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Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan

The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

By Michele E. Commercio

Publication Year: 2010

The collapse of the Soviet Union suddenly rendered ethnic Russians living in non-Russian successor states like Latvia and Kyrgyzstan new minorities subject to dramatic political, economic, and social upheaval. As elites in these new states implemented formal policies and condoned informal practices that privileged non-Russians, ethnic Russians had to react. In Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan, Michele E. Commercio draws on extensive field research, including hundreds of personal interviews, to analyze the responses of minority Russians to such policies and practices. In particular, she focuses on the role played by formal and informal institutions in the crystallization of Russian attitudes, preferences, and behaviors in these states.

Commercio asks why there is more out-migration and less political mobilization among Russians in Kyrgyzstan, a state that adopts policies that placate both Kyrgyz and Russians, and less out-migration and more political mobilization among Russians in Latvia, a state that adopts policies that favor Latvians at the expense of Russians. Challenging current thinking, she suggests that the answer to this question lies in the power of informal networks.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Communist party, Komsomol youth organization, and KGB networks were transformed into informal networks. Russians in Kyrgyzstan were for various reasons isolated from such networks, and this isolation restricted their access to the country's private sector, making it difficult for them to create effective associations capable of representing their interests. This resulted in a high level of Russian exit and the silencing of Russian voices. In contrast, Russians in Latvia were well connected to such networks, which provided them with access to the country's private sector and facilitated the establishment of political parties and nongovernmental organizations that represented their interests. This led to a low level of Russian exit and high level of Russian voice. Commercio concludes that informal networks have a stronger influence on minority politics than formal institutions.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Content

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p. v

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Note on Transliteration

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p. vii

All transliterations of Russian-language sources found in this book are based on the Library of Congress Transliteration system. All translations from Russian-language sources are my own.

Part I

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Chapter 1. ‘‘What the Hell Kind of ‘Non-Native’ Am I’’?

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pp. 3-16

The use of the phrase ‘‘non-native’’ in this poem about Russian-Kazakh relations suggests that though not characterized by violence, ethnic relations in post-Soviet Kazakhstan can be tense. Like the poem, which serves as a metaphor for this book, the war between Russia and Georgia that broke out in 2008 indicates the continued relevance of ethnic conflict in the post-Soviet region.

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Chapter 2. Informal Networks, Exit, and Voice

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pp. 17-26

This stanza from Nazarova’s poem suggests that a label as emotionally laden as ‘‘non-native’’ speaks volumes to Russians in post-Soviet states other than the Russian Federation. The union’s disintegration had a devastating effect on Russians not only because it conferred minority status on them vis-á-vis the respective titular nation, but also because it thrust them into newly independent states...

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Chapter 3. Soviet Socialist Legacies and Post-Soviet Nationalization

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pp. 27-50

Given the 1916 rebellion against Russian colonization and Moscow’s subsequent determination to Russify Kazakh culture, the implied assertion of friendly Russian-Kazakh relations in this stanza of Nazarova’s poem is questionable.1 On top of that, independence rendered Russiantitular relations in all Soviet successor states, including Kazakhstan, potentially conflictual.

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Chapter 4. Opportunity Structures and the Role of Informal Networks in Their Reconfiguration

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pp. 51-88

The third line of this stanza from Nazarova’s poem, ‘‘But you—for your own—just like clockwork,’’ refers to the Kazakhs’ determination to promote their own via nationalization policies and practices but applies to the core nation’s decision to do the same in other post-Soviet states as well. Gorbachev’s reforms facilitated a permissive environment that encouraged the Soviet Union’s disintegration to emerge as a distinct possibility...

Part II

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Chapter 5. Native Versus Non-Native: Russian Perceptions of Post-Soviet Nationalization

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pp. 91-106

This stanza from Nazarova’s poem is an attempt to connect with the Kazakh soul through references to cultural icons like Chokan Valikhanov, a nineteenth-century Russian army officer whose scholarly interests included the history of Central Asia, and Abai Kunabev, a nineteenthcentury Kazakh poet who launched Kazakh as a literary language.

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Chapter 6. Russian Responses to Perceptions of Socioeconomic Prospects

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pp. 107-153

The last line of this stanza from Nazarova’s poem suggests that migration is a suboptimal solution for Russians in Kazakhstan to problems posed by post-Soviet nationalization. This sentiment depicts reality for Russians in Kyrgyzstan and Latvia as well. Many Russians who migrate from non-Russian successor states to Russia do so with reluctance.

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Chapter 7. Ethnic Systems in Transition

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pp. 154-177

This stanza from Nazarova’s poem alludes to Russian resentment stemming from a concrete decision elites made in the early 1990s to create a state of and for ethnic Kazakhs. While nationalization policies and practices generate umbrage among Russians in Kazakhstan as they do among Russians in Kyrgyzstan and Latvia, dissatisfaction among Russians in Kazakhstan is beginning to fade.

Appendix: Methods

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pp. 179-187


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pp. 189-219


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pp. 221-235


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pp. 237-245

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pp. 247-248

This book is the result of years of work that I would never have accomplished without the help, generosity, and kindness of numerous people. Though there are too many individuals to thank and many individuals whom I will not formally thank out of concern for their safety, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to friends, acquaintances, and colleagues in the United States, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Latvia.

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242218

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 14 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century
Series Editor Byline: Brendan O'Leary, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 793341717
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Russians -- Kyrgyzstan -- Ethnic identity.
  • Social networks -- Latvia.
  • Social networks -- Kyrgyzstan.
  • Nationalism -- Latvia.
  • Nationalism -- Kyrgyzstan.
  • Latvia -- Ethnic relations.
  • Kyrgyzstan -- Ethnic relations.
  • Russians -- Latvia -- Ethnic identity.
  • Russians -- Latvia -- Politics and government.
  • Russians -- Kyrgyzstan -- Politics and government.
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