United in Diversity? European Identity and Ethnicity in Latvia

Academic Article

Abstract: European identity usually is considered in the context of other collective identities with a geographic reference – those that are regional, national and global. This focus disregards other potentially important collective identities including the relationship between European identity and ethnic belonging. In particular, little attention has been paid to ethnic-minority and non-European- ethnic groups, whose members may be becoming the new “others” in the project of European identity-building. This article explores the relationship between European belonging and ethnicity in Latvia. It compares ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians, who are historically the largest non-European minority group within all the new European Union (EU) member states.


The academic debate about what European identity is and what it entails dates back to 1973 when the European community adopted the Declaration on European Identity (Kohli 2000; Kraus 2008). Despite more than 30 years of scholarship, there is little consensus on what exactly European identity is, and the discussion about it has mainly been a conceptual debate substantiated by little empirical evidence. In fact, only in the last decade have aspects of European identity become subjects of empirical scrutiny. One of these new aspects is the focus of this article: the relationship between European identity and other collective identities.

By using Latvia as a case study, this article demonstrates that conventional approaches that consider European identity only in association with identities of geographic reference are too narrow. They disregard other collective identities that may cause intra-national variety in European belonging. In particular, ethnic identity can have an important influence on identification with Europe, but evidence about this relationship is scarce.

To fill this gap in current research, the present article addresses two main questions. First, what are the ethnic differences with regard to European attachments in Latvia? Second, and more generally, what is the place of European identity among other collective identities? To shed light on these questions, a secondary analysis of three quantitative surveys covering the time period between 1993 and 2010 is carried out. In this paper, European identity refers to the self-identification and feeling of attachment to Europe or the EU. It is not possible to deduce from the survey data whether the respondents have replied about their identification with the EU (a political unit) or Europe (a geographical or cultural entity). The two understandings therefore will not be distinguished.

The first section of this article offers an overview of the literature on European identity and its relationship with national, regional and cosmopolitan identities. This overview shows that other collective identities ­– for example, ethnic identity – need to be considered as well. The next section, which is specifically about Latvia, presents evidence demonstrating that there are differences in identification with Europe between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russian inhabitants in Latvia (even if existing studies offer contradictory insights). Following a brief description of the three surveys used for this paper’s quantitative analysis, the results section explores the ethnic differences in the sense of European belonging and the place of European identity among other collective identities. The analysis shows that the differences in identification with Europe between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians may be explained by their differences with regard to national identity. For ethnic Russians in Latvia, belonging to Europe is often an alternative to national attachment, whereas for the ethnic Latvians, it is closeness to Latvia that furthers the attachment to Europe.

European Identity among Other Identities

Despite the many disagreements over the definition of European identity, there is at least consensus that European identity is a collective identity – that is, a shared representation of a collective self (Herrmann & Brewer 2004: 6). What exactly are those shared characteristics of the “European” collective? These have not been clearly established. Most conceptual approaches perceive European identity either as a political or cultural identity, taken to signify either belonging to the European Union or belonging to the European peoples and cultures (Risse 2004: 256). In an empirical analysis, it can be difficult to separate and distinguish between the two understandings of European identity, especially with regard to the meanings and understandings for the survey respondents or, to a lesser extent, interview partners when speaking about European identity.

The focus of this article is on the relationship between European identity and other identities, specifically on whether other collective identifications are competing against, compatible with or even conducive to identification with Europe. For example, does a strong national identity exclude an equally strong attachment to Europe? Or can a strong national belonging lead to a stronger feeling of belonging to Europe?

The fact that collective identities are plural and compatible with one another is generally accepted in studies of European identity

Questions like these that concern collective identities and their competition or compatibility with European identity have been widely debated for some time, but they have gained prominence in explorative, empirical studies of European identity only in the last decade. Before that, the majority of studies about European identity paid disproportionate attention to the European identity-building agendas of national and European institutions, most commonly analysed via legislative initiatives or parliamentary debates. When the public’s identification with Europe was analysed, the main source of data was the Eurobarometer public opinion surveys, which offer limited information on matters of identity (Citrin, Strides 2004, Deutsch 2006, Karolewski 2006).

The recognition that such studies have severe limitations when it comes to accounting for everyday expressions of European belonging has led to a rise of empirical studies about European identity. In addition to the new studies, there are large international research projects funded by European Union institutions (ENRI-East 2012; Meinhof, Galasinski 2000; PIONEUR 2006). These empirical studies generally focus on specific groups in society as opposed to populations at large. In line with socialization models of identity change, and while recognizing that social interactions are a medium for identity change, particular attention has been paid to groups such as national elites (Laffan 2004; Suszycki 2006; Wodak 2004), border populations (Meinhof, Galasinski 2000), intra-European migrants (PIONEUR 2006) and the young and highly-educated (Bruter 2004; Jamieson, Wallace, Condor, Boehnke, Ros, Grad, Machacek & Bianchi 2005).

The fact that collective identities are plural and compatible with one another is generally accepted in studies of European identity (Harrie 2006; Herrmann, Brewer 2004; Smith 2000). When the relationship between European identity and other collective identities is considered, European identity usually is compared with identities of geographic reference: the regional, national and global levels of belonging. This approach follows the logic of typical survey questions that compare the strength of belonging to different levels of geographical entities.

The most attention has been paid to the relationship between national and European identity. In conceptual debates, European identity is linked to EU citizenship (Jacobs, Maier 1998), which in turn is connected to national citizenship; all citizens of each EU member state are automatically European citizens. Thus, national belonging is directly linked with European belonging. European identity combines the retention of national cultures and the recognition of shared traditions and heritages between the European nations (Smith 2000: 334). Although national identity seems to be compatible with and even conducive to European identity, empirical data have repeatedly shown that national belonging is by far the stronger of the two. There is some evidence that high identification with Europe can be associated with high identification with one’s nation (Jamieson et al. 2005: 19). Yet, as shown by elite studies by Thomas Risse, in certain contexts the two identities can conflict. Even individuals for whom both belongings are strong may be put into a position when they must choose between their attachment to Europe and their nations (Risse 2004: 248).

Another factor considered in the research about European identity is regional identities. Among the identities studied in relation to European identity, this is the only grouping that relates to intra-national variety with regard to Europe. However, up to now only regions that have strong identities in combination with strained relationships to the states have been analysed – for example, the Scots,  Basques or Catalans. A research project about youth orientations to European identity, which explored two localities in each country of study, showed that strong regional attachments do not increase the attachment to Europe. However, there is evidence that people in regions with strong local identities show different identity configurations with regard to European identity than those in similar localities in the same countries (Jamieson et al. 2005).

A third aspect of European identity covered in the literature is cosmopolitan identity. According to the European Values Survey, in the three waves of surveys done between 1981 and 1999, slightly more people see themselves as world citizens than as citizens of the EU. (Calculations are based on data from the World Values Survey 2011.) Martin Kohli offers one possible explanation for this phenomena. He argues that positive ideals associated with Europe, such as democracy and human rights, are universal in substance, and thus identifying with them lends no basis for constructing boundaries between in- and out-groups (Kohli 2000: 129).

Overall, the focus on identities of geographical reference as competing with or being conducive to European identity can be seen as rather narrow. This focus disregards many other collective identities that may contribute to intra-national variety in European identification – for instance, identities based on gender, class or religion. Little attention has been paid to ethnic minority and non-citizen groups as well. Every collective identity has boundaries that delineate the in-group from the out-groups; that is, people who belong to this shared identity and those who do not. There is evidence that in the process of constructing a European identity, which is to say a common “we” that constitutes all the European nations, the non-European minorities residing in the EU are becoming the out-group (Smith 2000: 333). For example, the right to live and work anywhere in the EU is a fundamental component of European identity (Jamieson et al. 2005), but this right does not extend to non-EU nationals– immigrants.

There is a poverty of information about how this impacts the views and identifications of the minorities excluded from the community of Europeans. Ethnic differences in feelings of European identity occasionally are described in separate national reports by the Eurobarometer, but no general conclusions have been made. Meanwhile, studies that have focused on European identity of ethnic minorities (ENRI-East 2012) do not make comparisons with the ethnic majorities of the EU countries under study. The fact that ethnic identity is one of the most dominant collective identities, especially in plural societies, has been well established (Sanders 2002), yet the general tendency to contrast European with geographically-based identities has left this field of study largely unconsidered. In order to fill this research gap, this article takes a deeper look at the place of European identity among other, non-territorial collective identities and ethnic identities in particular.

Ethnicity and European Identity in Latvia

The country chosen for the analysis of European identity and ethnicity is Latvia, a former Soviet Republic that became independent in 1991 and joined the EU in 2004. There are two main reasons why Latvia is a good case for exploring the relationship between European identity and ethnicity. First, Latvia is located on the borders of Europe and thus fits the approach commonly used in identity studies, which examine identity in the outer borders of a chosen location (Donnan, Wilson 1999; Meinhof, Galasinski 2000). Secondly, Latvia has one of the largest, historically non-European minority groups in the EU. Ethnic Russians constitute 27% of the population (CSB 2011).

Latvia has continued to follow the practice established by the Soviet Union of indicating the “nationality” (in other words, the ethnic group) of its residents.

Latvia is a multi-ethnic country where ethnicity is in important source of identification. Latvia has continued to follow the practice established by the Soviet Union of indicating the “nationality” (in other words, the ethnic group[1]) of its residents. This information is recorded in official registries as well as marked in all passports issued by the Republic of Latvia[2]. As a consequence, the residents of Latvia have a relatively rigid ethnic self-definition. In surveys and interviews, they regularly refer to their “passport nationality”. According to official statistics, as of 2011, 60% of the roughly 2m inhabitants are ethnic Latvian. As previously mentioned, the second-largest group – at 27% of the total population – is ethnic Russian. Each of the other ethnic groups constitute less than 4% of the population; the largest are Belorussians (3.5%), Ukrainians (2.4%), Poles (2.3%) and Lithuanians (1.3%) (CSB 2011). The other ethnic-minority groups are comparatively small and predominantly speak Russian. For this reason, social-science researchers – especially those who conduct surveys like the New Baltic Barometer – often lump these groups together with the ethnic Russians in the broader category of “Russian speakers”, effectively dividing the population of Latvia into two groups: Latvian and Russian speakers.

The majority of the ethnic Russian population in Latvia consists of immigrants from the Soviet period as well as their descendants. The Soviet policies of industrial development promoted large immigration and significantly changed the ethnic proportions of all three Baltic countries. Latvia experienced the most-extreme case of Sovietisation through immigration; the proportion of ethnic Russians in Latvia rose from 11% in 1926 to 34% in 1989 (Chinn, Kaiser 1996: 81). By 1989, Latvians had become minorities in the seven largest cities of the country (Melvin 1995: 31).

When Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviet-era immigrants and their children did not receive automatic Latvian citizenship. This decision left approximately 600,000 people in a vaguely defined status until 1995, when naturalisation procedures were enacted. The overall speed of naturalisation has been slow, despite incentives such as the simplification of naturalisation procedures and programs for Latvian language-learning. In 2011, there were still 325,845 non-citizens, constituting almost 15% of Latvia’s population (Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs 2012).

Social relations between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians have been largely peaceful. There is little territorial segregation between the ethnic groups (Zepa, Šūpule, Kļave, Krastiņa, Krišāne, Tomsone 2005). Survey studies have found no statistically-significant differences between citizens and non-citizens with regard to integration in the labour force, civil-society participation, social inclusion or poverty levels (Aasland 2002). Similarly, no statistically significant differences by ethnicity or citizenship have been found with regard to the fairness of treatment by state institutions and state services (Galbreath, Rose 2008).

According to researcher Daniel Kronenfeld, who has analysed the relationship between inter-ethnic conflict and identity convergence in Latvia, ethnic Russians increasingly identify themselves as inhabitants of the Latvian state. He found their Latvian language skills are improving and inter-ethnic marriage rates are high. Although these trends suggest a rising level of ethnic integration, assimilation by ethnic Russians is not taking place (Kronenfeld 2005). The two main ethnic groups in Latvia have moved closer over the last two decades, but ethno-political issues such as language and citizenship still have the power to polarise Latvian society. This was clearly illustrated by a February 2012 referendum on granting Russian the status of “official language”. The referendum had record-high voter turnout, with 71% of those eligible to vote taking part[3] (CVK 2012). Voter turnout was higher only once, during the first parliamentary elections in 1993 after Latvia regained independence; they attracted 90% of eligible voters (CVK 2010).

Latvia joined the EU in 2004 and has been a member for eight years. However, the accession process that Latvia underwent in order to join the EU – as well as the discourse surrounding it – impacted its attitudes and feelings towards the EU and Europe long before the country gained official membership. The restoration of independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was seen as a “return to Europe” for the Baltic countries (see Raun 2009). Much more stress was put on the European legacy than the more-recent Soviet heritage. Other important steps for the Baltic countries to regain places in Europe included joining the European Council, the EU and NATO. Moreover, by joining these international organisations, Latvia could insure itself against Russian interference and thus secure its national independence (Pabriks, Purs 2002).

Membership in these international organisations came with conditions. In addition to various economic and political reforms, Latvia had to improve its ethnic-minority and non-citizenship legislation. For instance, getting on the fast track to the EU required satisfying requests by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) mission in Latvia. The mission was set up in 1993 with the goal to observe and assist the Latvian government with citizenship and minority-rights issues. OSCE continued its work until 2001. The Latvian government was strongly advised to modify naturalisation procedures by making them easier and more accessible (Galbreath 2006).

All the while, Russia also was attempting to use EU accession talks to influence the status of Russian speakers in Latvia (Galbreath, McEvoy 2010). In essence, the OSCE, the EU and Russia were all trying to protect Latvia’s minority and non-citizen interests, albeit in different ways. As a result, local ethnic minorities were becoming distant from the Latvian state, whereas ethnic Latvians often saw pressure by international organisations as a threat to their ethnic identity (Budryte 2005). Since Latvian ethnic identity is closely tied to national identity, international integration may have had a two-sided effect on European attachment among ethnic Latvians. According to Merje Kuss, who has examined the duality of national identity and international integration, international integration on the one hand was seen as a security measure against the Russian threat and thus conducive to preserving national identity. On the other hand, the supra-national institutions pressured Latvia to naturalise Russian-speaking residents, a part of the population often seen as representative of the Russian threat and dangerous to national identity (Kuus 2002). As for the ethnic Russians, the perception of international organisations as the protector of their interests, in combination with a feeling of alienation from the Latvian government, may have been conducive to a stronger attachment to Europe.

With respect to the empirical evidence about ethnic differences in European attachments in Latvia, not much information is available and existing studies are contradictory. One EU-funded research project, “Interplay of European, National and Regional Identities” (ENRI-East 2012), focuses only on ethnic minority groups and does not allow them to be compared with the ethnic majority. Eurostat surveys have asked about belonging to Europe, but the last year that the data were broken down based on ethnicity and citizenship was 2004. Respondents in Latvia had to choose between belonging to (1) just Europe, (2) Latvia and Europe or (3) just Latvia. In 2004, ethnic Latvians felt more closely tied to just Latvia (52%) or Latvia and Europe (44%). Only 2% said that they are “just European”. Non-Latvian and non-citizen respondents were much more likely to say that they are “just European” (17% and 22%), or they could not fit themselves into any of the categories (16% and 23%) (European Commission 2004).

A more-recent study by Makarovs and Strode in 2011 about the attitude of Latvia’s inhabitants towards EU citizenship posed the question differently: “How much do you feel like an EU citizen in daily life?” The results of this study showed that 30% of citizens and 19% of non-citizens answered that they feel like EU citizens (2011: 4). Overall, the study found that the attitude towards EU citizenship was not influenced by ethnicity or native tongue. However, citizenship status proved to be significant, with non-citizens more sceptical towards the EU. The results of this study contradict the previously described Eurobarometer survey, which showed that ethnic Russians in Latvia had considerably higher European attachments than ethnic Latvians. In the following sections of this paper, I will look at more empirical evidence in an attempt to untangle the conceptual and empirical contradictions of the relationship between European and ethnic belonging in Latvia.

Data and Methodology

To explore the relationship between ethnicity, European identity and the place of European identity among other collective identities, I carried out a secondary data analysis of three surveys. The existing empirical data relevant to this paper’s two research questions are contradictive and thus insufficient to the formulation of a specific hypothesis. I have therefore chosen to do an exploratory quantitative analysis with the goal of finding the most-important connections in the data.

The three surveys used in the analysis are the New Baltic Barometer (NBB) Wave I, the NBB Wave VI and the national identity survey by the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences (BISS). Together these three surveys cover the time period from 1993 to 2010 and provide information about the main collective identifications in the Baltic states over the last 17 years.

Table 1. Sources of Data

Year Survey Institution Sample size
1993 New Baltic Barometer University of Strathclyde, Centre for the Study of Public Policy  2 000
2004 New Baltic Barometer University of Strathclyde, Centre for the Study of Public Policy    956
2010 National identity survey The Baltic Institute of Social Sciences  1 004

The surveys have been carried out by different institutions, and even the NBB surveys from 1993 and 2004 have notable differences between them. This makes the comparability of the survey items an issue and restricts the scope of analysis. The chief difficulty for recording answers was posed by the different approaches taken by the NBB and the BISS surveys when inquiring about self-identification. The NBB asked respondents to name two identity categories that are the most important for them from among several choices (10 options in the 1993 survey, seven options in 2004). The Baltic Institute of Social Sciences, however, asked about the strength of attachment to seven different entities.

The NBB data are used to illustrate the development of identifications over the first decade of independence. Answers to two survey questions are analysed: (1) Which of the mentioned categories best describes how you feel yourself primarily? (2) And secondarily? (See table 4 for answer options.)

A more in-depth analysis of European identity among other identities and the impact of ethnicity is done using the BISS data. Two questions from this survey are relevant:

  • How closely tied do you feel to (1) your closest surroundings, (2) your city, (3) your region, (4) Latvia, (5) Russia, (6) Baltic states, (7) Europe?
  • About which of the mentioned groups can you say that you feel a certain belonging to the extent that you could refer to them as “us”? (The answers combine national, ethno-linguistic, economic-status and kin groups. See Table 6 for the full )

While the first question is in line with the dominant trend of putting European identity alongside other identifications of geographical reference, the second question allows for a more in-depth exploration of European identity next to linguistic and socio-economic identities.


To begin with, let us briefly look at the main identifications of the two largest ethnic groups in Latvia during the first years following independence. The results of the NBB questions about the primary and secondary identification can be seen in Table 2 and Table 3. “Latvian” and “Russian” here refer to the language of interview,[4] which the NBB surveys use as a proxy for the respondents’ ethnicity. Although this division is not entirely precise and “Russian” also includes other ethnicities, the survey data do not offer a better alternative for distinguishing the groups.

Table 2. Primary Identification by Language of Interview, NBB 1993 and 2004 (%)

  Latvian Russian
1993 2004 1993 2004
City/locality 17.0 28.6 45.7 41.1
Region 11.4 6.0 4.7 7.3
Latvia 64.8 59.6 2.9 5.2
Europe 1.2 1.0 2.4 1.8
Russia 0.7 2.3 29.0 35.6
Other post-Soviet 0.3 0.3 7.2 4.2
Other 2.3 1.5 6.1 2.6
NA/Missing 2.3 0.8 2.0 2.1
Total 100 100 100 100

Latvian: 1993 N=977; 2004 N=617; Russian: 1993 N=980; 2004 N=383

Table 3. Secondary Identification by Language of Interview, NBB 1993 and 2004 (%)

  Latvian Russian
1993 2004 1993 2004
City/locality 38.4 41.9 36.5 36.4
Region 20.0 17.5 6.7 16.5
Latvia 31.3 24.5 2.1 7.1
Europe 3.4 7.8 5.1 4.5
Russia 0.3 1.5 29.0 23.6
Other post-Soviet 0.3 0.5 8.1 2.4
Other 1.5 1.0 5.0 2.1
NA/Missing 4.8 5.4 7.5 7.6
Total 100 100 100 100

Latvian: 1993 N=977; 2004 N=617; Russian: 1993 N=980; 2004 N=383

For both years and both questions, there is a statistically significant difference between the answers of Latvians and Russians. For Latvians, identification with Latvia is by far most important, followed by identification with a city and then the region. For Russians, city identification is the most important, followed by identification with Russia.

Identification with Europe is not among the most important identities or particularly high for either group. However, interesting differences between Latvians and Russians can be noted. Russian-speaking respondents were more likely to choose Europe as the primary identification in both years and more likely to have chosen it as a secondary identification in 1993. Yet, while the identification with Europe has slightly decreased for Russians (from 2.4% to 1.8% as the primary identification), it increased for Latvians as a secondary identification (to 7.8% in 2004). This increase has happened alongside a decreasing identification with Latvia as the primary and secondary belonging (from 64.8% to 59.6% as the primary identification and from 31.3% to 24.5% as the secondary identification).

Now let us move on to a more-detailed analysis of the 2010 BISS survey. When asked about closeness to seven geographic entities, respondents replied about their strength of attachment to seven categories. (See table 4.) Unsurprisingly, the proportion of respondents feeling close to city, region, Latvia and Europe are higher than those of the NBB survey – part of the reason being that respondents did not have to choose only two categories. The exception is closeness to Russia for Russian-speaking respondents. Even though they were not forced to choose, only 33% said that they feel “close” or “very close” to Russia.

Table 4. FeelingVery CloseorCloseto Different Geographic Entities by Ethnicity (%)

Ethnicity Nearest location City Region Latvia Russia Baltic states Europe
Latvian 75.2 82.7 69.6 82.8 3.6 19.9 21.2
Russian 71.0 79.3 60.4 71.9 32.8 20.2 20.6
Both ethnicities 73.6 81.3 67.1 79.0 14.0 20.0 21.0

Latvian N=580, Russian N=320 (except city Latvian N=353, Russian N=261, region Latvian N=448, Russian N=169)[5]

When looking at the results for both ethnic groups, it is clear that the European, supra-national belonging is weaker than all the local attachments. However, in contrast to the NBB surveys of the years before, when both ethnic groups are taken together in 2010, more people felt close to Europe than Russia (21% versus 14% respondents). In the NBB surveys, the language of interview was statistically significant for the identifications chosen. The BISS survey, having separated the identity categories, allows for the exploration of statistically significant relationships for each separate identity. After examining the correlates for the identities, it becomes clear that the language of the interview as well as ethnicity are statistically significant only for closeness to Latvia and Russia. In turn, citizenship status is statistically significant for closeness to Russia and to Europe. This is in line with the conclusion of Makarovs and Strode (2011), who argue that, when it comes to European belonging, citizenship is the most important factor.

Next, we focus on the relationship between European identity and other identities. The results reviewed up until now have showed that attachment to Europe is not among the most important forms of belonging in Latvia. It is secondary to national attachments. According to the categories in Table 4, closeness to Europe highly correlates with closeness to the Baltic states, showing that these two types of supra-national attachment are concurrent. More information about the place of European identity among other collective identities can be gained from the BISS survey question on self-references and the groups named in the survey that respondents refer to as “us”. (See table 6.)

Table 6. Groups that Respondents Refer to as “Us” (%)

Group % Group %
Latvians 56 Ordinary working people 28
Russians in Latvia 35 People who are well-off 5
Russians in Russia 12 People living in economic diff. 12
Ukrainians, Belarussians, Poles etc. ethnicities living in Latvia 16 People of my generation 39
All citizens of Latvia 34 People of my faith 19
Non-citizens of Latvia 17 People who know how to protect their interests 19
Europeans 13 People who are responsible towards the state 18
Colleagues, people of my profession 35 Latvian-speakers across the world 19
Classmates, course mates 38 Russian-speakers across the world 11
Friends 72 People of culture across the world 10
Relatives/family 81 People of my culture and traditions 25


The 22 categories are very different. They range from kin to world-scale cultural ties and from groups based on ethno-linguistics to economic status. To understand the underlying structure of this variety of categories, I applied an analysis technique called “multidimensional scaling” (MDS). An exploratory statistical procedure, MDS is an alternative to factor analysis. MDS gives a visual representation of similarities (and dissimilarities) in the input data. In doing this, MDS allows for the detection of underlying dimensions and structure of the data. Among the main advantages of MDS is the richness of the interpretation of the results as these can be done both via interpreting the dimensions (“dimensional interpretation”) and the configuration of the points in the matrix (“regional interpretation”) (Dickes, Fusco, Marlier 2010: 151).

To use a common example, if the input data were a matrix of distances between different cities, the MDS output would show a spatial map of relative locations of these cities. In this case, the emergent dimensions would be of geographical direction: one corresponding to  north-south, the other to east-west (Jaworska, Chupetlovska-Anastasova 2009). The results of the MDS analysis of the identity categories are in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Underlying Structure of Identity Categories[6]

The two dimensions that the MDS model highlights as the structure of the identity categories are fairly straightforward to interpret. One dimension depicts the frequency that each particular self-reference was chosen by the respondents (in other words, the importance of each identity category to the majority of the respondents). The second dimension is ethnicity. Seeing oneself as Latvian or Russian in Latvia are the two end points of this dimension. Neither Latvian nor Russian self-references cluster together with any of the other identity categories. Latvian appears as the stronger of the two on the first dimension, partly because the majority of the survey respondents (65%) were ethnically Latvian. Therefore, the number of respondents who chose this particular self-reference was higher.

In the MDS model, there are five distinct clusters of identities:

  • Family, friends;
  • Colleagues, course mates, generation;
  • Russians in Russia, Russian speakers across the world, non-citizens, other ethnicities in Latvia;
  • People who know how to protect their interests, people of one’s religion, people of one’s culture and traditions and
  • Europeans, people of culture across the world, people who are well-off.

How does the dimension of ethnicity relate to the European self-reference? As a reminder, in the previous question on attachment to geographic entities, 21% of the respondents claimed to feel close to Europe, and there was no significant difference between the ethnic Latvian and the ethnic Russian respondents. The answers to the question on calling oneself European are slightly different. Only 13% of the total respondents would say “we” to Europeans. Ethnic Russians have chosen this answer more often,16%, versus 11% for ethnic Latvians. However, this difference is not statistically significant.

In the 2010 survey, in which the respondents were not forced to choose the most important identities, 21% of both ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians replied that they feel “close” or “very close” to Europe. Yet, when asked whether they would refer to Europeans as “us”, only 16% of ethnic Russians and 11% of ethnic Latvians gave a positive answer.

Until this point of the article, the analysis has used several terms to analyse European identity: closeness to Europe, European belonging, identification with Europe and European self-definition. All of these are encompassed in the concept “European identity”, yet none of them can capture what European identity alone means. In each case, the use of a certain term depends on the wording of the survey item analysed. Thus, results need to be interpreted with caution. As the comparison of the three questions in this section showed, the answers can be quite different when people (1) need to choose two attachments that are most important to them, (2) reply about their closeness to geographic entities or (3) choose which groups they identify with. Thus, no single question can conclusively describe European identity in a country.

When asked to choose their primary and secondary identification in 1993 and 2004, ethnic Russian respondents in Latvia were slightly more likely to identify with Europe than ethnic Latvians. However, the overall level of identification was very low. Identification with Europe peaked at 7.8% in 2004, and that was as a secondary identification. In the 2010 survey, in which the respondents were not forced to choose the most important identities, 21% of both ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians replied that they feel “close” or “very close” to Europe. Yet, when asked whether they would refer to Europeans as “us”, only 16% of ethnic Russians and 11% of ethnic Latvians gave a positive answer.


In this article, two research questions were asked. The first question was: Are there differences with regard to European attachments between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians in Latvia? As noted in the literature review, non-European minorities are often excluded in the process of building a European identity (Smith 2000). In Latvia, however, this does not seem to be the case. Especially in the first decade of Latvia’s independence, ethnic Russians – despite retaining strong attachments to Russia – expressed feeling more European than did ethnic Latvians. A possible explanation for this observation is that, while the early 1990s were a period of national revival for Latvians and national identity was particularly strong (Pabriks, Purs 2002), local ethnic minorities were excluded from the nation-building process. When the Soviet Union – with which many of the minorities had strongly identified (Melvin 1995) – had broken down and the Latvian state was protecting ethnic Latvian interests, the EU became a protector of the rights and interests of the ethnic minorities. In turn, Europe became a source for an alternative, non-national identification.

The described ethnic differences in belonging to Europe can be explained at least partially by differences with regard to national identity between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians.

For the ethnic Russians in Latvia, it seems to be the lack of strong national identification that furthers their attachment to Europe. For the ethnic Latvians, however, the indications are two-fold. On the one hand, according to survey results, Latvians are becoming slightly less attached to their national homeland and becoming more open to supra-national identities. Hence, it is likely that some competition between European and national belonging exists. However, if one studies the answers to the 2010 survey question about closeness to different locations, closeness to Europe coincides with closeness to Latvia. In turn, this indicates at least compatibility if not a causal relationship between the two identities, at least for the ethnic Latvian population.

The second question posed in this article was: What is the place of European identity among other collective identities? In terms of geography, closeness to Europe is correlated only with closeness to the Baltics – another supra-national belonging. Yet, neither of the two identities is felt by more than one-fifth of the population. Combined with other self-references, seeing oneself as a European clusters together with the self-references “people of culture across the world” and “people who are well-off”. These two identifications position feeling European as an elite phenomenon, because it is positioned closest to economic well-being and “cultured-ness”. This interesting result illustrates how the narrow focus of inquiring about European identity solely alongside identities of geographic reference is missing other potentially important aspects of European identity.

Looking for answers to the research questions showed that the answer may often depend on how the question is asked. For example, as the 2010 survey results showed, the respondents were more likely to say that they feel close to Europe geographically than to call themselves European. Thus, survey analysis of identity in general and European identity in particular needs to include questions concerning different aspects of the identity that is studied. No single question can give an accurate portrait of what European identity is and how it relates to other collective identities.


Aasland, (2002), “Citizenship Status and Social Exclusion in Estonia and Latvia”, Journal of Baltic Studies 33(1): 57-77.

Bruter, (2004), Civic and Cultural Components of a European Identity: A Pilot Model of Measurement of Citizens’ Levels of European Identity. In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 186-213.

Budryte, (2005), Taming Nationalism? Political Community Building in the Post-Soviet Baltic States, Ashgate, Aldershot.

Central Election Commission (CVK) (2010), 5. Saeimas vēlēšanas [5th Parliamentary Elections], <http://web.cvk.lv/pub/public/27483.html>, accessed 19 June 2012.

Central Election Commission (CVK) (2012), Referendum on the Draft Law “Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, <http://web.cvk.lv/pub/public/30287.html>, accessed 19 June 2012.

Central Statistics Bureau (CSB) (2011), Inhabitants of Latvia, composition by nationality, <http://data.csb.gov.lv/DATABASE/Iedzsoc/Ikgad percentC4 percent93jie percent20statistikas percent20dati/Iedz percentC4 percentABvot percentC4 percent81ji/Iedz percentC4 percentABvot percentC4 percent81ji.asp>, accessed 11 March

Chinn, & Kaiser, R. (1996), Russians as the New Minority: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Soviet Successor States, Westview Press, Boulder.

Citrin, & Sides, J. (2004), More than Nationals: How Identity Choice Matters in the New Europe. In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 161-185.

Deutsch, (2006), Legitimacy and Identity in the European Union: Empirical Findings from the Old Member States. In: Karolewski, I. P. & Kaina, V. (Eds.) European Identity: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights, LIT, Münster, pp. 149-178.

Dickes, P., Fusco, A. & Marlier E. (2010), “Structure of National Perceptions of Social Needs across EU Countries”, Social Indicators Research 95(1): 143-167.

Donnan, &Wilson, T. M. (1999), Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State, Berg, Oxford.

ENRI-East (2012), Interplay of European, National and Regional Identities: Nations between States along the New Eastern Borders of the European Project results, <http://www.enri-east.net/project-results/en/>, accessed 11 May 2012.

European Commission (2004), Standard Eurobarometer 61, <http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb61/eb61_en.htm>, accessed 3 March 2012.

Galbreath, J. (2006), “European Integration through Democratic Conditionality: Latvia in the Context of Minority Rights”, Journal of Contemporary European Studies 14(1): 69-87.

Galbreath, J. & McEvoy, J. (2010), “European Integration and the Geopolitics of National Minorities”, Ethnopolitics 9(3-4): 357-377.

Galbreath, J. & Rose, R. (2008), “Fair Treatment in a Divided Society: a Bottom-up Assessment of Bureaucratic Encounters in Latvia”, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 21 (1): 53-73.

G. (2006), European Identity – Implications from the Social Theory of Norbert Elias. In: Karolewski, I. P. & Kaina, V. (Eds.) European Identity: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights, LIT, Münster, pp. 59-90.

Herrmann, & Brewer, M. B. (2004), Identities and Institutions: Becoming European in the EU. In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 1-24.

Jacobs, D. & Maier, R. (1998), European Identity: Construct, Fact and Fiction. In: Gastelaars, M. & de Ruijter, A. (Eds). A United Europe. The Quest for a Multifaceted Identity, Shaker, Maastricht, pp. 13-34.

Jamieson, Wallace, C., Condor, S., Boehnke, K., Ros, M., Grad, H., Machacek, L. & Bianchi, G. (2005). Orientations of Young Men and Women to Citizenship and European Identity. Final Report, <http://www.sociology.ed.ac.uk/youth/final_report.pdf>, accessed 5 November 2011.

Jaworska, N. & Chupetlovska-Anastasova, A. (2009), “A Review of Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) and its Utility in Various Psychological Domains”, Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology 5(1): 1-10.

Karolewski, P. (2006), Citizenship and Collective Identity in Europe. In: Karolewski, I. P. & Kaina, V. (Eds.) European Identity: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights, LIT, Münster, pp. 23-58.

Kohli, M. (2000), “The Battlegrounds of European Identity”, European Societies 2(2): 113-137.

Kraus, P.A. (2008), A union of Diversity. Language, Identity and Polity-building in Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kronenfeld, A. (2005), “The Effects of Interethnic Contact on Ethnic Identity: Evidence from Latvia”, Post-Soviet Affairs 21(3): 247–277.

Kuus, (2002), “Integration in Identity Narratives in Estonia: a Quest for Security”, Journal of Peace Research 39(1): 91-108.

Laffan, (2004), The European Union and Its Institutions as “Identity Builders”. In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 75-96.

Makarovs,V. & Strode, (2011), Latvijas iedzīvotāju attieksme pret ES un iespējas to mainīt [The Atittude of Latvia’s Inhabitants Towards the EU and the Possibilities to Change It], <http://s3.amazonaws.com/politika/public/article_files/1008/original/zinojums.pdf?1326744187> accessed 10 May 2012.

Meinhof, H. & Galasinski, D. (2000), Border Discourse: Changing Identities, Changing Nations, Changing Stories in European Border Communities. A ‘state-of-the-art’ report, <http://www.borderidentities.soton.ac.uk/pdfs/state percent20of percent20the percent20art percent20- percent20PART percent201.PDF>, accessed 17 October 2011.

Melvin, (1995), Russians Beyond Russia: The Politics of National Identity, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London.

Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (2012), Statistics: naturalization, <http://www.np.gov.lv/lv/statistika/Naturalizacija.html>, accessed 16 April

Pabriks, & Purs, A. (2002), Latvia: the Challenges of Change. In D. J. Smith, Pabriks A., Purs, A. & Lane, T. (Eds.), The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Routledge, London.

PIONEUR (2006), Pioneers of Europe’s Integration “from Below”: Mobility and the Emergence of European Identity among National and Foreign Citizens in the Executive Summary, <http://www.obets.ua.es/pioneur/difusion/PioneurExecutiveSummary.pdf>, accessed 19 March 2011.

Raun, U. (2009), “Estonia after 1991: Identity and Integration”, East European Politics and Societies 23(4): 526-534.

Risse, (2004), European Institutions and Identity Change: What Have We Learned? In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 247-272.

Saeima (2009), Law On the Change of a Given Name, Surname and Nationality Record, <http://www.vvc.gov.lv/export/sites/default/docs/LRTA/Likumi/On_the_Change_of_a_Given_Namex_Surname_and_Nationality_Record.doc>, accessed 05 June 2012.

Sanders, M. (2002), “Ethnic Boundaries and Identity in Plural Societies”, Annual Review of Sociology 28: 327-357.

Slezkine, Y. (1994), “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism”, Slavic Review 53(2): 414-452.

Smith, A. D. (2000), National Identity and the Idea of European Unity. In: Gowan, P. & Anderson, P. (Eds.) The Question of Europe, Verso, New York, pp. 318-342.

Suszycki, M. (2006), European Identity in Sweden. In: Karolewski, I. P. & Kaina, V. (Eds.) European Identity: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights, LIT, Münster, pp. 179-208.

Wodak, (2004), National and Transnational Identities: European and Other Identities Constructed in Interviews with EU Officials. In: Herrmann, R. K., Risse, T. & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU, Rowman, Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 97-128.

World Values Survey (2011), WVS Five Wave Aggregated File 1981-2005, <http://www.wvsevsdb.com/wvs/WVSData.jsp>, accessed 13 March

Zepa, , Šūpule, I., Kļave, E., Krastiņa, L., Krišāne, J. & Tomsone, I. (2005), Etnopolitiskā spriedze Latvijā: konflikta risinājuma meklējumi [Ethnopolitical Tension in Latvia: Search for Conflict Resolution], Baltic Institute of Social Sciences, Rīga.

[1] In Soviet terminology, “nationality” goes back to the ideology of Stalin, for whom nation was a community with common historical roots, language and culture, as well as its own territory (Slezkine 1994: 415-416). As this understanding does not include notions of citizenship or a sovereign state, the meaning of the Soviet term “nationality” is best understood as an ethnicity or ethic group.

[2] Nationality is determined by descent and can be changed only once in a lifetime and only if a person can supply documents that prove direct descent. In the case of mixed families, a person can choose between the nationalities of his or her parents (Saeima 2009).

[3] Twenty-five percent of voters were for and 75% against giving Russian the status of official language (CVK 2012).

[4] Common in Latvia, the survey took place in two languages that respondents could choose from: Latvian and Russian.

[5] Only city-dwellers had to answer to the “city” category. Inhabitants of Riga did not have answer the “region” category.

[6] Refer to Table 6 for the exact wording of identity categories.