Political Inequalities and the Formation of Russian Ethnic Minorities in Post-Soviet States (1993 – 2015)

Olena Oleksiyenko
PhD student at the Graduate School for Social Research
Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw)
Dissertation adviser: Kazimierz M. Slomczynski

This research is supported by the internal research grant of the Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

The main aim of this project is to analyze the patterns of electoral and non-electoral political participation in post-soviet states[1], namely, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, during the process of transformation with a special focus on differences between majority and the Russian-speaking minority populations of these countries. Minority status influences the political participation, but the nature of this influence is to a great extent context-specific and associated with state characteristics.

I use harmonized data from the European Social Survey, the European Values Study, the World Values Survey, the New Baltic Barometer, the Caucasus Barometer, and the Life in Transition Survey (time span: 1993-2015). Data harmonization allows to extend the scope of data beyond a single survey project and to obtain more precise estimates of political participation.

When empires break apart, new ethnic or linguistic minorities do not always appear as the result of the long-term migration processes, but as a result of the bureaucratic changes. An ethnic or linguistic majority group before the dissolution becomes a minority group as a result of changing borders and governments. Government actions facilitate the level of participation by laws and regulation toward minority groups. Discriminatory policies of the post-soviet elites might cause marginalization and create political inequalities.  The formation of ethnic or linguistic minorities can influence the form, duration and magnitude of their inequality in relation to majority groups. In the post-soviet states democratic transition rarely has positive influence on the minority groups, because governments of these states often choose to represent not nations, but citizens at the beginning of transformation with a shift to ethnic nationalism later on (Schopflin 1996).

Post-soviet scenery presents a great variety of the scope conditions for the political participation. There are differences in regime types- from democratic to authoritarian, different attitudes toward Russian minority-from exclusion to favoring, as well as different levels of the economic development[2]. All these factors, along with social policies toward ethnic minorities in countries of settlement, shape different pattern of participation typical for minority and majority groups. Moreover, post-soviet countries had different history of statehood before becoming the republics of the USSR, which influences nation-building and attitudes both to Russia and Russians left outside their country of origin after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (Liu et al.2013).

Variety of the scope conditions, such as economic and democratic development, is a precondition to study political participation patterns typical for the given set of indicators.  I assume that change in scope conditions is associated with the change in patters of the political participation. The results can be generalized to the other minority groups in post-empire states. The Russian-speaking minority of the post-soviet countries is an example of the minority group which status changed from the dominant and influential to minority. This change, along with other transformation processes in countries, shaped the specific patters of political participation.

This project’s theoretical contribution is to the literature on ethnic minority group formation and ethnic-based political inequality. Political inequalities in post-soviet states are mostly studied through the lenses of electoral participation, and my project aims to broaden the focus and analyze different forms of unconventional participation. It also contributes to the debate on the civil society in post-communist states and civic engagement of minority groups in transitional societies with the large post-empire minority populations.


[1] Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were excluded from the analysis due to the lack of relevant data

[2] Tables summarizing various state-level indicators for post-soviet states http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/aug/17/ussr-soviet-countries-data (retrieved 17.02.2015)