The seminar is based on a paper exploring Estonian identity discourses focused on the recent refugee crisis in Europe. There are two contexts in which the latter is debated. The first one addresses the potential influx of refugees since 2015 to Estonian migration to Nordic countries during the Second World War. The second deals with the migratory flows during the Soviet occupation that included mass-scale colonization and Russification of the local population, whose descendants widely consider the concomitant Russian speakers as Soviet-era immigrants. The major arguments behind this comparison are predominantly ethical. In the first case, the parallels with historical circumstances when Estonians were forced to leave their country and were welcomed by others triggered a series of (geo)cultural discourses and imageries prioritize values of tolerance, compassion and diversity. Yet when it comes to the second case, the narratives of those who identify themselves as descendants of the Soviet-time settlers lack consistency and in fact are locked in a conceptual trap: on the one hand, they reproach the Estonian ethnic majority for unfriendly attitudes to cultural ‘strangers’ and ‘aliens’; yet on the other hand, the Russian speakers are as sceptical towards non-European refugees as ethnic Estonians.

It is an interplay of these two political contexts that constitutes the starting point and the trigger for my analysis. The puzzle here is as follows: why and how the eruption of the refugee crisis re-actualized identity-driven geopolitical narratives and imageries? And whether this re-actualization contributed to further integration or, vice versa, polarization of political debates in Estonia?

The author approaches these questions from the research perspective of popular geopolitics that tackles cultural representations of territories, spaces and identity politics from the viewpoint of vernacular, home-grown and routine meanings. Dr. Yatsyk analyses two types of representations. The first one reflects the attitudes to and perceptions of migration produced by Estonian artists, who mostly reflect the inclusive attitude to immigration.  Research methods include participant observations at exhibitions that took place in 2015-2017 in Tartu, Tallinn and Narva and which were focused on migrants and refugees. The second category consists of 24 in-depth semi-structured interviews with experts dealing with migrants issue taken in 2015-2017 in Narva.


Alexandra Yatsyk is Visby Visiting Researcher at the Uppsala Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Sweden. She obtained PhD in Sociology at Kazan Federal University, Russia and served as a visiting fellow or a lecturer at the University of Warsaw (Poland), the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (Austria), University of Tartu (Estonia), University of Tampere (Finland), George Washington University (DC, USA) as well as at the Center for Urban History of East-Central Europe at L’viv (Ukraine).

She is an author and editor of works on post-Soviet nation building, sports and cultural mega-events, biopolitics, art, and refugee crisis among those are co-authored books Lotman’s Cultural Semiotics and the Political (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017), Celebrating borderlands in a Wider Europe: Nation and Identities in Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia (Nomos, 2016), Mega-Events in Post-Soviet Eurasia: Shifting Borderlines of Inclusion and Exclusion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), New and Old Vocabularies of International Relations After the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge, 2016),  and Boris Nemtsov and Russian Politics: Power and Resistance (Ibidem Verlag&Columbia University, 2018). Her articles have appeared in, among other outlets, Slavic Military Review, Demokratizatsiya, Problems of Post-Communism, International Spectator, European Urban and Regional Studies, Sport in Society, and Nationalities Papers.