully justified and that the govern-
ment had no plans to send a new amendment to parliament. Mart
Nutt, a member of the parliament’s European Affairs Commission and
one of the authors of the law, argued that the issue of the language law
was political rather than legal, noting: ‘There are no common norms in
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286 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

the European Union regulating the use of language.’ He added that

problems related to the Estonian language law emerged after the
OSCE alleged that amendments made to the law in 1998 failed to cor-
respond to the obligations taken by Estonia internationally: ‘In prac-
tice they [EU] don’t even bother to go deeper into the problem but are
repeating like parrots: the OSCE recommendations have to be ful-
filled.’ The Estonian Foreign Ministry, however, has argued that
Estonia will have to relax its language law to join the EU and that the
language law largely derived from a period when the prospect of
Estonian EU integration was anything but clear (BNS news agency,
Tallinn, 31 January 2000).
The Latvian language law proposed in the Seimas on 8 July 1999 was
also heavily criticized both internally and externally. For example,
Lord Russell-Johnston, Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council of Europe, stated that the Latvian language law did not
meet European standards and infringed the personal rights of a major
part of the country’s population (Interfax news agency, Moscow, 13
July 1999). The OSCE representative in Riga and the Russian Foreign
Ministry were also critical. As Janis Jurkans, chairman of the faction
Human Rights in a United Latvia, noted: ‘The road to the EU is very
crowded and Latvia, with its hesitation and unwillingness to adhere to
international standards puts itself in an unfavourable position’ (BNS
news agency, Tallinn, 8 July 1999). In May 2000 the Swedish Foreign
Minister, Ana Lindh, announced that Sweden was in favour of the
OSCE winding up its missions in Estonia and Latvia. She pointed out
that Latvia and Estonia had followed practically all the recommenda-
tions made by OSCE High Commissioner to National Minorities Max
van der Stoel. This was the first statement by a responsible Western
politician unequivocally favouring the closure of the OSCE missions
in Estonia and Latvia (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 29 May 2000).
This sentiment was echoed by the Danish Foreign Minister, Niels
Helveg Petersen, who pointedly urged Latvian politicians not to let the
issue become an obstacle to an invitation to talks on admission to the
European Union (Latvia Radio, Riga, 2 July 1999). Within Latvia, 18
NGOs, including the Russian Community in Latvia, the Union of
Ukrainians, and Belarusian and Armenian Societies, pressed that the
law on state language be brought into line with international norms:
‘the adopted law is discriminatory against national minorities making
up 43% of the country’s population’ (ITAR-TASS news agency,
Moscow, 12 July 1999).
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herd and löfgren: societal security 287

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, elected President of Latvia on 17 June 1999,

spoke of the ‘triangle of requirements’ that the Latvian language law
had to fulfil. It must strengthen the Latvian language, without hinder-
ing Latvian progress towards the EU or delaying the involvement of
foreign businesses with the Latvian economy (Diena, Riga, 3 July
1999). On these grounds she refused to sign the law and sent it back to
the Saeima. When the Saeima eventually passed the Latvian language
law on 9 December 1999, the EU enlargement commissioner
Guenther Verheugen noted with satisfaction that ‘Latvia has thus fol-
lowed recommendations made by the commission’ (BNS news agency,
Tallinn, 10 December 1999). The bill was subsequently signed into law
by the President on 20 December 1999 and came into effect on 1
September 2000. The EU Estonian Progress Report focused on the
issue highlighted by the Latvian President, arguing that language laws
should not simply be viewed through the prism of minority rights, but
would also affect the rights of EU citizens residing in Estonia after
accession. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) warned Lithuania that its new asylum law on refugee status
might become a serious obstacle in its EU integration (BNS news
agency, Tallinn, 30 May 2000).
These examples demonstrate the extent to which the EU directly
and indirectly has influenced the treatment of minority and refugee/
asylum issues in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, implicitly lending
external support and legitimization to particular sections of the elite
that oppose moves to further tighten citizenship and related legisla-
tion. The fact that the EU has produced such a powerful critique
reveals not so much the breadth of the minority problem itself, but the
extent to which EU integration has come to shape the political and
policy-making landscapes within the Baltic States. As Latvia’s Foreign
Minister Indulis Berzins noted in August 1999: ‘As this country inte-
grates into transatlantic structures, so will Russian speakers integrate
into Latvia’ (RIA news agency, Moscow, 23 August 1999).
The citizenship and language issue was so contested because it fed
into a range of issues (education, elections, and residency) that deter-
mined the quality of life and perception of security of titular and
minority societies. Language is an obvious factor in political participa-
tion; the Estonian parliament, for example, functions only in Estonian.
It is clear that the EU’s ability (and to a lesser extent that of the OSCE
and Council of Europe) to influence Estonian and Latvian integration
strategies rests upon its capacity to exert diplomatic pressure and,
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288 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

more important, the incentive of EU integration. There is a direct cor-

relation between the normative power of the EU and the possibility of
EU membership.
The prospect of EU membership has served to de-securitize the
societal sectors in Estonia and Latvia. Realization by elites in Estonia
and Latvia that failure to ameliorate societal insecurity could prove to
be a hindrance to EU membership has changed domestic legislation in
this sector, as has been demonstrated above. However, a parallel pro-
cess has also taken place, gathering pace in the new century. For some
parties and politicians, EU membership itself has been identified as a
threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Baltic states
and in this sense EU membership has been securitized. The closer the
prospect of EU membership appears, the stronger opposition to mem-
bership grows. This opposition is expressed in three key ways. First, a
decline in public support for EU membership. Second, the growth of
parties that oppose membership — some explicitly because it threat-
ens to disrupt the dominance and hegemony of the titular nationalities.
Third, in the opposition of the new minorities who object to ‘assimila-
tion’ policies being introduced and then legitimized by reference to
the overriding objective of EU integration.
In 1997 it was noted that Baltic public opinion could become more
prominent in shaping state policies towards integration: ‘If there are
no clear prospects for joining the EU in the foreseeable future, how-
ever, the mood of the public opinion may well change, and transitional
processes may slow down’ (Bleiere, 1997: 80). By the year 2000 it was
clear that EU integration was beginning to cause political cleavage
between parties, and that elite political consensus could fracture under
the frustration of delayed integration. Between November 1995 and
November 1997 most of the political elites, and a stable 27–44% of the
population, were locked into the EU integration process, exhibiting a
remarkable degree of political consensus (Raik, 1999: 81). By July 1999
a poll reported that 53.9% of Estonians supported accession to the
EU, the rest being opposed (27.6%) or lacking an opinion (18.5%);
furthermore, the survey revealed there were no significant differences
between Estonian citizens and non-citizens living in the country (ETA
news agency, Tallinn, 25 July 1999). An October 1999 poll indicated
that 38% of the Estonian population were pro-European, suggesting
that the percentage of pro-EU integration voters was volatile, but
steady at between one-third and one-half of the population
(Postimees, 17 December 1999). In Latvia, five opinion polls taken
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herd and löfgren: societal security 289

between November 1998 and November 1999 show approximately

45–50% of the population supporting EU integration, with the impor-
tant qualification that 52% of citizens would vote for accession, but
only 37% of non-citizens (European Integration Bureau, 1999). By
2001, for the first time, an opinion poll in Estonia established that the
number of opponents of EU accession had grown to over half (51%)
among citizens with the right to vote (Postimees website, Tallinn, 28
March 2001).
As public support for EU integration declines, this tendency is
mirrored increasingly in elite behaviour. Lithuania’s so-called ‘angry
men’s statement’ is indicative of possible future elite political reaction
against the potentially high social and economic costs of EU integra-
tion. In late January 2000 a group of intellectuals and former MPs
warned: ‘there are grounds for people’s fears that Lithuania will soon
become a mere protectorate of cheap labour force without any rights’
should EU integration occur, and called for a referendum to decide
issues ‘limiting the nation’s sovereignty’ — accession to the EU and
NATO (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 28 January 2000). The Lithuanian
President Valdas Adamkus has noted the social and economic costs of
integration and responded:

Seeing the different interests of social groups, let us seek to compromise and
search for common national aspirations. But let us not instigate war between
the countryside and the cities, between civil servants and business people.
We must seek civic solidarity, which is the indispensable foundation of the
state. (Lithuanian Television, Vilnius, 16 March 2001)

In Latvia, politicians addressing The Union For Fatherland and

Freedom/LNNK national party congress in 2000 argued: ‘We should
not openly pave the road to the EU. Instead we should be the first
party to defend national interests.’ They noted that the maintenance of
‘national’ identity was not compatible with an orientation towards EU
membership because ‘joining the EU meant granting citizenship to
current non-citizens after a short time’ (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 4
November 2000). In Estonia, a new party — the Republican Party —
was registered in February 2001 in Tartu. Its chairman, Kristjan-Olari
Leping, stated that ‘Party members are mostly students and other
young people, who have defined their political orientation as rightest
and opposed to the European Union’ (BNS news agency, Tallinn, 9
February 2001). Such eurosceptic political positions are likely to have
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290 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

received a boost from EU member states’ sanctions against Austria in

Although Latvian and Estonian politicians stress the role of the EU
in consolidating their societal sector — and to an extent they have
adapted domestic legislation on citizenship to this end — the adoption
of other EU policies ahead of enlargement is creating opposition. In
Estonia, for example, Vladimir Velman and Mikhail Stalnukhin, two
Russian-speaking MPs from the opposition Centre Party who were
members of an expert commission on the integration of ethnic minori-
ties, resigned from the Commission in early January 2000. They
claimed that a draft government EU integration programme for
2000–07 was underpinned by the plans of right-wingers, who came to
power in May 1999, to assimilate ethnic minorities. Velman said it was
planned to close all Russian secondary schools and higher educational
institutions in Estonia. This drew a sharp response from Population
Minister Katrin Saks:

Integration is so important and so sensitive a topic in Estonia that it is irre-

sponsible to link it with everyday party politics — I sincerely hope that no
party will attempt to harness the so-called Russian issue to the election cart
and in this way split society on such an important topic. (BNS news agency,
Tallinn, 1 February 2000)

However, in February 2001 Velman again criticized the require-

ments of colleges to phase out Russian as the language of teaching and
to replace it with Estonian as from 2007. He argued that Estonian gov-
ernment policy was aimed at assimilation rather than the integration
of non-Estonians through the ‘forced Estonianization of Russian
schools’ (Molodezh Estonii, Tallinn, 26 February 2001). Such an assess-
ment was reinforced by Dmitry Rogozin, Chairman of the Committee
of International Affairs in the Russian State Duma, who argued
Estonian ‘population policy’ was based on creating a ‘ethnocratic soci-
ety and a concept of discriminating against non-Estonian people’
(BNS news agency, Tallinn, 16 February 2001). There is a fear and per-
ception of repression which reflects the comments of Buzan et al. con-
cerning the Soviet, rather than European, Union:

. . . integration projects, whether democratic or imperial, that seek to shape

a common culture to match the state may attempt to control some or all of
the machineries of cultural reproduction (e.g. schools, churches, language
rights). In more repressive instances, minorities may lose the ability to
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herd and löfgren: societal security 291

reproduce their culture because the majority uses the state to structure edu-
cational, media and other systems to favour the majority culture. (1998: 122)

In Latvia and Lithuania, the issue of transit fees for Russians travel-
ling in transit trains to Kaliningrad is set to focus attention on the soci-
etal sector once more. In 2001 the Latvian Foreign Minister, Indulis
Berzins, abrogated a 1993 agreement with Russia under which
Russians in transit could travel without a visa, because ‘we are obliged
to comply with the rules that operate in EU countries’ (ITAR-TASS,
Moscow, 27 March 2001). Under the Latvian plan for negotiating
accession to the EU in accordance with Schengen visa rules, a rule will
be in effect before 30 June 2002 by which all passengers on trains in
transit will need visas as they are in effect crossing what will constitute
the EU’s external border.

Conclusions: Societal Security and Post-Sovereignty

What does the study by Buzan et al. (1998) tell us of the role of migra-
tion, horizontal and vertical competition in constructing a societal
security sector? Clearly all three of the factors identified by Buzan et
al. have played a role in shaping the societal security debates within
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the post-Cold War period. Estonia
and Latvia responded to the perceived threat in a similar manner,
while Lithuania adopted the zero option on citizenship and so avoided
the emergence of a classic societal security dilemma. In the Estonian
and Latvian state-building projects the issue of societal security arose
in part as ethnic minorities grew to mistrust the state as a neutral
arbiter of interests. The radical national policies in the initial inde-
pendence period appeared to confirm that the state existed much
more to protect ethnic Estonians and Latvians than all residents in
the territory. The lack of perceived state protection was viewed by
some minorities in Estonia and Latvia as akin to a state threat to their
existence, a feeling reinforced by Russian concerns voiced at the inter-
national level. An important challenge for these Estonian and Latvian
elites was their ability to demonstrate how a large alien population
does not necessarily imply societal instability or conflict and that their
states had the capacity to absorb new residents.
In an explicit attempt to ‘return to Europe’ and an implicit desire to
protect the state against potential horizontal and vertical threats to the
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292 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

societal sector posed by an unstable Russian Federation, the three

Baltic States pushed for EU integration and membership. A paradox
emerged — in order to achieve integration into the EU, Estonia and
Latvia had to moderate legislation enacted to avoid vertical and hori-
zontal integration into the Russian Federation. In the 1990s the EU’s
‘magnetic attraction’ centred on the prospect it offered of member-
ship. This prospect initiated the process of desecuritizing the societal
sector in Estonia and Latvia.
It is clear in the new century that such desecuritization occurs within
limits — limits imposed by the past and present. It is remarkable ten
years after independence the extent to which historical grievances
continue to play a role in securitizing identity. The supposed partici-
pation of Baltic female snipers (‘white-stockings’) in Russia’s first
(1994–96) and second (1999– )Chechen campaigns and the war crimes
trials of former Red Army partisans (now military pensioners, such
as Vasiliy Kononov) for committing genocide are ‘balanced’ by Russia’s
condemnation of contemporary SS veteran parades, the role of
Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian police battalions in the holocaust,
and the ‘flagrantly inhumane’ treatment of ‘veterans of the Great
Patriotic War’.The enduring impact of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in
Russo–Baltic discourse, and demands for compensation and damage
inflicted by Soviet occupation, have provided the ammunition for a
contemporary ‘information war’ within the region. These two irrecon-
cilable discourses will continue to identify threats to stability emanating
from majority and minority society identity, even as the objective real-
ity of citizenship policies and language laws diminishes objective differ-
ences in the way in which the state interacts with its citizens.
The unresolved legacy of Sovietization and shared history of
(co-)existence within the Baltic rim aside, contemporary factors also
possess the power to ‘re-securitize’ the issue of identity as a source of
threat and insecurity. The attraction of the EU — its normative power
and magnetism — is related to a calculation that balances the steadily
increasing prospect of membership (and its attendant advantages)
against the costs of delayed integration. Here the discourse on
sovereignty within the Baltic states — particularly the lack of an ‘inte-
gration dilemma’ — was a feature of the 1990s. However, as the ‘EU
has evolved into post-sovereign experimentation’ in which ‘its security
functions can be made sense of only in terms that violate the rules of
our sovereignty-bound political lexicon’ (Wæver, 2000: 250), it is clear
that the magnet also has the power to repel. In this context, as the
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herd and löfgren: societal security 293

strength and importance of a sovereign state identity are downgraded

and diminished, so societal identities will be placed under increased
stress, creating the danger of a self-reinforcing spiral of instability
becoming institutionalized. In contemporary Europe it appears that
as the linkages between security, integration and identity grow, the
relationships between society, nation and state weaken. Contested
identities and the concept of societal security will therefore continue
to remain the lynchpin and leitmotif of the Baltic security environ-
ment, reflecting and in turn shaping military, political and economic
security within a globalizing post-sovereign security order.


Preparation of the manuscript was supported through a Copenhagen

Peace Research Institute (COPRI) Visiting Research Fellowship
(Graeme P. Herd) in June and July 2000 and the Principal Support
Scheme for Young Scholars at the University of Aberdeen (Joan
Löfgren) in May 1999. Our thanks to Aksel Kirch, Institute for
European Studies, Tallinn, for updating the census table, and to the
journal referees for helpful comments on an earlier submission. All
omissions and errors remain our own.


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GRAEME P. HERD is Lecturer in International

Relations and Deputy Director of the Scottish
Centre for International Security (SCIS) at the
University of Aberdeen. His recent publications
include articles in Security Dialogue and Journal of
Peace Research in 1999, Mediterranean Politics,
Journal of Slavic Military Studies and Lithuanian
Foreign Policy Review in 2000 and Journal of Peace
Research in 2001.

Address: Department of Politics and International

Relations, University of Aberdeen, Old Aberdeen
AB24 3QY, Scotland, UK.

JOAN LÖFGREN is a Researcher at the Work Research

Centre, University of Tampere (Doctoral Candidate,
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296 cooperation and conflict 36(3)

Columbia University). Her recent publications

include a case study on Estonia in The Churches and
Reconciliation in the Transition to Democracy
(Uppsala: Life and Peace Institute, 2000).

Address: Work Research Centre, University of

Tampere, PO Box 607, FIN-33101 Tampere, Finland.