«Identities and a sense of belonging: young Lithuanians and Latvians from ethnic minorities »
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This paper was prompted by my presentation at the Conference “25 years later: between the Soviet past and an unclear European and Eurasian future” which was organized by the Project for Migration and Security Studies on the post-Soviet space of the Central European University in Budapest (directed by Dr. Irina Molodikova).
It addresses the ways in which new nation building in Lithuania and Latvia since the 1990-s affects cultural identities of ethnic minorities in this historically culturally diverse region. Its aim is to identify from a “bottom up” perspective means through which individuals from different ethnic minorities express and negotiate their cultural, ethnic and national affiliations. It explores the ways ethnic minority people retain their own identities amidst globalization/hybridization of culture at the beginning of the 21st century and new nation-building.
Using a variety of empirical, including biographical data the paper contributes to the theoretical and policy debate on cultural diversity that is rooted in historical and geopolitical paths of Eastern Europe. This data was collected in the EU- funded project EC FP7 ENRI-East (2008-2011)1 in which ethnic minorities from Lithuania and Latvia were studied. In the study ethnic minorities along the new EU border were considered as neither being entirely diasporic or of migrant origin, but as a “quasi-diaspora” group that were mostly created not by recent migrations, but by historic border shifts.
Analysis of the biographical narratives of individuals from ethnic minorities in Lithuania and Latvia showed the complexity of ethnic, national and European identifications, and the ways individuals choose who they are in a rapidly changing cultural environment. The use of the actor-driven ethnic identification approach instead of “grouping” according to the external markers of ethnicity proved to be successful in getting individuals’ reflections upon the changing nature of cultural environment, and also in the historic narratives of association with “place”.Biographical methods enabled the capture of dynamics of ethnic identification, biographical life strategies of the individuals, perceptions of the “other” in society, minority (ies)-majority relationship. Comparative analysis of biographical narratives of ethnic minority individuals in Lithuania and Latvia references changing language practices, surnaming convention, historic and cultural memories of the place, religious practices.
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