Who belongs? An exploration of Latvian citizenship through the eyes of lived experience

Christie, Paula (2022) Who belongs? An exploration of Latvian citizenship through the eyes of lived experience. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The challenges experienced by Latvia relating to nation building and the fostering of a stable democracy have been a central feature of discussion within the work of scholars in the immediate period following the full restoration and recognition of Latvian independence in 1991. The citizenship debate has focused on the disproportionate levels of inequality faced by the Russian speaking community in the years immediately following the restoration of independence resulting from Latvia’s creation of a ‘non-citizen’ policy and stringent language laws. Those classified as non-citizens of Latvia have rights and protections, however there are differences in the rights and protections afforded when contrasted with those who hold full citizenship status.

Despite these difficulties, Latvia went on to acquire EU membership, cementing a position as a globally recognized polity and simultaneously shaking off the unwelcome ties of Soviet annexation. However, the assumption that it’s ‘mission accomplished’ for Latvia is somewhat naive, particularly in relation to the contested area of citizenship. The thesis explores whether a more contemporary and nuanced concept of citizenship is emerging in Latvia with the central question being posed: ‘What does Latvian citizenship look like today?’. The thesis considers the supplementary question ‘How has structural political change impacted on citizenship and on the formation of a wider community of Latvia?’ and examines the way in which structural change has influenced the trajectory of Latvia’s domestic policy and the journey ‘West’ following accession to the European Union. The thesis was researched and produced between August 2016 and May 2022.

To determine what citizenship looks like today, citizenship is explored through the lens of lived experience, with an emphasis being placed on how citizenship is reflected at the point of intersection between vertical and horizontal perspectives. In answering the supplementary research question ‘In what ways do horizontal and vertical perspectives enhance our understandings of what it means to be a citizen of Latvia today?’ it will be shown that normative approaches to citizenship, which tend to focus on macro level policy and practice, are insufficient in capturing the nuances emerging from daily lived interactions. By incorporating horizontal perspectives, emerging from these grass roots realities, a much-needed additional dimension is added to the citizenship debate.

To provide a ‘real time’ representation of the relationship between individuals and the state, insightful new primary data has been collected from respondents who resided in Latvia during this transitional period. Testimony is also provided from respondents who took advantage of the new freedoms of movement afforded by EU membership and moved to the UK from Latvia. By drawing on the experiences of participants, purposefully chosen as being aged under 45, and by incorporating data collection from a range of locations across Latvia and the UK, a more sharply focused account of contemporary citizenship in a post independent, EU affiliated Latvia is offered. Data was collected within the UK between August 2016 and February 2017, with further data collection being conducted in Latvia between March and April 2017. The responses provided were framed against recent tensions with Russia and the annexation of Crimea and prior to the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th2022. This subsequent event occurred as this thesis was presented for formal examination and defence.

It is argued that in attempting to bolster an imagined ‘national’ community of Latvia at a macro level, subsequent actions and outcomes have actually led to a divergence in the understanding of ‘who belongs’ to the Latvian community of today, from a grass roots perspective. Dissatisfaction with politicians and political policies, socio-economic challenges and an evolving socio-civic sphere form the basis for a commonality of experience and a reshaping of belonging and community. This raises the question ‘Do we see the emergence of a broader ‘Latvian community’ whereby individuals see themselves as ‘belonging’ not only to Latvia, but to each other, beyond divisions of ethnicity and formal citizenship?’. Whilst the ruling elite may have felt that they have succeeded in their goal to create a successful reemergent nation state, an examination of the ways in which marginalisation manifests beyond ethnicity and impacts upon practices of citizenship across different spheres, will show horizontal divergence from the vertical construction of an ‘imagined’ community of Latvia today.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Central and East European Studies
Supervisor's Name: Smith, Professor David and Cheskin, Dr. Ammon
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-83189
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2022 10:04
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2022 10:22
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83189
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/83189

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