Migrant Transnationalism and the Transformation of Post-Communist Citizenship Discourse

Mari-Liis Jakobson. Europe-Asia Studies. Volume 69, Issue 5. July 2017.

Observing a case of transnational migration between Estonia and Finland, this article investigates how the experience of living in a Western democracy alters discourses of citizenship amongst people who have been socialised into the concept while living in a post-communist country. Through a discursive approach, the article demonstrates that, notwithstanding 25 years of democratic transformation, the norms of post-communist citizenship remain different from the Western liberal and republican norms. However, European Union citizenship plays an important transforming role on the discursive level.

In the early 1990s, two new academicfocipeaked in political research: post-communist transitions to democracy, and citizenship studies. Interestingly, the two had very few intersecting points. As Attila Agh wrote in 1994:

All historical dramas start with the presentation of the dramatis personae, the chief actors of social life. In Western Europe these actors are the burgher and the citizen, also called homo economicus and homo politicus. Civil society and the state, with their separate-but interwoven institutional structures, appear as the great fields of activity for these sectors. In Central Europe this model is well known but in no direct use. We appreciate the extensive literature about citizenship, the recent discussions around the changing features of citizens in the postmodern era and the emerging new conditions for political participation, but we cannot apply them to our situation. Our regional traditions and present processes of socio-political transition are so different that we have to look for other actors or, possibly, for the same actors in different guise. (Agh, p. 108)

Since then, times have changed. Today, an increasing number of post-communist actors have become citoyens and burghers—partly due to the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and the consequent acquisition of EU citizenship, partly due to increasing westward migration. It is therefore relevant to analyse how people with a post-communist legacy understand citizenship and how more recent transformations have affected these citizenship constructions.

This article pursues the line of discursive post-communist transformation studies (Kollmorgen), focusing on how migrants from post-communist countries interpreted the institution of citizenship. While this specific approach has not been commonly used in post-communist secondary transformation studies, it emerged as a useful instrument to analyse the institutions that are underlying democratic transformation (Galasińska & Krzyżanowski). The approach is suitable also because of the time that has passed since regime change. The discursive approach prioritises the study of individual dispositions towards democratic norms and societal discourses of democracy, which usually take longer to change (Dryzek & Holmes).

By using discourse analysis, the article attempts to understand how post-communist features of citizenship reflect in the understanding of citizenship and citizen agency of migrants who live in a Western consolidated democracy, querying to what extent old constructs have persisted and to what extent these are transformed by a migrant lifestyle that accommodates cross-border connections and bifocal presence (Vertovec). The article draws on the case study of migration between Estonia and Finland, researched in the framework of the research project ‘Transnationalisation, Migration and Transformation: Multi-Level Analysis of Migrant Transnationalism’ (Trans-Net), funded by the EU 7th Framework Programme. The case of Estonia and Finland unveils the multiple links acting as prerequisites to transnationalisation, or to the formation of simultaneous cross-border connections. Finland is the preferred emigration destination for Estonians, who, after Russians, are Finland’s second largest immigrant group. Geographic proximity fosters numerous opportunities for close transnational links, while linguistic and cultural proximity ease personal adjustments to local norms.

This case study also supports a more precise analysis of the citizenship understandings framed by transnational migrants who moved from post-communist countries to Western democracies. As a former Soviet republic, Estonia features several characteristics of post-communism. Finland, on the other hand, is a citizen-centric welfare state, towering in global democracy and human development indexes. Finland has traditionally served as a window to the Western world for Estonians: in the late Soviet period, Finnish television was broadcast in northern Estonia, exerting important cultural and societal influences to establishing an understanding of the Western semantic and value system. After Estonia regained independence, Finland became its role model, and has been described as the intermediary of Estonia’s Europeanisation processes (Toots). Finland does in this sense represent a good case for studying whether and how the process of Europeanisation—a policy, knowledge, discourse or value transfer between the various actors within the EU (Radaelli)—works as part of the discursive regime transformation.

The article’s first segment outlines the study’s methodological premises, explaining how the article approaches the citizenship discourses amongst the transnational migrants studied here. The second segment offers in turn a theoretical overview of post-communist citizenship discourses, focusing on their correspondence with Estonia’s citizenship discourses. The third segment of this article looks at normative theoretical literature to outline what is understood by transnationalisation and its potential impact on citizenship discourses. The three conclusive segments of the article summarise the empirical findings, introducing the dominant citizenship discourses amongst transnational migrants from Estonia to Finland and assessing how migrant transnationalism alters key discourses of post-communist citizenship.

Methodological Premises

Citizenship has been studied from a wide range of analytical perspectives (Isin & Turner). This article follows the relational understanding of citizenship, envisioning it not as a fixed status but as an ‘instituted process’ (Somers, p. 589). It is expected that, in the post-communist space, historical legacies shaped the citizenship practices and the inter-related processes of democratic transition, Europeanisation, and migration to Western Europe. Discourses of citizenship are not intended here as mere debates over citizenship policy; rather, this article regards them as articulations of an individual’s relationship to the public realm. This approach similarly permeates the discourse theory of citizenship (that is, a theorisation of the role of discourse in shaping the social institution of citizenship). Asen (p. 191) conceptualises citizenship primarily as a mode of public engagement. Citizenship is viewed from an analytical rather than a normative perspective, since focusing on the normatives of ‘good governance’ (or liberal/republican/communitarian citizenship theory), would remain external to the agents performing it (Bora & Hausendorf, p. 25). In discourse analysis (that is, the practical analysis of the socio-linguistic mechanisms that produce meaning), the ‘vocabularies of citizenship’ (Lister et al.) are treated as indexes of citizenship identity, status and values (Fairclough et al., p. 101). This article synthesises the critical discourse methodologies of two studies: one applied by Ruth Wodak and colleagues on studying migrants’ perceptions of Austrian national identity and another applied by Norman Fairclough and colleagues on analysing citizenship communication at a participatory event. While the latter study provided a useful framework for analysing citizenship discourse in general, the work of Wodak and colleagues may be used to justify the somewhat unorthodox selection of empirical material and broaden the focus of analysis.

The methodology developed by Fairclough and colleagues looks at citizenship discourse from a dialectical perspective, as it focuses on the dialectics of the elaborated discourse, its preconstructions as well as the dialectics between citizenship discourse and practice. However, there is an abundance of potential influences affecting the preconstructions of the discourse of citizenship (Fairclough et al, p. 100). Thus, in their analysis of the discourse of citizenship, Fairclough and colleagues adapt from Bourdieu seeking the interlinkages between theory and the ‘banal citizenship’. Similarly, this article uses academic texts as a point of reference for post-communist citizenship discourse, comparing this discourse with the ‘banal citizenship discourse’ of the interviews.

While discourse analysis usually deals with public discourse (media texts and public talks), some authors, while studying minorities and migrants more in particular (Yamaguchi; Wodak et al.; Clary-Lemon), acknowledged the need to study semi-private discourses, that is, interviews. This methodological approach is often necessary, as some minorities are less represented in the public discourse, in which they usually perform as objects rather than subjects. It is to this very end that this article’s methodology relied on semi-structured interviews, as the issue of citizenship amongst Estonian migrants in Finland has not traditionally been discussed in public.

The data for this analysis originate from the Trans-Net project, which aims to analyse migrant transnationalism in a multi-level and interdisciplinary perspective. The questionnaire was therefore focused on the respondents’ migration history and their political, socio-cultural, economic and educational background.

This article centres its attention on transnational migrants with a post-communist background, by focusing on 109 respondents from Estonia (and mostly ethnic Estonians) who had migratory experience in Finland. The analysis draws on the transcripts of the 29 interviews carried out with Estonian respondents by the Estonian research team, and it uses written reports and memos based on the data collected by the two teams to ensure the discursive representation of returnees, recent emigrès and more settled migrants with more remote networks. This analysis was rounded off by a micro-linguistic study of the project’s research reports and memos, which grouped the interviews around distinct themes.

Within this framework, the article aims to analyse the key topoi in relation to which citizenship is articulated, while investigating how discourse relates to empirical practice, that is, citizenship enlivened (Fairclough et al., p. 103), as respondents were also asked about their own citizenship status and participation.

Post-communist Citizenship Discourses

The post-communist transition in Central and Eastern Europe was particular, insofar as it aimed to adopt simultaneously market economy rules as well as a different political regime (Linz & Stepan). In some states, particularly those once part of the Soviet Union, the transition was also accompanied by the need to determine statehood and the community of citizens (Kuzio). State–citizen relations have, however, been a fundamental test for democratisation in virtually every corner of the post-communist world (Przeworski).

The post-communist citizenship discourse is affected by policies and attitudes of the Soviet era. Soviet citizenship was primarily about restrictions and privileges administered by the state and the party, transforming the state into the sole authority to decide over content and practices of citizenship (Alexopoulos; Greene). This specific understanding is reflected in both the restrictive citizenship policies implemented by the post-communist states and the exclusionary citizenship discourse they fostered. Post-communist states have tended to adopt rather rigid rules of citizenship allocation (Liebich): citizenship policy came thus to be securitised (Shevel), while the rigidity of those rules is generally associated with discursive claims about state sovereignty.

This discursive understanding of state–citizen relations is mostly associated with etatism (Fleron & Frederic), where the citizen merely represents a beneficiary of state policy, and a bearer of ‘subject culture’ (Almond & Verba). In Soviet times, people were mainly referred to as ‘citizens’ in official and usually unpleasant circumstances, namely a court case or a criminal conviction (Hion, p. 206). Although many post-communist states enjoy a higher amount of rule of law, some of this mentality survived the collapse of communism to characterise low levels of empowerment, or even powerlessness. As Samuel Greene notes, while writing about the Russian Federation, ‘very few Russians feel that they are sovereign in their own state, or even that they are truly the constituents of it’ (Greene, p. 135). In countries where the state is struggling over the preservation of territorial sovereignty, we somehow witness the bankruptcy of the idea of citizenship. Referring to Kyrgyzstan, Ruget and Usmanalieva noted that ‘in a weak state, citizens are less likely to perform their duties, to trust the regime and to have a sense of loyalty towards their nation state’ (Ruget & Usmanalieva, p. 443). Similar notions have to some extent been also applied to Estonia. Pettai characterised the Estonian process of democratic consolidation as a tutelary transition, stressing the relevance of the political elites and the disempowerment of citizens, hence resulting in an unaccountable, elitist democracy (Lagerspetz).

As a result, the post-communist perception of citizenship is rather instrumental. In Russia, for instance, the social contract over citizenship is based on the ‘exchange of political quiescence for prosperity’ (Greene, p. 135)—it centres, in other words, on renouncing political rights for social rights. In comparison to the Soviet times, however, the citizens are no longer offered direct goods for political quiescence; rather, they are presented with the economic opportunity to gather these goods. A similarly neoliberal disposition towards citizenship has also been identified in more consolidated post-communist democracies (Solska). The rent-seeking character of the post-communist state–citizen relationship developed in accordance to the dominant materialistic values (Inglehart & Weltzel). Such values also dominate in Estonia, which is located alongside countries influenced by what Inglehart–Welzel’s global cultural map identified as survival values, including materialism, prioritising security over liberty and abstaining from political activism.

Post-communist citizenship has also been characterised by what Bauböck termed national citizenship, as confirmed by a look at policies—the exclusion of particular minorities in the Baltic states (Aptekar; Solska)—as well as political debates, including those focusing on Poland’s constitution (Zubrzycki). While the political agenda of transitional states associated the politics of exclusion with particularly important issues, including language and ethnicity (Assmuth, p. 36) and the discourse of cultural preservation (Bennett), the post-communist citizenship discourse has its roots in the conceptual dislocations of civicness inherited from the Soviet era. Although the former Soviet Union shares a memory of civic Soviet identity (a state-based conception of loyalty and patriotism), the communist regime had little to do with civic values. Yet, the main features of identity politics—the historical narrative and the language—were designed with the Russian audience in mind (Piattoeva). Identity politics resulted in different outcomes: whereas the Russians adopted the Soviet identity rather swiftly, other nationalities, including the Estonians, preserved their national identity (Kolstø).

The post-communist citizen is generally passive (Ådnanes). Data from the European Social Survey and the World Values Survey indicate that post-communist political life is characterised by low levels of participation. Passivity is also reflected in the normative connotations that people are currently ascribing to citizenship: West Europeans associate citizenship primarily with deliberation and critical thinking; in Eastern Europe, citizenship is first and foremost connected with law-abidingness (Denters et al.; Coffé & van der Lippe). Instead of the republican or even liberal notions of citizenship, post-communist countries are usually linked with caesarean citizenship (Solska)—normatively opposed to the liberal and republican traditions, hence denoting Carl Schmitt’s understanding of democracy as compliance with the existing political system (Karolewski). Low levels of participation are often explained through trust. According to Howard, one of the impediments for the post-communist civil society is that social trust is clustered in small private networks. Mishler and Rose associate low participation with low general trust, stemming from citizen disempowerment and ‘subject culture’. Alienation from the state is not only a problem for states with failed transitions but it also affects more consolidated democracies, including Latvia (Uhlin).

While numerous Soviet influences may continue to persist, post-communist states are also open to new influences. Mara Kuhl outlined three major discursive transitional logics in Estonian administrative culture—anti-Sovietism, continuation of statehood, turbomodernism—of which the last one is projected into the future. Turbomodernist discourses depict Estonia as a small and dynamic state, in juxtaposition with other post-communist states as well as the static ‘old democracies’. Embedded in liberalism, turbomodernism reduced Estonia to a prone ground for abrupt economic reforms (Kuhl, p. 61), and it furthermore weakened the state–citizen relationship (Kuhl, p. 62) by explaining the modest expectations of citizens towards the state as a provider of welfare. Turbomodernism is also a potential discourse to make the Estonian post-communist citizen receptive to new changes and transformations, including those imposed by transnationalisation.

The Dynamics of Transnationalisation

Transnationalism has emerged as a new disciplinary paradigm in international relations at first (Hoffmann; Keohane & Nye) and later, in anthropology, sociology and migration studies (Basch et al). Khagram and Levitt defined transnational studies as ‘an optic or gaze that begins with a world without borders, empirically examines the boundaries and borders, that emerge at particular historical moments and explores their relationship to unbounded arenas and processes’ (Khagram & Levitt, p. 4). From a transnational perspective, migrants from post-communist countries may still be relevant actors shaping the content and meaning of post-communist citizenship even when living elsewhere. They remain relevant domestic players due to their contacts at home, their potential return and other forms of interaction that can result in transferring experiences and competences obtained abroad into the politics of the country of origin (Koehn & Rosenau). Whilst being a part of the society in the host country, migrants also remit experiences, knowledge and competences into domestic settings. According to Faist (p. 189), transnationalism refers to sustained ties of persons, networks and organisations across borders of several nation-states in forms of various levels of institutionalisation. As a result, conditions in more than one location impact upon the forms of social organisation, values, activities and relationships (Vertovec, p. 971). In a broader view, however, transnational conditions can also lead to broader contemporary social transformations (p. 972).

There are different takes on how transnationalisation affects citizenship. On the one hand, a number of authors linked transnational citizenship with new opportunities: ‘as individuals increasingly experience citizenship as a choice among multiple histories and identities, we should not be surprised that individuals, political activists and national officials alike are all exploring different transnational arenas in which people may act as citizens’ (Thelen, p. 652). Transnationalisation may thus indicate that citizenship no longer embodies a relationship between an individual and a state but, rather, a configuration of individuals and the different states and communities they associate with. On the other hand, other authors (Soysal; Smith & Bakker) saw transnationalisation happening in the midst of neoliberal globalisation, a process that poses migrants new challenges and makes them more vulnerable to market change. Metaphorically, a transnational citizen is an individual sitting on two (or more) chairs.

In practice, the outcomes of transnationalisation depend on both the contextual framework and individual agency. As a relational category, transnational citizenship can be based on different forms of legal status (Stoker et al., pp. 111-15). According to Fox, transnational citizenship functions well when supported by a supranational citizenship status, as in the case of EU citizens living in other EU states (Fox). In other circumstances, practising transnational citizenship may also depend on whether dual citizenship is allowed, what rights and obligations are extended by the host state to non-citizen immigrants and what rights and obligations of the state of origin can be carried out from abroad (Bauböck). Besides the legal framework, a set of socio-cultural and political factors is also relevant here. Europeanisation, for instance, can have an effect on citizenship identity and practices (Checkel). Civil society infrastructure is also important, insofar as it forms the ground on which citizenship is put into practice, and where renegotiating state–citizen relations and shaping the discourse of citizenship takes place. It is, however, important to question whether the transnational associations are vibrant, how are the migrants engaged in the host country associations, and whether political parties have any transnational interests (Itzigsohn), and how evolved is the transnational public sphere (Koopmans & Statham).

Individual agency may vary, depending on the willingness of transnational citizens to engage. It may take many forms in establishing transnational state–citizen relations. Transnational political activity may be manifest both as engaging in politics solely in one state at a time or in the form of simultaneous embeddedness in more than one political community (Levitt & Glick Schiller). However, it may also be manifest in the form of long-distance nationalism, a more diasporic form of engagement that remains primarily directed at the national community abroad as well as home (Glick Schiller & Fouron). As Vertovec noted, these transformations are subjected to particular local conditions: in our case, the particularities of the post-communist context hence play an important role in determining the transnationalisation outcomes of state–citizen relations.

Preservation and Instrumentalism—The Two Competing Citizenship Discourses

The citizenship regime intrinsic to the Estonian–Finnish transnational space is shaped by both the Estonian and Finnish national citizenships and the EU’s supranational citizenship. This legal framework is also reflected in the migrants’ two discourses of citizenship. The first, linking to national citizenship institutions, depicts citizenship as a sentimental category; the other, in which citizenship is an instrumental category, does in turn look to EU citizenship institutions.

The sentimental discourse linked citizenship status to national identity and its preservation. Nationalism and citizenship characterised more particularly the views expressed by those respondents who are more settled in Finland. These respondents related Estonian citizenship to ‘roots’, describing the transmission of national identity to their children: ‘I won’t change it [citizenship] because it has also a deeper meaning because we want to remember it and also want our children to realise where one comes from, where the “roots” are’.

Citizenship is thus understood as a thick concept (‘with a deeper meaning’) and a representation of primordial belonging (‘where the roots are’), one that emphasises the historical–cultural aspects (‘where one comes from’), rather than the political or social aspects of citizenship. As a sentimental category, citizenship is also strongly related to national identification and its primordial character. When the respondents were asked who they feel themselves to be, a chorus of a song from the period of the singing revolution in 1989-1991 was cited, ‘Estonian I am, Estonian I will be …‘. The intertextual references to this particular song indicate that the formative ‘texts’ of the period that led to restoration of independence still represent a relevant point of reference for the Estonian migrants.

At times, the cultural dominant of the sentimental discourse was complemented by the more socio-political aspects of the memory of the singing revolution and restoration of independence, bearing markers of the discourse interconnecting Estonian state sovereignty with its citizenship: ‘for half a century, Estonian citizenship was only dreamed of and thus, should be treasured as a gift today’.

The sentimental citizenship discourse is also reflected in citizenship practices, as Estonian citizens, particularly after EU accession, have not been very keen to exchange Estonian citizenship with Finnish citizenship. However, the restrained interest in taking Finnish citizenship is probably more related to the fact that EU citizenship grants Estonians a broad spectrum of denizen rights, rather than the particularities of post-communist citizenship, as immigrants in Finland with Russian citizenship have been much keener on taking Finnish citizenship. Some Estonians expressed guilt about their decision to take up Finnish citizenship before Estonia’s accession to the EU, and described themselves as moral ‘traitors’: ‘keeping it [Estonian citizenship] would have been a good idea because of identity, now I have, in a way, a feeling that I am like a traitor, thinking that I have given up my own roots’. However, citizenship also has a much more instrumental meaning. Many respondents in their 20s or 30s, particularly amongst return and circular migrants, claimed that citizenship or connection to the state is of no importance at all:

Citizenship is [about] where you were born and it is linked to certain rights and obligations, but one can also change one’s citizenship. I am not committed to anywhere and I think it doesn’t make any difference which country’s citizen you are.

This quote offers an example of the erosionist effect that migrant agency can have in combination with the post-communist instrumentalism of citizenship, characterised by the concept of thin citizenship (Bauböck). According to Bauböck, thin citizenship is defined by a specific understanding that sees every political order as essentially coercive, as rights should predominate over obligations and obligations are not necessarily to be fulfilled by every citizen (Bauböck, p. 9). The quote references to post-nationalist sentiment but is not conversely complemented by cosmopolitan affiliations or aspirations. Some Finnish respondents had a rather instrumental look at their citizenship, which they compared to a ‘security licence’ that provides them ‘safety’. For Estonians, citizenship was often ‘just a passport in their pocket’ or a provider of basic civil rights.

This instrumentalism may on the other hand be associated with an interpretation seeing EU citizenship as an influential eroding factor for citizen identity (Bader). Interviews with Estonian migrants indicated that the meaning of citizenship (and particularly, that of the receiving state, Finland) changed in time, and particularly after Estonia joined the EU in 2004. EU citizenship was depicted as giving everyone equal rights with national citizens, although, in practice, it only gives resident rights. Although Finnish citizenship is preferred in multinational families, it has lost some of its relevance for the migrants. Here is an explanation of a respondent who migrated to Finland in 2006 and started a family with a Finnish spouse:Q:So your daughter then is a Finnish citizen?A:Yes, she even doesn’t have an Estonian passport. It all doesn’t matter that much in the European Union. I don’t have a Finnish passport, but I really don’t need it. This is quite a strong contrast with the discourse of respondents who had migrated to Finland before Estonia’s EU accession. This is an account from a woman who migrated to Finland in 1990 and also started a family, though returned to Estonia a decade later:

Back then, everything was very strictly determined. That if you have this and this [citizenship], then you have these and these rights. I didn’t want to give it [Estonian citizenship] up. Everyone actually wanted Finnish citizenship. And back then, you only had to, like, live there for three years and you could get it. But I didn’t want it. I can speak Finnish, but I will remain Estonian.

In the 1990s—and particularly at the turn of the century, when naturalisation rates amongst Estonian migrants were at their highest—Finnish citizenship was perceived as a valuable commodity. It was Estonia’s EU accession that emerged as a turning point in the citizenship discourse. Yet, legal rights are not paired up with identification, as observed by the same respondent:

Well, I feel myself as an Estonian. I can’t even say that as a European, although it’s so very fashionable these days. Maybe it’s because I’ve travelled and seen too little, that this opportunity opened up too late. I am so old. Now the youth travel throughout the world and speak all the languages. But back then one couldn’t study all those languages!

For her, European identity and EU citizenship are primarily related to the freedom of movement, a right that, in her understanding, is primarily designed for young people. Hence, practising EU citizenship is still understood as something exclusive. In terms of rights, national citizenship was associated more with basic civil rights (practical safety, ‘which state has to accept you when you get in trouble abroad’) rather than political or social.

Informal Citizenship—Loyalty Towards Finland

Although adopting Finnish citizenship is not that common amongst Estonians, they still establish a kind of a contract with the Finnish state. Through EU citizenship (or earlier, residence permits), migrants are subjected to a range of rights and responsibilities. When compared to the connection migrants have with Estonia, loyalty to Finland is described in different terms: Estonia was mostly recalled in the context of cultural origin. Loyalty to Finland conversely resembles a social contract, in which to seek the balance of rights and obligations—in theory the characteristic of citizenship (Schmitter). Respondents described being loyal citizens by characterising themselves as hard-working, law-abiding and tax-paying, not living on welfare support.

I thought it necessary to officially pay my taxes there—when I enjoy the benefits of that society, I will contribute there as well. I’ve never tried to find ways how to pay less taxes or how to enlarge my profits. Maybe it’s the Finnish type of attitude I have acquired. Well, Finland does interest me, I don’t understand them thoroughly yet. I think it is so because I don’t know that much about their historical background. If I will ever have time, I plan to study Finnish history also.

Interestingly, the ‘Finnish way’ or ‘Finnish type of attitude’ were recurring expressions in the interviews. While the contextual information presented in this article does not enable us to trace the source of this discourse, the antithesis of the ‘Finnish way’ is strikingly similar to what was described above as post-communist citizenship—evading taxes (indicating alienation from the state), not internalising the common obligations of the citizenry, distancing oneself from the state institutions and not abiding by the law, looking for opportunities to maximise individual profit in the forms of rent-seeking.

Yet, loyalty to the Finnish state was not an emotional or patriotic disposition, but it rather represented a rational calculation. Here is an explanation offered by a female respondent who, at the time of the interview, was caring for a child while being unemployed:Q:Do you feel some sort of loyalty toward the Finnish state?A:Well, through my husband and child …. I offer the state rather little at the moment. My contribution is zero. I’m currently unemployed, I’m taking advantage of the social benefits here. But of course, if you started counting, then I’ve made my contribution with this baby. My husband has contributed to Finland for decades. But at the same time, I don’t feel that I would owe anything to the state. I’m loyal to it like to an employer. That as long as I earn my salary from her, I will play by her rules. In this quote, the question was about loyalty but the respondent opted to elaborate instead on her own contribution, calculating the equilibrium point between what she offered to the state and what she received in return. The comparison theme of loyalty to the employer illustrates once again the instrumental outlook, in which earning a salary is equated to playing by the rules.

All in all, it seems that in addition to the long-distance nationalism that presented itself in the national preservationist citizenship discourse, the Estonians also adopted a civic identity in relation to the Finnish state, thus indicating that transnationalisation may actually have a positive impact on the developing citizenship culture. Yet, the civic bond to Finland manifests itself in being diligent and calculating one’s rights and obligations. This bond, in other words, remains on an instrumental side.

Passive Caesarean Citizenship

While transnationalisation in a context supported by supranational citizenship is expected to support the political agency of migrants (Fox), political participation amongst Finland’s Estonians tends to remain rather modest, with some notable exceptions. The post-communist argument can be used once again to explain this passivity. A glimpse at any set of political participation statistics indicates that there is a fundamental difference between Estonia and Finland: Finns are more engaged in elections, in associational life as well as more prone to contact politicians and identify with political parties. Political participation ranked similarly low in the respondents’ agendas. Although it was common to mention keeping oneself informed about current affairs in both countries (Estonian media was followed over the internet), political affairs were not followed as keenly.

I don’t follow Finnish politics. Although I live and work there. I identify with Estonia ….

Q: Do you participate in politics in any way?

Not really. Only when I happen to be here [in Estonia] during the elections …. I haven’t succeeded to do so for several years. And e-voting has somehow passed me by as well.

Political participation was often seen as an obligation (or even a rent-seeking activity) and not as a right: respondents explained belonging to trade unions through the material benefits ensured by unionisation rather than through the possibility to participate and defend one’s rights. Similarly, elections were seen as an obligation and emphasis was put on the extra effort migrants have to make to vote—go to the embassy:

I guess it [citizenship] is more like obligations which I don’t bother to fulfil. Like participating in the elections in Estonia is an obligation of an Estonian citizen. But it is more difficult to do here. You have to go to the embassy and … also, I don’t follow Estonian politics and I don’t have very developed opinions on whom to vote for. Well, as a Tallinner, I would vote against Edgar Savisaar. But on parliamentary elections—I don’t know.

The largely unformulated political preferences were also a recurrent reason cited by respondents, who remarked in this sense how transnational migrants have to divide their attention between two societies. Legacies of post-communism may also be at play here. In his theory of discursive democracy in the post-communist bloc, Richard D. Anderson Jr claims that, for individuals to evolve from subjects to citizens, political competition needs to develop and offer a choice of political stances. Partisan opposition is the basis to develop a democratic discourse and overcome the division between the people and the nomenklatura, which remains a legacy of the Soviet system. Occasionally, such a stance towards electoral participation was still common amongst Estonian emigrants. As one respondent put it,

I really don’t know who could be the best to decide their affairs [in Estonia] I got a really weird feeling … when I voted in the embassy, why am I throwing away my vote, it will go anyway to those leading men … and why am I voting a leader for them.

Other cases confirmed the emergence of a caesarean normative of citizenship (Karolewski). More specifically, Edgar Savisaar, a mayoral candidate in the 2009 Tallinn elections (prior to which most interviews were conducted), seems to be a divisive figure who was often mentioned in the interviews. Yet, politically active citizens were mostly depicted in this context as merely voters, not as decision makers. Some respondents even admitted that, as emigrants, they did not feel entitled to vote: ‘because I live in Finland, I … cannot vote in Estonia because I do not have to live under the laws which I have the power to influence. So I think it would be ethically wrong to have an effect to how those laws are made’.

Although perhaps a little caricaturesque, this explanation illustrates the migrants’ low sense of empowerment. Interestingly, the same argumentation was absent from interviews discussing elections in Finland. While many respondents were allowed by residency rules to participate in the Finnish local elections, very few did so, and did not justify their decision to vote through entitlement (as tax payers or stakeholders) but, rather, they referred to personal campaigns—that is, voted for a friend or ran as a candidate because they were persuaded by the party.

Participation in associations tended to be passive, although skilled professionals often belonged to professional associations. In addition, some interviews indicated a growing interest in organising:

During the last few years, lots of young families have moved here, and they want somehow to highlight their belonging and teach Estonian culture to their offspring. So now there has been a project to establish an ‘Estonia hall’, a cultural centre here. Unfortunately, during the Soviet time or even today it has been a task of Finns, Estophiles to put forward Estonianness here in Finland …. So far Estonians living here have concentrated maybe more on securing their own livelihood but now time has come when Estonians themselves want to come forward.

This discourse leads to two alternative, yet non-conflicting, explanations. It is possible that the Estonians in Finland have become less interested in assimilation, or that Estonians have obtained new civic competences in Finland and adjusted better to the Finnish system where forming ethnic associations is encouraged. There could also be a change in the civic competences and civic culture that more recent emigrants have brought along from Estonia. The latter proposition may also indicate that the second cycle of democratic transition is approaching completion (Przeworski).

To date, Finland’s Estonian community has not proven to be very successful in advocating its interests, particularly when compared with Estonia’s smaller Finnish diaspora, which has its own school, church congregation, and influential civic and professional associations. The professional associations of Estonians in Finland have to be seen as advocacy actors with relatively limited influence. Respondents told stories about failed attempts to establish an Estonian school in Finland, while noting that both the Estonian and the Finnish authorities had pulled out of the project, despite years of joint effort. After the interviews were finalised, a couple of schools have begun teaching Estonian language and parts of the Finnish curriculum in Estonian, but there are still no schools that follow the Estonian national curriculum. The different outcomes of educational advocacy can be explained through differences in state strategies (the Finnish state offers more benefits to its citizens residing abroad), but also by focusing on a fundamental difference in the communities’ advocacy skills.

Discussion and Conclusions

This article has indicated that some discursive coherence pervades the mechanisms through which citizenship-related norms are articulated across the post-communist world. These norms are different from the classical liberal, republican and civic citizenship normatives that are inspired by Western democracies. The analysis of citizenship discourses amongst Estonian migrants in Finland demonstrates that, while some of the post-communist norms remain intact, transnationalisation acted as a transformative force for the negotiations over citizenship and citizenship identity. The nation-centric cultural and preservationist discourse of citizenship is hence contested by a forward-looking, and non-conflictual, post-national discourse of citizenship. This thin discourse of citizenship is a result of transnationalisation from above, a process promoted by the EU, and not an outcome related through the experiences of those who live across two or more societies and negotiate between different identities. The thin discourse of citizenship fits well with the discourse of turbomodernism as outlined by Kuhl, and features the same problems turbomodernism entails, namely, a weak state–citizen relationship. In this combination, transnationalisation enhances neoliberal characteristics of citizenship.

Weak citizenship practices and discursive indications of weak empowerment failed to suggest that transnationalisation has been a significant democratising force in the transformation of post-communist citizenship. A perceived lack of entitlement, in combination with low interest in politics, indicated that, instead of developing simultaneity and taking up agency in transnational, national or local politics, migrants opted for no political participation at all. And while this may not be an exclusive characteristic of post-communist spaces, the discursive repertoire acquired through the historical process of citizenship formation in the region is used for justifying political passivity.

However, there are also some indications of political learning, and namely the acquisition of a ‘Finnish type of attitude’ as a transnational competence. This competence suggests that transnationalisation may ultimately have some democratising consequences. Comparing this discourse to the classic Western normatives of citizenship, we can identify some similarities to the ideal of liberal citizenship (Heater). Nevertheless, the respondents’ subject positioning remained rather passive—a good citizen is someone who abides by the law and takes pride in it, but not someone who is also politically empowered.

Evidently, modest civic agency is not unique to Estonia or even the whole post-communist bloc of Central and Eastern European states, as analogous developments have been detected also in well-established democracies (Norris; Isin). The contemporary causes for low agency might be similar across the East/West divide, but the historical roots that continue to play a role in framing one’s role as a citizen are essentially different. The citizens in Eastern and Western Europe, as a consequence, can be expected to treat the democratic decline somewhat differently.