European Integration in Identity Narratives in Estonia: A Quest for Security

Journal article

Kuus, Merje (2002) European Integration in Identity Narratives in Estonia: A Quest for Security, Journal of Peace Research 39 (1): 91–108.


The article situates the Estonian discourse of national identity in the country's pursuits of EU and NATO membership. It first outlines the assumptions, concepts, and rhetorical devices through which the notion of national identity is constructed in discussions of international integration, and then highlights the policy ramifications of the identity discourse. The article concentrates on the three closely linked concepts - civilizational conflict, national territorial sovereignty, and security - that together constitute a core of identity debates in Estonia. While national identity in Estonia has hitherto been examined in the context of ethnic relations between the Estonian and the non-Estonian populations, this article analyzes identity debates, including issues of ethnicity, in the context of the country's pursuits of international integration. As identity is a central concept in Estonia's foreign, security, citizenship, and minority rights policies, the article exposes the claims that underpin these policies. The Estonian identity discourse contains strong arguments in favor of EU membership, yet several of its fundamental premises discursively construct this membership as harmful to Estonia. Both pro- and contra-EU arguments pivot particularly on claims about geopolitical and cultural threats. On the one hand, international integration is constructed as a security measure against the Russian threat. On the other hand, insofar as supranational institutions pressure Estonia to naturalize its Russian-speaking residents, who are construed as representatives of the Russian threat, international integration is also depicted as dangerous to Estonian identity. Estonian identity narratives thereby contradict governmental rhetoric of ethnic and European integration.

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