Returned to ‘normality’? Estonian national identity constructions after EU and NATO accession

Mahlapuu, Kerstin (2019) Returned to ‘normality’? Estonian national identity constructions after EU and NATO accession. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Estonian identity politics in the 1990s were firmly rooted in the narrative of ‘returning to Europe’ and breaking with the Soviet past – to become a ‘normal’ country again. This narrative underwent a significant change on successful entry to key international organisations such as the EU and NATO. This research is a qualitative in-depth investigation into the complex and multi-layered Estonian national identity constructions evident within Estonian society after it had had nearly a decade to ‘settle into’ this European ‘normality’.

Estonia formally validated its ‘return in Europe’ in 2004, but how is ‘Europeanness’ conceptualised by the people on the ground? The thesis demonstrates that the economic crisis which hit Europe in 2008, and had an impact on the defining of ‘Europeanness’, encouraged a new binary of North vs South division in how Europe was perceived. Following interviews with 33 persons from different parts of Estonia, an emergent theme from the empirical findings was, that for many, Estonia was seen as embodying the ‘true’ neoliberal values associated with the understanding of ‘Europe’. The same neoliberal paradigm was at play in helping to shape understandings of Russia, which also frame domestic interethnic relations to a degree. The latter has been the central focus of previous studies to which the current research offers a novel perspective.

Themes of security have not lost their relevance in relations with Russia but the pragmatic understanding of reconciling the economic necessity and the more national emotional element has become pertinent nearly a decade after officially ‘returning to Europe’. Another key finding of this research shows a shift from the inter-war period to the early 1990s as a benchmark for Estonian identity-construction, which implies that at the time of conducting this study there was no longer a need to return to ‘Europe’.

In addition to the limited research done on Estonian national identity since joining the EU and NATO, there has been minimal attention paid to a grassroots perspective on the issue. By taking a bottom-up perspective through in-depth interviewing and using an innovative visual methodology, this research makes a significant and timely contribution into understanding the ‘normality’ that had settled in Estonia after EU and NATO accession.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: national identity, Estonia.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Central and East European Studies
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Smith, Professor David J.
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Kerstin Mahlapuu
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75156
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2019 14:18
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2022 10:31
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75156

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