Everyday Belonging in the Post-Soviet Borderlands examines the Russophone communities in peripheral cities adjacent to the Russian borders in Estonia and Kazakhstan. The research adopts a cross-disciplinary, space-sensitive approach that focuses comparatively on individual memories, narratives, and performances. Based on ethnographic examples, this book reconstructs belonging as a complex dialectical relationship between “inclusion” and “exclusion.” This relationship, it is argued, manifests itself through a continuous spiral of boundary construction, appropriation, and transgression among different versions of Estonianness and Kazakhness, Europeanness and Cosmopolitanness, as well as Russianness.
Alina Jašina-Schäferis post-doctoral fellow at the Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe (BKGE).
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Cities of Enduring Dislocation
Chapter 3: Transgressing Exclusion
Chapter 4: Landscapes of Belonging
Chapter 5: Relationship with the External Space of Russia
Chapter 6: Defining Rodina for Russian Speakers
Chapter 7: Conclusion
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many people suddenly found themselves living as minorities in 15 new nation-states. Jašina-Schäfer has carried out an illuminating ethnographic study of Russophone populations in Estonia and Kazakhstan to better understand their identities and everyday sense of belonging. She interviewed around 50 Russian speakers, aged 18 to 66, from the Estonian city of Narva on the Estonian-Russian border and from the city of Petropavlovsk in northern Kazakhstan. The interviews reveal how these post-Soviet Russophone minorities regularly experience feelings of inclusion and exclusion in ways that are complex, ambiguous, and changing. Arguing that their identities may not simply be described as hybrid, the author usefully engages with a great deal of academic literature about post-Soviet Russophone communities. Her interviews, some of which she conducted while walking with her subjects through their cities, are most compelling. They offer fascinating snapshots of everyday life among people wrestling with their Soviet past; negotiating a relationship with the contemporary and complicated Russian Federation, where they do not live; and developing and maintaining identification with their places of residence. Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty.
This is an important book. By unpacking the often elusive concept of belonging and placing it at the center of her study of borderland cities in Estonia and Kazakhstan, Alina Jašina-Schäfer offers an urgently-needed new perspective on the continuing debates surrounding Russophone populations in former Soviet space. The work’s focus on ‘exterior interiority’ also gives it a much broader resonance, as it takes us beyond overly-simplistic binaries and static visions towards a fuller understanding of how linguo-cultural minorities everywhere engage day-to-day with their sociopolitical realities to negotiate belonging in a world marked by growing transnational mobility and interconnectedness.
This book offers an exciting academic journey to two ’Russian worlds’ in Estonia and Kazakhstan, countries that used to be parts of the Soviet Union, and after its disintegration chose different geopolitical pathways. Alina Jašina-Schäfer is one of first scholars who juxtaposed and compared Russophone communities in European and Eurasian contexts, yet not as extensions of Russia as a self-proclaimed ’state-civilization,’ but rather, as subjects worthy of their own attention.
This excellent book explores how belonging is expressed, conceptualized, and experienced in the everyday lives of Russian-speakers in two post-Soviet borderland spaces. Jašina-Schäfer offers an important contribution, employing a creative and fresh analytic approach that conceives of ‘exterior interiority’ as a continuous interaction between concepts of the inside and the outside, where boundaries are constantly crossed and re-crossed, as old boundaries are reformed or rejected just as new ones are formed. Its focus on the spatial qualities and dynamic lived experiences of belonging makes this book particularly interesting to scholars and practitioners alike.
This book offers a carefully constructed, intellectually enriching, and highly readable text that I would recommend not only to scholars in the fields of identity and area studies, but also to students beginning to master qualitative research methodology. The author’s genuine interest in what her interviewees have to say, rather than how she can use the materials they generate to support a predefined statement, is highly commendable. One can only hope that more research following the same principles is going to appear, especially on challenging and highly contested issue.