Anti-Ethnic Sentiments

 [Chelsea Bracci]

Anti-ethnic sentiment can be defined as a feeling of dislike or hatred directed towards a group of people sharing a common distinctive culture, religion, or language (Merriam Webster). Anti-ethnic sentiment, or ethnic hatred, refers specifically to aggression or hostility towards an ethnic group. However many terms are associated with Anti-Ethnic but are not synonymous, such as anti-national which refers to sentiments of hostility towards a particular state or other administrative entity (Merriam Webster). Racism and racial discrimination also differ from anti-ethnic sentiments in that racism is the “belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” (Merriam Webster). Anti-ethnic sentiments revolve around the political, economic, and social interactions of races rather than genetic traits. Antisemitic and anti-ethnic are used interchangeably at times in reference to hatred towards Jews, but there has been a continuous debate on whether the Jews should be equated with an ethnic group (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). In 2005 United States government issued the Report on Global Anti-Semitism in which Anti-Semitism is defined as “hatred toward Jews—individually and as a group—that can be attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity” (Report on Global Antisemitism)

In the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania anti-ethnic sentiments emerged due to two forces. First, after being occupied, invaded, and controlled by Germany and Soviet Russia, the Baltic States directed their anger, distrust, and resentment that they felt towards Germany and Soviet Russia at the German and Russian speakers living within the Baltic States. Russian and German Speakers were often depicted as an aggressor to the ethnic Balts. Secondly, these anti-ethnic sentiments were strengthened by the increasing pro-Baltic nationalism present during the period of Baltic independence from 1918 to 1940. Together the gap between “other” and “Baltic” grew to the point that it created a chasm in culture and political society. This chasm continued to grow while the Baltic States were members of the USSR and after it was dissolved.

In 1989 the Baltic States were once again granted independence resulting in the reassertion of Baltic languages, culture, and heritage. Language specifically had played an important role in Baltic history and the preservation of national traditions was considered by these newly formed governments to be of the highest importance. Along with this need to protect Baltic heritage emerged the question of how to deal with the large Russian immigrant population that had entered the Baltic States during Soviet occupation. Many immigrants experienced resentment and discrimination, specifically Russian-speakers, at the hands of Baltic nationals.

As a result of the Soviet deportations and the flow of Russian immigrants into the Baltics, Estonia and Latvia had large immigrant populations which were perceived as a threat to the native language and culture of the state. In 1989 barely half of Latvia’s population was “Latvian” while just over three fifths of Estonia’s population was “Estonian” (Clemens). Post-Soviet Latvia created a new legal framework that deliberately excluded many individuals from becoming citizens. Many people who were not ethnically Latvian, but had been permanent residents since before the Soviet occupation, went through a much easier process for gaining citizenship similar to that of ethnic Latvians. However those residents who entered Latvia during the fifty years of Soviet rule underwent rigorous examinations as part of the naturalization process. Even Russian children born in Latvia had to go through a naturalization process to receive full citizenship rights if their parents were not ethnic Latvians (Lottmann).

By contrast, Lithuania was still four-fifths “Lithuanian” in 1989, resulting in a more tolerant approach to deciding who should receive citizenship rights in the new state. Like Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania also reached back to pre-Soviet law to determine who would have their citizenship reinstated and who would be eligible to apply for naturalization. However the process of naturalization was much less rigorous in Lithuania than in the other two states. A simpler naturalization process, which allowed Russian speakers and other long-term residents to naturalize quickly and easily, did not pose the same threat to Lithuanian culture as it did in Latvia or Estonia. Anti-Ethnic sentiments did exist within Lithuania as they did in Latvia and Estonia, but the Lithuanian government did not have a reason to restrict the rights of ethnic Russians and other ethnic groups through a strict citizenship process because the immigrant population posed less of a threat in Lithuania.

During the 1980’s the unrest in the Baltic States led many people to believe that a real uprising against Soviet power was possible. The escalation of mass public demonstrations demanding independence across the Baltic States led to the fear that these public displays of discontent could turn extremely violent. However Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania did not experience the scale of political violence fueled by anti-ethnic sentiments that broke out across such areas as Yugoslavia. In the former Yugoslavia more than one hundred thousand civilians and soldiers died, more than a million people were displaced, and thousands of others fled abroad to escape the ethnic cleansing (Clemens). However the anti-ethnic policies and political violence did not rid the Baltics of Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, and other ethnic groups. Rather large populations of stateless people were created within these Baltic countries, many of whom considered the Baltics their home (Lottmann).

Anti-ethnic sentiments are still present in the Baltic States. In Lithuania fifteen hundred citizens were stripped of their Lithuanian passports in 2008 and Polish and Russian street names were replaced with Lithuanian ones by the Vilnius region administration. In Lithuania there has been an increase in the number of reports of hate speech against Roma, Jews, and other immigrant groups. Many attribute the rise in instances of hate speech to new forms of electronic communication. Estonia as well is still struggling with disputes over citizenship, language rights, and minority education. In 2007 mounting tension between Estonians and Russians came to a head when Estonia moved a Red Army memorial from the center of Tallinn to the outskirts. This triggered demonstrations by Russian-speakers and led to days of cyber-war attacks on Estonian computer networks. Following the attack, the Estonian government increased efforts by the government to integrate minorities and create programs that would proactively reduce the tensions between native Estonians and immigrant groups (Lottmann).


Works Cited

  • Annelies Lottmann, No Direction Home: Nationalism and Statelessness in the Baltics (Texas International Law Journal, 2008),%202008
  • Mara Lazda, Reconsidering Nationalism: The Baltic Case of Latvia in 1989 (Eugene Lang College, 2009)
  • Merriam-Webster:
  • Report on Global Anti-Semitism (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2005).
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia: Antisemitism (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011).
  • Walter C. Clemens Jr., Ethnic Peace, Ethnic Conflict: Complexity Theory on Why the Baltic is not the Balkans (Boston University, 2010)