In the "New Abroad":  The Russian-speaking Diaspora  




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The Image of Russia 
in the "New Abroad": 
The Russian-speaking Diaspora  

along the Baltic 
 
 
IRINA NOVIKOVA 
 
 
 
 
 
What is/are the image/images of Russia in terms of its statehood and na-
tionhood for the Russian-speaking diaspora, and how is “Russia” imag-
ined in the diasporic discourses of “Russianness” as a cultural, ethnic, 
historical (or memorial), and familial (or social network) identity that 
defines itself in terms that are different and more complex than the limits 
of national identity? In other words, what are the readings of post-
Socialist (as postmodern) Russian “space” from the viewpoint of dias-
pora/diasporization? How does the post-Soviet Russian-speaking dias-
pora1 inflect, in many subtle ways, the “reading” of “Russia” by its oth-
ers, and what are “meanings” of Russia reframed in the visions the post-
Soviet diasporas in the “new abroad,” “near abroad,” and “far abroad”?  
In this chapter, I will first address some ways in which Russia and 
                                                      
  1  Khachig Tölölyan, “The Nation-State and Its Others,” Diaspora 1, no. 1 (Spring 
1991), pp. 3–7; Khachig Tölölyan, “Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the 
Transnational Moment,” Diaspora 5, no. 1 (Spring 1996), pp. 3–36; William Safran, 
“Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return,” Diaspora 1, no. 1 
(Spring 1991), pp. 83–89; William Safran, “Deconstructing and Comparing Diaspo-
ras,” in Waltraud Kokot, Khachig Tölölyan and Carolin Alfonso, eds., Diaspora, Iden-
tity and Religion: New Directions in Theory and Research
 (London: Routledge, 2004), 
pp. 9–30. 
321 

IRINA NOVIKOVA 
Russianness have been imagined through the “Russian,” or more pre-
cisely, Russian-speaking diaspora in the Baltic political and public dis-
courses of the 1990s to the early 2000s. Secondly, I will address the 
“meanings” of “Russia” imagined by Russian-speaking people, specifi-
cally in Latvia. In the third part of the chapter, the reciprocal aspect of 
this mutually totalizing imagination—how “Russia” looks upon “the 
Russian-speaking community” in the Baltic countries—takes the discus-
sion further, to the discourse of “Europeanization” of the Baltic societies, 
the concept of “Euro-Russian” identity, and its realities. 
 
Imagining “Russia” through “Russian-speaking” People  
in the Baltic Countries 
 
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have experienced modernity through dra-
matic changes. They belong to those states and cultures that have been 
shaped by forces of exclusion and marginalization, as well as by the 
shared peripherality between empires and power. Restoration of political 
independence (1991) and reconstruction of state- and nationhood were 
pursued as retro-imaginations, or a “return to the past,” into the pre-1940 
state borders and ethnic boundaries by virtue of belonging, place, and 
identity, by reclaiming the origins/genealogies/authenticities in their na-
tional histories before the Soviet military annexation of Estonia, Latvia, 
and Lithuania in 1940 and the complete postwar political and economic 
incorporation into the USSR. Fluidity of Russian-speaking diasporic 
identities should be seen in the context of diaspora (Tölölyan 1991/1996, 
Safran 1991/2004) interactions with the (supra) territorial contexts of 
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the European Union, as well as in the 
context of the impact of macro-level frameworks and institutions (for 
example, statehood, ideology, citizenship, supranational obligations, 
geopolitical preferences) upon the conditions of diasporic stabili-
ties/contingencies.  
 
 
 
322 

THE IMAGE OF RUSSIA IN THE "NEW ABROAD" 
Europeanization and Nation Building—Demons, Snakes, and Edens 
A Russian scholar, Renal’d Simonian, in his analysis of the Russian-
speaking diaspora in the Baltic countries gives a rather precise outline of 
the history and social structure of the Baltic Russians2: the so-called old 
diaspora; the creative intelligentsia; engineers, doctors, employees of 
research institutions, theatre people, and journalists; highly skilled work-
ers; the military, including retired officers and rank-and-file soldiers; and 
construction workers, hired by quota. In this connection, a Lithuanian 
sociologist, Vladis Gaidys, points out: “It should be noted that the popu-
lar stereotypes of the uneducated Russian is far from being accurate.”3 
He indicates that “the percentage of Russians with a higher or special-
ized secondary education is higher than that of Lithuanians. The situation 
is approximately the same among the urban and rural populations. Rus-
sians also have a higher level of education in Latvia, the corresponding 
indicator for Latvians being 96 and for Russians 143.” What Gaidys 
called the popular stereotype of the uneducated Russian in Lithuania and 
Latvia was transplanted into a proliferating image of a degraded Russian-
speaking migrant, with a touch of “Asian” threat. Quite recently, an im-
age of a barbarian enjoying vandalism, alien to the rules of integration 
into a democratic and tolerant Estonian nation, was proliferated by the 
Estonian and European media in their live TV coverage of the social dis-
orders caused by the dismantling of the Bronze Soldier Monument (Tal-
linn) and used as evidence of an internal/external threat with “the hand of 
Moscow.”  
 
 
 
 
 
                                                      
  2  Renal’d Simonian, “The Russian Diaspora in the Baltic Countries,” Russian Politics 
and Law 42 no. 4 (July/August 2004), pp. 67–88. 
  3  Vladis Gaidys, “Russians in Lithuania,” in Vladimir Shlapentokh, Munir Sendich 
and Emil Payin, eds., The New Russian Diaspora: Russian Minorities in the Former 
Soviet Republics
 ( Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 94. 
323 
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