Where does Russia end and the West start? Russia and Estonia.

This is a shortened version of the book chapter written for “The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ 25 Years On: A Multidisciplinary Appraisal. “, the original can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2018/04/22/where-does-russia-end-and-the-west-start/

If you stand on the banks of the river Narva in North-Eastern Europe, you can see two medieval castles facing each other on both sides of the river,  this is a powerful symbol of the border between Russia and Estonia, at our times also the border of the European Union and NATO with Russia. The question is, if it is also the fault line between two distinctive civilizations, the Western and the Orthodox ones? I argue that Estonian and Russian border is indeed a fault line between the Western and Russian civilizations, and it leads to simmering conflict. This dividing line runs also through the Estonian society, as large minority of Russian speakers resides in Estonia.

To the East of Narva, the vast plains stretching through the Ural mountains to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean form the territory of the Russian state. According to Huntington, Russia is a torn country with its identity in permanent crisis. The Russian identity search has been always connected to the defining of oneself through the opposition to the ‘Significant Other’, and this Other has always been the West. The West was either positive or negative, but it is always present in the visions of national identity and national interest.

There were several attempts to modernise Russia during the course of history. Famous attempt of modernisation and Europeanisation was undertaken by Peter the Great in the 18th century. Later on, in the 19th century, the debate between Slavophiles and Westerners dominated the intellectual debate in Russia. Relevant for our times, is the experiment with democracy of the 1990s, when the authorities of Russia undertook radical reforms at home, and took a pro-Western course in foreign policy.

The discourse of Civilizationism has started to dominate the official Russian policy since the authority of Vladimir Putin was established. The ideas of Civilizationists and Eurasianists start penetrating the official statements in the 2000s, especially after the attempt to a rapprochement with the West, and after that, further drifting apart. The frequency of the term ‘morality’ and ‘spiritual’ in Putin’s speeches increased, especially since his return to the Presidency in 2012.

Aleksandr Dugin, the famous intellectual and Eurasianist ideologue, sees the Russian civilization as universal. The blurriness of Russianness, and Russia being not only a state, but also a civilization is connected also to the fact that Russians do not live only on the territory of the Russian state. Russians outside Russia are an important resource and inspiration for the policies of Russia.

The main policies concerning Russians outside Russia are the policy of compatriots, and the more general framework policy of the ‘Russian World’. Actually, one can see the evolution from the more defined and, one could argue, bureaucratic policy of compatriots towards much more blurred and definitely more emotional trend of claiming the ‘Russian World’. We can see the trend from the policy with concrete measures, such as repatriation, towards an overwhelming ‘Russianness’. At the extreme end of this spectrum one can place the symbolic saying of Putin that Russia has no borders at all, which later was interpreted as a joke.

What about the Western bank of Narva? The region of the Baltics has been populated for a long time, people known as Estonians or Aesti have been living here for around 1500 years. To the present day, Estonians preserved their language, which is not part of the Indo-European group. Later on, in the 13th century, these tribes have been fighting the Livonian Order and were finally occupied by them.

The Livonian Order had some designs on the Slav lands to the East, and there were several armed conflicts. After many devastating wars, and especially Nordic Seven Years War (1563-1570). Estonia, at the time known as Livonia, fell under the Swedish rule. This period is still colloquially sometimes referred to as ‘good old Swedish time’. What later came to be called the ‘Northern War’ broke out in the region in 1707. It was connected to the tsar of Russia Peter the Great’s policies of expanding to the West, and needing the ‘window to Europe’, as St. Petersburg was referred to. After 1721, Estonian territory became part of the Russian Empire and it remained this way until 1918.

By this time, Estonians were Protestants, and this led to the high level of literacy in their mother tongue, as everybody had to listen to the sermons in their native language and also know how to read the Catechesis. Thus, the Estonian language education was spreading, and with time, the number of educated Estonians reached critical mass, which served as a basis for reconstruction of historic memory and emergence of independent thinking. It can be also claimed that according to the famous thesis of Max Weber, Protestantism led to the high morals and work ethics among the population. Max Weber notes that the German word for profession is Beruf or “calling”, the same is true about the Estonian language – elukutse is “calling” or more precisely “life calling”. Thus, Protestantism claimed that you can achieve unity with God through your work, through your profession. Protestantism has still great influence on the values of Estonians, and these values sometimes clash with Orthodox ideas of the ethnic Russians.

In the 19th century, the national awakening was taking place among Estonians echoing the overall European process of nationalist ideas. It was also the times when under the rule of the Russian tsar Alexander the Third, the policy of ‘russification’ started.

By 1918, the opportunity presented itself, after the devastating First World War, Bolshevist Revolution. The Estonian Republic was proclaimed, followed by the War of Independence against Soviet Russia and Landeswehr, the forces of Baltic German aristocracy. The Estonian Republic existed until the 1940 occupation by the Soviet Union, which happened as a direct result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, and its secret protocol dividing this part of Europe into spheres of influence. The German occupation followed in 1941, and then Soviet occupation again in 1944, which would last until 1991. The Soviet authorities applied cruel policies of repression against Estonian population including mass arrests and deportations to Siberia. Notwithstanding the attempts of russification, the Estonian identity was preserved as strong all through the years of all the occupations and mistreatment.

Estonian identity developed in close connection with Western civilization, and naturally, after the declaration of independence in 1991, the main goal of the government was its reintegration with the West. The foreign policy of Estonia was flowing naturally from its source – the need to re-establish a nation-state based on the national identity of the majority ethnic group.

Estonia was left with the legacy of about 27% of non-Estonians residing on the Estonian territory. First reaction of Estonians was to ignore and neglect this issue – maybe the Russians would all move back ‘home’? The main principle of the policies was that of restitution – meaning that the Estonian Republic was the legal descendant of the pre-war Republic, and not a new state. The citizenship was granted to everybody, whose ancestors were residing in the pre-war republic, notwithstanding their ethnicity. All the people who came later, had to pass the process of naturalization, meaning the exam of the Estonian language and the knowledge of the Constitution and the citizenship legislation. It led to the situation when about a third of the minority population have no citizenship, and are considered aliens.

By mid-1990s, Estonians realised that the Russians were a part of society. It had been the start of the integration policy. This is the policy of the inclusion into the society, though it first primarily concentrated on the need to improve the command of the Estonian language for non-Estonians. In nowadays society, the difference of values is manifested in many ways, such as family patterns, attitudes towards LGBTI, the role of religion in life, state policies – in general, one can claim that the Russians, in average, are more conservative in relation to these issues.

The attitudes towards LGBTI were thoroughly researched in 2014, and the data showed clear difference according to the major communication language of the respondents. The 49% of the Estonian-language respondents accepted homosexuality, with this number being just 21 % for the Russian-speakers. 44% of Estonians and 73% of Russian-speakers did not accept the homosexuality. The attitudes towards religion were researched in 2015, the results showed that 19% of Estonians and 25% of non-Estonians belong to a congregation, 46% of Estonians and 80% of non-Estonians have been baptized. 40% of overall population considers itself Orthodox, and 36% Lutheran. The main clash in opinions though is going along the lines of the attitudes towards Russia and its policies, with the majority of Estonians seeing its assertive behaviour as a threat, and the Russians seeing the need for better relations with the Russian state.

What about the interaction between these two states and societies, which we could see are quite diverse? We could see the differences in culture and attitudes that support Huntington’s thesis of an Orthodox civilization as distinct from the West. Estonia  belongs to the West with its history, culture and values. Russian Orthodox civilization influences the attitudes of Russians in Estonia a great deal. As Huntington also puts it, Russia has a ‘kin-state syndrome’ towards Russians outside Russia. We can see that the present Russian state’s orientation on civilizational discourse leads to the situation that many Russians abroad can identify themselves with Russia without taking any everyday practical decisions, such as repatriation. The Russians in Estonia live their everyday life in the European Union, at the same time, they preserve their emotional link to Russia.

We could see that the clash of civilizations is happening both between the states of Estonia and Russia, and at the same time in the minds of Estonian population, as the Russian minority is influenced by the Orthodox civilization.

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China and Russia – is the relationship deep?

There has been a lot of talk lately about rapprochement between Russia and China. Is it just a tactical alliance of “being friends against the West” or is the relationship based on deeper value-oriented policies? What are the similarities and differences between China and Russia?

The similarities

“Soft Power”

This concept is understood by both countries not exactly as Joseph Nye would have it. Both Russia and China see this instrument as sort of information operation. It is not a power to attract, but rather coerce in combination with military and economic measures. Both Russia and China spend considerable resources to promote their respective cultures, languages, entertainment. Both countries consider their civilizations unique. Russia has a concept of the “Russian World”, China, among other things, the network of Confucius Institutes.

Conservative agenda

Both China and Russia juxtapose themselves to the Western liberalism claiming that the values of family, hierarchy and collectivism are more important than individual freedoms. It is allegedly Vladimir Putin who advised former President Hu to be careful about so-called colour revolutions and NGO activities. The crackdown on civil freedoms in China intensified especially after Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. The similar processes have been going on in Russia since Vladimir Putin consolidated his power.

Securitization of democracy

Both countries see pro-democracy movements as the main threat to the state. One can argue, if these states actually disregard the real threats to the societies (such as, for example, demographic situation in Russia or environment issues in China). Both regimes mostly care about staying in power, and thus the threats to the state seem to them the most important ones.

The differences

The role of religion

China has not practised an official  monotheistic religion throughout history, its traditions stem from different sources, such as Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist philosophies. The Chinese people had their myths of creation, traditions of worshiping the dead, religious festivals and rituals. With the present Communist authorities, the official understanding is atheism, according to Marxist principles. The Chinese identity is very much based on the long history, the identity of the Han people as the descendants of the legendary Yellow Emperor, the continuity of the Chinese Empire through all dynastic changes and foreign rule; the uniqueness of the Chinese language and the Chinese thought.

Russian history is different. The Orthodox religion stems from Byzantine Christian tradition, which followed the schism between two Christian churches. It also led to the messianic culture in Russia, as it is considered as  the Third Rome. The Orthodox faith was very much connected to the Russian Empire as a state in the past. After the October Revolution, Orthodox faith was officially abandoned, but Bolsheviks did not realise how deep the faith ran through the Russian identity. During the Second World War, Stalin started to rehabilitate the church in order to unite the people. The church had not fully returned to the stage before 1991 though, but during recent years, it became an important part of the Russian authorities´ claim for legitimacy. Now one can speak about the amalgam of the state and the Russian Orthodox Church. The World Value Survey (www.worldvaluessurvey.org) estimates that religion is very important (14,3%) or rather important (27,5%) for Russians, and the same numbers for Chinese are 2,6% (very important) and 8,0% (rather important).

Work ethics

Max Weber emphasised the influence of Protestantism on the development of capitalism due to the work ethic. Some researchers claim that the Confucian work ethic is not that far from the Protestant one. The Confucian work ethic consists of a belief in the value of hard work, loyalty to the organization, thrift, dedication, social harmony, a love of education and wisdom, and a concern for social propriety. Both Confucian and Protestant ethics emphasise that employees can achieve the self-fulfilment through dedication and devotion to work. Both emphasise rather the achievements in this life than after-life. In Russia, Orthodox faith is proclaiming rather egalitarian approach, thus, the way you work is not influencing the salvation. Russian national character is not well adjusted to the market laws, it can be described by its lack of law-obedience. The Russian person is not used to put hard demands either on himself/herself or the others. The Orthodox ethics is not encouraging people to the hard work and achieving success, but rather promotes poverty, spirituality, ascetics. We know Russian fairy tales, where heroes drive around on stoves without having to work.

Racial prejudice

If the Chinese consider ethnic Han as the exceptional people with all the rest of the world purely tribute states or barbarians at the gates of the Middle Kingdom, then the Russians were partly influenced by the complex of superiority of the white race. The “Yellow Peril“ danger was quite articulated already in the times of the Russian Empire. One of the main threat discourses between Russia and China is connected to the racial prejudice in a way, and is connected to the perceived threat of Chinese migration to the Russian Far East. It is an emotional fear, as about 1,364 billion Chinese reside on 9,6 million square kilometres of land, and the 143,8 million of Russians are settled on 17,1 million square kilometres.

Conclusion

One can say that the Russian policy is very much based on the rhetoric of dispersing the unique values and civilization around the world. Russia was also not hesitating in such matters as using military force abroad, annexation of Crimea, bringing instability in Eastern Ukraine.

China, on the other hand, while also growing its international influence, has been much more cautious in sabre-rattling, and relied less on rhetoric, and more on economic cooperation. For example, Chinese policy in Africa, is based not on the promotion of ideology, but on the economic cooperation “without strings attached”. It means that China sets no conditions on cooperation, being thus sometimes more attractive to the developing countries than the West, which sets strong conditionality. One can say that Russia is more vocal and aggressive, China is more quiet and pragmatic. They look more like tactical partners rather than strategic ones.

 

 

Visegrad 4 and Russia: the Roots of Policies in History?

There is a lot in the news about the region of Central Europe and the group of Visegrad countries, including messages that Austria and Italy could probably join. There is also Czech Presidential elections’ second round coming up on 26-27 January. The main reason for this attention is the similarities between Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The much talked about “rule of law” problems in both Hungary and Poland, anti-migration stance, more emphasis on traditional values. Many in the West of Europe are feeling that the East is drifting apart.
The official page of V4 says that “Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have always been part of a single civilization sharing cultural and intellectual values and common roots in diverse religious traditions, which they wish to preserve and further strengthen.” (www.visegradgroup.eu/about)
At the same time, there is an important issue in foreign policy and public perception that divides the Visegrad. I mean the attitudes towards Russia. Though recent history combined these countries in one Warsaw pact bloc, the more distant past is different. Poland is standing out as the country having most contacts with Russia throughout history, fighting several wars, and including the episode in which the Polish occupied Moscow.
Poland suffered three divisions by superpowers, the Russia Empire being one of the dividers. Since 1918, Polish policy of independent republic had a preference for the alliance with Germany. Even pro-Russian voices, such as Roman Dmowski, who favoured Russian connection as a counterweight against Germanisation, were still sure of the superiority of the Poles. Other states, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, had little direct contact with Russia and have never been a part of the Tsarist empire. In the 19th century, national awakening took place, and so the voices of the need for Slavic unity were heard. For Czechs and Slovaks, Russia was a natural ally in this respect. Slovakia’s thinker of the 19th century Ludovit Stur promoted Slavs’ unification under the Russian rule, moving from the Slovak nationalism towards pan-Slavism. His Russophile legacy is important, as he was the standardizer of the Slovak language and thus an important figure for Slovak identity.
Hungary felt different in the region dominated by Slavs, and considered Russia rather as a potential threat.
During the “Iron Curtain” times, all these states experienced similar Stalinist policies and also uprisings against the Soviet style rule.
After the fall of the “Berlin wall” and transition towards democracy, the main trend was anti-Communist, and Russia was considered as “the other”.
Currently, the Hungarian rule is widely considered as pro-Russian and anti-EU, but the ruling party Fidesz used to be pro-EU and pro-NATO. The turning point is believed to be 2009, as Viktor Orban declared the need for partnership with Russia, as the counterpart to the West. The far right party Jobbik also turned pro-Russian and is preaching Eurasianism. Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico is considered “friendly pragmatic”. The Czech new Prime Minister Babis is the head of the government since October 2017, and is accused of the links with the secret police during the communist times. The jury is out on who the future President will be – either the current President Zeman with pro-Russian sympathies or the new candidate Jiří Drahoš.
In Poland, PiS (Law and Justice) party is widely thought in the West to be going against the rule of law principles with many reforms undermining the judicial system. The European Commission has issued three recommendations in the framework of the Rule of Law mechanism, and the vote on opening procedures against Poland is due in the Council of the EU. As far as handling of migration crisis is concerned, the three states of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were sued by the European Commission concerning the decision not to respect migration quotas. The new Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki (of the PiS) stresses Christian values, and though he was thought to be more pro-European, tends to juxtapose Poland to the West.
The policies towards Russia however, are quite different, with Poland being stringently among the “hawks”, and stressing the importance of NATO deterrence. Hungary, for its part, is cooperating with Russia a great deal, including in economic terms. Both Hungary and Slovakia are quite dependent on Russian energy sources, and Hungary is building the Paks II nuclear plant together with Russia. At the same time, one must not forget, all the four states approved of anti-Russian sanctions after the crisis in Ukraine erupted in 2014.
We can see certain ambivalent attitudes in Visegrad 4 as far as Russia is concerned, with Poland definitely standing out with its clear position of seeing Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine. One can speculate that the economic dependencies may be the key factor, but I tend to believe more into the historical reasons. The more contacts, and as a result, problems, one used to have with Russia, the more cautious one is to build the relationship.

Nordic branding – where are the boundaries?

As I was doing Nordic walking one morning, I thought – everything called “Nordic” somehow refers to a better quality, higher standards, something “cool” in general.
The Nordic Europe defines itself as a distinctive area through the messages of its leaders and understanding of its people, and this idea became accepted by the rest of the world. Traditionally, Nordic countries comprised the Scandinavian peninsula, Denmark and Iceland, later, Finland firmly joined the community. The common heritage and common languages were the starting point, but Finland is different in this respect, as it was a part of the Russian Empire and has a different language (of Fenno-Ugric group).
At present, Nordic countries share not only the history and culture, but more importantly certain philosophy of claiming being special among others. The distinct Nordic features are social guarantees for the whole of society, and in general, caring for human rights and democracy. It is manifesting itself in the foreign policies of the Nordic states, who are important donors of development aid, eager defenders and promoters of human rights and women rights abroad. They have also positioned themselves as negotiators and intermediaries in various conflicts of the world having reputation of being neutral and objective (and not freaking out!). For example, Norway mediated so-called Oslo accords between Israel and PLO, Finland’s Martti Ahtisaari proposed solution for Kosovo, to bring just some examples.
Looking at the map, we can see clearly that the region is rather historically and socially constructed, than existing in the world as a geographical objectivity. While most of the countries of the Nordic Europe are situated in Scandinavian peninsula, Iceland is far away in the Atlantic, on the half-way to the United States and closer to Scotland than to any of the other Nordic countries.
The constructing of Nordic identity is kind of “branding”. Central to the Nordic brand have been the ideas of Nordic “exceptionalism” – of the Nordics as being even better than the norm. The Nordic experience, norms and values became a model to be copied by the others.
Especially after the Second World War, the notion of the “middle way” between socialism and capitalism was combined with the perception of the region as a neutral but friendly bloc between the two superpowers, committed to the internationalism of the United Nations. The Nordic distinctiveness also manifested itself through cultural stereotypes. Since the modern “breakthrough” of the late nineteenth century, the Nordic countries produced many famous cultural figures, such as the dramatists Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, the composers Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius, the artist Edvard Munch, the writers Karen Blixen and Astrid Lindgren, to name just a few. Scandinavian functionalism in architecture and design became famous, and IKEA is one of the symbols of the Nordic design now. The literature of “Nordic crime” acclaimed much success around the world as well. And everybody knows ABBA!
The question is, if the boundaries of the area are set or not. After the fall of the Berlin wall and transition of post-Soviet and Warsaw pact countries towards democracy, the Nordic communities started an important cooperation with the Baltic Sea countries, especially the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
In Estonia, the debate of whether Estonia is becoming a part of the “Norden” was quite popular, especially as the former foreign minister and later President Toomas Hendrik Ilves promoted this idea. In 2001, in his article “Nordic State and a Human Being”, he wrote that Estonia has very similar patterns of social behaviour and will belong to the Nordic area. It takes time, but the time is doing its job.
Estonia was boasting a rapid economic growth and also positioned itself as the country of new technologies and especially a front-runner of digitalization. It is the country where the ID-card can be used for many dealings with the state and the private sector, including voting in the elections, electronic doctor prescription and “e-health” system. The Skype was invented by Estonians and the e-government using only electronic documents was introduced. It became kind of “export article” of Estonia, while many states around the world are taking over this experience. This is a good example of branding a small country in the world. The debate on the branding is very close to every Estonian’s heart, and the hot discussions on the “Estonian Nokia” (after the Finnish company) were going on in the public space.
Historically, Estonia used to be a part of the Russian Empire for two-hundred years – and it is not that big a period, if you consider the time-span of history. First, the pagan society, Estonia was occupied by Teutonic order, and baptized. Later on, Estonians took the Protestant faith, and it had big consequences for forming the national identity, as it meant overall literacy, Protestant work ethic and the identification with Europe as a whole, and Nordic countries especially. Estonia was partly under the Danish rule, and a part of the Swedish Kingdom. The days of Swedish rule are to this day referred as “good old Swedish times” among people.
For the present though, one important issue is the state system of economy. The Baltic states took to a very liberal idea of economy, which helped a lot in transition times. This is also the main contrast with the Nordic approach, where there is more state involved in the regulation of life. In this sense, there were enough voices against the self-identification with the Norden.
Estonia is closely associated with two Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania. The main common feature of the three states is their recent history, being in the Russian Empire, later independent, and then occupied by the Soviet Union. In the political choices after 1991, there are also similarities, as all the three states aspired for returning back to the West and integrating into the Trans-Atlantic and European structures.
As far as more distant history is concerned, Lithuania is certainly distinct, as it was a part of Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, and had experienced statesmanship in earlier years. Lithuanians practice Catholic faith, while Latvians and Estonians are mostly Protestants. Latvian and Lithuanian are Baltic languages belonging to the Indo-European group, while Estonian is part of Fenno-Ugric group and more kin to Finnish. The link to Finland as a “brother” nation is important in the political discourse of Estonia. If Finland could become the part of the Norden, with its different background and language, why Estonia could not? Though Estonia rates quite high as far as the corruption perception index is concerned (being on the 22d position in the world in 2016), and the general attitudes of the population are European-values oriented, there is still some work to do in order to be perceived in the world as a success story. The other issue is the importance of the Baltic cooperation, and the question of disentangling Estonia from its Southern neighbours, especially Latvia. Lithuania is more prone to position itself as Central Europe and construct a different identity. Looking from the Nordic area, it is also difficult to include new states in their midst, as thus the “branding” may become diluted and less convincing.

Some books on China, well, yes…

There is a huge variety of literature on China. As I started getting interested, I have read just a minor fraction of them. There is a general understanding that China is either on the rise, or getting tired of the growth and quietly declining. The main theme is: China is special, China is important. I have a feeling that it is somehow shallow. There are some approaches that try to analyse China by the Western standards, especially as far as economics are concerned, and some that go deeper.  

“The Water Kingdom” by Philip Ball is by far my favourite. It is artfully describing the way Chinese history is connected to water and rivers, which may sound a bit boring, but it is not boring at all! The idea is that “who controls water, controls China”. This book is exactly the example of going deep into the culture, including giving some sense of the Chinese “characters” connected to water, among other things (and the character for “water”, “shui”, is on the cover as well). It is also describing the art connection to water (water-colour) and the expressive idea of the art that emerged in China much earlier than in the West.   

“On China” by Henry Kissinger is, of course, a classic. I loved the history part of it, but later it became more and more concentrated on the nitty-gritty of diplomacy, which many find fascinating, but frankly, I think it is a little too much of dealings and meetings. Kissinger is the master of the “deal”, and I feel deep suspicion about this approach.

“When China Rules the World” by Martin Jacques is really a good starting point of discovery, as it summarises really nicely the implications of the rise of China. It describes China as a civilization-state, ready to rise to the heights of its history as the Middle Kingdom accepting tribute from its neighbours and treating the rest as barbarians at the gates. 

“China’s Future” by David L Shambaugh is frankly here, because it was named by the Economist as the book of the year – it has been a disappointment. I read that it was just a collection of speeches by the author, and it reads as something put together in a haste, indeed. Economics, politics, something you would be able to grasp yourself without going into the issue. It is decorated with the occasional use of Chinese, but it does not bring much authenticity.  

“The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region” by Michael R. Auslin. I think half of the reason I got hold of this book is the intriguing title, so Respect! for theIMG_2268marketing part. It is actually more general, considering all Asia – but I wanted to include it here, because of the new voice (that I am sure will be repeated) on the theme – it is about the coming decline, though in fact just describing the possible problems of Asia. Nobody could deny they are there, the other question, left unanswered, is “who is next?”  

Do Russians in Estonia live in Cyber-Russia?

Let us imagine a feed of a person from Facebook: the article from Sputnik-news.ee “Estonians are afraid to express their dissatisfaction by the actions of the authorities”; the citation about liberation of Tallinn in 1945; the picture from the US with poster “Russia stopped Hitler, not America”; the link to the Soviet songs about victory; the article from ves.lv “Latvia and Estonia are lying to the EU”; the extract from the newspaper of 1926 citing experiences of someone visiting Estonia in this year, and finding that the life was very poor there… I am sure, many can say that they do not know such a person, but he or she surely may exist!
Many Estonian Russian-speakers consume new media mostly in the Russian language, and have negative attitudes towards Estonian authorities, but positive image of Russia, as the Internet encourages the positive image of the big homeland where these people do not live their everyday life. The construction of national identity is taking place in cyberspace even more actively than in other spaces, as it is a convenient medium for this process.
Among the population of Estonia, about 330,000 are ethnic Russians, other non-Estonians comprise about 64 thousand people. It is important to note that among non-Estonians, not all are ethnic Russians, but many are Russian-speakers.
Media consumption is often cited as the main reason for diverse opinions and attitudes among ethnic Estonians and non-Estonians residing in Estonia. It is true that the sources of information are different for these groups, as many Russian-speakers prefer Russia’s TV channels and Internet sites. According to the Integration monitoring 2015, 50% of people consider social media as an important source of information as well.
The annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine started in 2014 showed the difference of attitudes very clearly. Especially diverse are the attitudes towards the need for cooperation with Russia and the understanding of security threats in general.
Estonians consider NATO as the main guarantee, Russians would like to have a good cooperation with Russia for better security.
It is clear that the Russian actions became more active towards the West, and the Baltic states included. The cyber-attacks on Estonia in 2007 are often cited as an example. The Russia’s arsenal of measures includes so-called “active measures”, hacker attacks and fake-news. The term of “post-fact” world has been coined recently to reflect the present situation. Cyberspace plays an important role in the dissemination of information. Russia uses so-called “trolls”, people who spread false information on the Internet. Much attention in the Western media and scholarship is paid to the fight against propaganda, but the mechanisms of the effectiveness of these messages from the Russian side are deeply rooted and necessary to analyse as well.
First of all, “medium is the message”, as McLuhan famously said. It is a tendency all over the world that people “move to the Internet”, and become “netizens”. In Russia, the state television is the main channel to influence and guide population, but its consumption is falling, as the younger people use much more Internet. The Internet is easier to consume and harder to control. The illusion of tailor-made consumption is created online, especially in the social media, where everybody can be instantly published and followed.
The other aspect of this complex process though is the initial attitude that brings people to watch or follow one or another medium. It is clear that the Russian-speaker anywhere in the world will prefer the news and other products in his or her own language, and the Russian language comprises 10% of the content on the Internet. In Estonia, as the official language is Estonian, Russian-speakers are supposed to master it in order to be employed in the public sector or promote their careers. The command of Estonian is also a necessary pre-condition to receive the citizenship through naturalization process. On the Internet though, the members of the minority are free to use their mother tongue, and they choose it in social media as well. It leads to the emergence of a virtual Russian-language speakers‘ community all over the world. These virtual Russians can be also called “cyber-Russians”. The phenomenon is well understood by the authorities of Russia and used in the creation of so-called “Russian World”. As a result, the construction of national identity is done both by the individuals who have certain attitudes, and by the national homeland of Russia, and these processes create synergy.
In parallel with recreating their national identity as connected to Russia, some members of minority also consume and produce negative news about their host society. So, this process has two sides, creating illusion of good life in Russia and bad life in Estonia. Russian speakers outside Russia see this idealistic picture of Russia created in the media, including social media, but do not confront the reality. At the same time, they live in Estonia, and confront the real life issues here. Russians inside Russia though see both real life in the street and virtual reality created in the television and other media by the authorities. It can explain that Russians outside Russia have more positive attitudes towards Russian authorities than the actual residents of Russia.
One can argue that the Internet encourages “dissident” attitudes against the real life in the country, for Estonian Russians it means that Estonia has problems, and for Russian Russians, it means they become distanced from Putin’s regime inside their country, moving to the Internet.
In addition, social media creates the phenomenon when a person starts consuming news, which are tailor-made to his or her attitudes, as he or she has Facebook or Vkontakte friends with similar attitudes. This process is encouraging the attitudes to become more radical and more deeply embedded into a person’s mind.  A person who is negatively predisposed towards Estonia and positive about Russia, for example, would post information to his friends, and disseminate it without being a propaganda producer himself or herself.