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Estonian identity, Estonian nationalism : impact of European Union accession Saarkoppel, Kerstin

Abstract

Estonia's history, like that of many European and non-European states, has been marked by years of foreign rule, domination and occupation. These processes have had a tremendous impact on the shaping and the development of Estonian identity. It is through the process of interaction and contact with various other groups, nations and actors, that a given nation is able to define itself, both in relation and in contrast to these various other groups. Identity formation and the respective identity narratives to which the Estonian people prescribe have a great impact in the way that the Estonian nation has been constructed. By identifying these various narratives, and by situating the Estonian experience among them, we are then able to gain a clearer understanding of what 'Estonian' means to the people of the country, and how the international community may interpret it. From this starting point, we are then able to turn to the study of nations and nationalism and to then situate the Estonian experience within the literature. By drawing on the works of both Anthony Smith and Rogers Brubaker, we see how the process of nationalism in Estonia has changed over the past hundred or so years. Smiths' work on the importance of using ethnie to define a nation, and in turn develop nation-building processes has been critical to the historical development of the Estonian nation-state. Meanwhile, in the post-Soviet Union period, this model does not adequately capture the reality of the Estonian society, and thus by looking at Brubakers' triadic nexus, can we then begin to understand the complexity of nationalism in present-day Estonia. With the recent move towards enlargement of the European Union, significant changes are occurring across Europe. These changes will have a huge impact on both the applicant and the current member states. Estonia has been classified as one of the favourites for early EU accession, yet this view is held primarily among the scholars and the elite of the population. Public opinion about EU accession remains relatively low for the average citizen. It is my belief that only by understanding the process of identity formation and it's impact on Estonian nation-building can we begin to interpret what drives these fears of EU accession, and ultimately what EU membership will mean for the people of Estonia.

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