Peer-reviewed articles Understanding Narva & Identity Local reflections from Narva’s Russian-Speakers

This article examines the construction of Narva and local spatial identity formation from the perspective of Russian-speaking Estonians in Narva, as elucidated in their own discourses and perceptions.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Bw 1-2 2016 p4-12
Published on on June 23, 2016

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This article examines the construction of Narva and local spatial identity formation from the perspective of Russian-speaking Estonians in Narva, as elucidated in their own discourses and perceptions. A spatially-conscious approach allows us to examine how Russian-speaking Estonians discursively construct and understand the Russian-speaking borderland enclave of Narva, and how Russian-speaking Narvans construct their spatial identities.1

Keywords: identity, space, border, minorities.

Political and territorial shifts continue to alter Europe’s geopolitical landscape. In March 2014, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, up to then a part of Ukraine, was annexed by the Russian Federation. This has spawned fears of wider Russian aggression and drawn attention to Russia’s diasporic dilemma, which is intertwined with the millions of Russian-speakers scattered throughout the former Soviet territory.2 While the Ukrainian crisis progresses, global media attention focuses on the Estonian-Russian borderland city of Narva because of its Crimeanesque demographic and regional characteristics.3

In Estonian geopolitical discourse, Narva is an “othered” regional borderland city and a spatial manifestation of Estonian-Russian relations, both external and internal.4 Narva’s separatist referendum of 1993 and its otherness continue to influence Estonian, European, Russian, and NATO concerns over Estonia’s large Russian-speaking community and the potential for Russian incursion on Europe’s eastern border.5 In early 2015, Narva was the site of a much-discussed military parade in honor of Estonia’s independence day, which involved pomp by both Estonian and NATO (including US) armed forces just meters from the Russian-Estonian border. Although the parade drew a large turnout from the predominantly Russian-speaking population, it was controversial.6 Within days of the parade, Narva and the surrounding Ida-Viru County both voted in favor of the pro-Russian Keskerakond (Center Party) in Estonia’s parliamentary elections.7 Both events illustrate the reemergence of Narva’s importance in multiscalar geopolitical practices and discourses in the former Soviet space. Although media comparisons of Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Narva are often exaggerated and bound to anti-Russian geopolitics and politicized rhetoric, Narva does allow us to examine othered regions and spatial identity among non-titular Russian-speakers in a former Soviet context.

Interdisciplinary studies of borderlands and spatial identities exploring the post-Soviet Russian-speaking community and the “near abroad” are nothing new. However, the analysis and methodology of previous scholarship tend to emphasize state geopolitical discourses and the national scale.8 Such research typically ignores the plurality and the hybrid nature of borderland community construction, spatial identity formation, and broader nation-building processes.

The spatial and demographic context

In this study I focus on the city of Narva, Estonia. Narva is the third most populous city in Estonia, after Tallinn and Tartu. Narva’s current population is about 64,000, about 90% of whom are Russian-speakers.9 Narva is a borderland community located in northeastern Ida-Viru County on the west bank of the Narva River, just opposite its Russian twin town of Ivangorod.10

A cadre of competing geopolitical powers and events has influenced Narva’s historic trajectory and its current position within the larger constellation of Baltic cities. One of the most notable of these geopolitical events was the illegal Soviet annexation of Estonia during World War II. The Soviet occupation of Estonia significantly altered Narva’s demographic structure by causing a heavy influx of Russian-speaking migrants who settled in and rebuilt the city. Although there were Russian-speaking minorities throughout independent Estonia, this demographic shift is spatially exacerbated in Narva.11 As a direct consequence of Soviet occupation and incentivized labor migration, Narva emerged from Soviet occupation as a distinct Russian-speaking enclave in a predominantly Estonian and Estonian-speaking nation-state.12 According to Kaiser and Nikiforova, “Narvan-ness, Estonian-ness, Russian-ness, European-ness, Western-ness, and Eastern-ness are made, unmade, rank ordered, and rehierarchized” by competing multiscalar geopolitical discourses, actors, and practices in post-Soviet Narva.13 Sovietization substantially erased Narva’s “Estonianness” and replaced its Estonian population with Russian-speaking Soviet citizens.14

Since the restoration of Estonian independence, the Estonian nation-state has embarked on a process of nationalization and territorialization15 in which Russian-speakers and Estonia’s predominantly Russian-speaking northeast become “othered” in both geopolitical discourse and practice.16 Examples of such “othering” abound in critical geopolitical and areas studies scholarship.17 A prime example is Estonia’s citizenship policy, which is seen as highly restrictive.18 The policy has disproportionately affected Estonia’s largest minority population, politically marginalized Russian-speakers in Estonia, and fostered challenging diplomatic relations between Estonia and Russia.19 Estonia’s nation-building process ebbs and flows side by side with Russia’s, and Narva is situated on the periphery of both. The nationalizing processes of Estonia and Russia actively produce nationally and territorially bound identities like those of the respective homelands. Given its complex history, borderland location, and current demographic structure, Narva provides a unique geographic and geopolitical case study in which to analyze the construction of place and perceptions of spatial identity.

While Narva has similarities with other predominantly Russian-speaking areas outside the Russian Federation, including Crimea and eastern Ukraine, its local distinctions matter and provide nuances in the current geopolitical fray.20 Narva has emerged as a recurring regional flashpoint in scholarship, diplomacy, and international media coverage.21 Much of the attention is related to Narva’s past autonomy referendum, “Russianness,” unemployment and emigration, social problems, oil shale deposits and industry, and overtures by the Russian state.22 Increasingly, Narva and Narvans are placed in the foreground of Estonian, Russian, and international geopolitical discourses as potential sites of conflict and instability.23 Such heated discourses necessitate an examination of place and identity on the local scale.

Place and spatial identities

Regional borderlands and their associated communities are not fixed spatial givens, but rather socially constructed “processes, practices, discourses, symbols, institutions or networks through which power works.”24 Borderlands are historically and spatially contingent and fluctuate with territorial political power.25 They are reflected in and enhanced by state geopolitical discourses and practices.26 For the purposes of this study, Narva is understood as an illustrative example of a regional borderland city and spatial community that is bound to the multiscale processes, practices, and discourses in which it is constructed.

Discourse is commonly “understood as constituted by a collection of theories, writings, public speeches, and popular media broadcasts that create a specific context that dominates the interpretation of a given issue.”27 Geopolitical discourse in particular is typically shaped by geopolitical agents or institutions such as those comprising territorial nation-states.28 Geopolitical agents or institutions guide border formation and conceptualization through discourse and thus in turn form a socially constructed spatial division between an “us” within and a “them” outside.29 Geopolitical discourse tends to be associated with nationalizing processes and national identity formation.30

Although much scholarly attention has been concentrated on state geopolitical discourses and how they construct regional borderlands, other studies have focused on the local discourses and conceptions of the borderland communities themselves.31 Borderland communities actively engage and construct borderlands through their relational networks, activities, discourses, and spatially embedded everyday lives.32 Borderlands are often subject to divisive politicized and nationalized geopolitical rhetoric and actions because of their proximity to an external national-territorial other (in Narva’s case, Russia) and the frequency of their cross-border engagement.33 Local borderland communities often respond to such geopolitical manifestations with resistance and challenges.34 In this article, I illustrate how the Estonian Russian-speaking community discursively produces and reproduces Narva and how these discourses are related to spatial identity formation.

Identities are complex constructed “categories of membership that are based on all sorts of typologies — gender, race, class, personality, caste,” and on national and/or state territory.35 National and state identities are connected to territory and are referred to as spatial identities.36 Spatial identities are just one kind of identity and are not exclusive of others.37 They exist simultaneously with other spatial and non-spatial identities. Since the present study is place-based, we emphasize spatial identities. A homeland is an example of a national and/or spatial state identity. Through national and nationalist constructs, a homeland represents a politicized, nationalized, mythologized, and emotionally charged territory that spatially embeds national and/or diasporic populations’ identities.38

Homelands are spatial manifestations of national distinction that are reinforced by territorial boundaries and perceptions of national uniqueness and external otherness. Often homeland borders or boundaries blur and challenge this uniqueness, distinction, and otherness. National territorial homelands construct identities and are also constructed through identities.39 Once nations, national territories and national identities are formed, populations become spatially socialized within those territories.40 Spatial identities are also spatially differentiated and exist on multiple scales, but national spatial identities tend to be dominant.41

National identities and homelands are considered most problematic at national borders and in borderland regions. Borderland regions challenge nationalizing and territorializing processes because of their proximity to external others, their historical contingency, cross-border migration and interaction, and their spatial, social, and political distance from the national political core.42 National borders and identities have a “mutually enforcing relationship” which can reinforce and/or weaken national identities.43 Narva’s borderland location in relation to both the Estonian and Russian processes of nationalization and spatial identity formation is an intriguing context in which to examine the notion of homeland and spatial identity. Narva and its population are located at the spatial intersection between two simultaneous nationalizing, politicizing, and territorializing processes that competitively produce spatially embedded identities and homelands.

Mixed-method approach

In order to examine how Estonian Russian-speakers construct Narva and understand spatial identity at the local scale, I utilized a mixed-method approach aimed at constructing narratives through multilingual surveys (in Russian and English) with accompanying cognitive mapping features and interviews. This methodological toolkit was intended to produce qualitatively rich and empirically supported narratives that addressed place construction and spatial identity.

My research and methods build upon the relational and narrative currents in the social sciences and in geographical research in particular.44 These two currents highlight the emergence of alternative and critical methods that question positivist and traditional empiricist modes of understanding research and the researcher.45 Like all alternative and critical approaches, this project has limitations from a positivist perspective and is subject to critique, particularly in regard to research design.

Narratives or stories are a novel form of inquiry and interpretation. There is no single definitive approach to narratives. However, narratives have emerged as an innovative form of inquiry that can provide nuanced local understandings and interpretations of social phenomena and the processes in which they are embedded.46 Narratives can address “the relationship between personal experience and expression, and the broader contexts within which such experiences are ordered, performed, interpreted, and disciplined.”47 I construct and incorporate narratives by means of descriptive interview data and complementary survey data. Such mixed-method approaches that intertwine descriptive narratives with survey data have been used in other citizenship and citizenship geography studies which illustrate the importance of collecting and using diverse data.48

The interviews and surveys were undertaken during my doctoral fieldwork in the autumn of 2013 in Narva and Tallinn, Estonia. The survey was distributed in both Tallinn and Narva, while the cognitive mapping feature was used only in Narva. Participants based in Narva were recruited by the snowball sampling method (SSM) with the assistance of Narva College, the Narva Central Library, the municipal government of Narva, and local non-governmental organizations. SSM is a sampling technique49 whose strengths include targeting marginalized populations and minority communities, addressing politically divisive or conflict-oriented topics, integrating a researcher into an unfamiliar population, building trust between researcher and target population, and gauging public perceptions.50 These qualities of SSM were well suited to my project’s aims. SSM does suffer from certain limitations, including a population sample bias linked to the undersampling of particular groups within a target population, and sample characteristic overrepresentation.51

The survey and interview questions mirrored one another to facilitate comparison and deeper articulation. While most of the survey and interview questions focused on citizenship, others concerned spatial construction and spatial identity.52 The overarching research project used cluster analysis with an emphasis on residency groups and citizenship groups, but the present study project has a narrower focus on one particular residency group — residents of Narva — while including all citizenship groups.53 All the survey and interview data was analyzed using Qualtrics and Dedoose qualitative analysis software.

I also incorporated a cognitive mapping feature into the overarching survey. Cognitive mapping is a methodological tool aimed at understanding how individuals understand and engage with space.54 Cognitive mapping is triggered by a question or prompt to the respondent to draw a map of a place or to respond descriptively based on her own internal cognitive understanding. Cognitive maps can be productive tools because they elucidate how people represent and understand spaces, how they interact with spaces, and how understandings of spaces change. Cognitive maps also furnish implications that are applicable to planning and policy.55

Cognitive mapping has been utilized for a wide range of research endeavors: to convey differences in spatial understanding between people with and without visual impairments; to highlight how Israelis and Palestinians understand territorial conflict; and to understand spatial identity among Italians on a national scale.56 In the present study, the participants were asked to draw their mental map of their perceived homeland. The mapping section was complemented by an additional prompt aimed at soliciting spatial identity perceptions. Respondents were asked to assess the degree of importance of the following places in relation to their identities: city, county, Estonia, Russia, European Union, world, and other.

Borderland and homeland

Estonian state and media discourse tends to construct Estonia’s northeastern borderland and borderland city of Narva as a national security problem, rife with local crime, cross-border illegality, a landscape of industrial decline, and political instability.57 Through this lens, Narva appears as a potential threat to Estonia’s nation-building and territorial integrity.58 Estonian Russian-speakers’ discourse and perceptions conflict with and challenge these negative discourses peppered with politicizing rhetoric and conceptions.

Estonian Russian speakers construct Narva with a diverse range of characteristics and descriptions. They also express an array of spatial identities and homeland perceptions. The total Narva-based sample includes 207 surveys and 11 interviewees. The sample size reflects persistent research challenges related to difficulties of homeland selection, geographic literacy, and eliciting interest. Some respondents stated that they had “no homeland”, referring to the disintegration of the former Soviet Union as the loss of a perceived homeland. As other scholars have noted, in 1989 the majority of Russian-speakers held onto a spatial identity or homeland associated with the Soviet Union.59

When asked whether they perceived Narva to be unique, the majority (78.6%) of Estonian Russian-speakers answered yes. Responses differed slightly by sex (men 64%; women 73%), educational level (upper secondary education 68%; academic higher education 74%), age group (respondents aged 30 to 39 were less likely to perceive Narva as unique), and occupation (lower and higher-tiered occupational groups tended to perceive Narva as unique, while middle-tiered occupational groups tended to be more balanced or less likely to call Narva unique).60 Slight differences were also found between the responses of Estonian citizens (68.6%), Russian citizens (75.8%), and stateless residents (58.6%).

Similar response patterns were found among interviewees. The majority of interviewees perceived Narva as unique, and a descriptive pattern emerged. The most common explanations of Narva’s uniqueness included references to border location or proximity, Russianness, geographical location, history, and architecture. These descriptive rationales agreed well with the responses to an additional prompt related to how Narvan Russian speakers characterize or construct Narva. The common survey responses were also reflected and illustrated in the interviews.

One Narvan resident and NGO employee noted that Narva’s uniqueness is tied to its border proximity and the overlapping social, cultural, and political borders that the administrative border represents:

This uniqueness consists in [the fact] that the border is ambiguous. The border has many different meanings. Narva is a border region between two different states. It is a border between two unions, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe. It is also a border between two religions, Eastern Orthodox and Catholicism.61 It’s a border between two cultures, Western and Eastern. Many historical events have happened because of this border. This border has three means of travel: railways, motorways, and waterways. And this is where it is unique.

Other Narvans shared this sentiment about the roles that different borders and cross-border interactions play. One Narva resident and primary school teacher suggested that Narva’s uniqueness is tied to the border and the border’s history:

Narva is a border city. A border city of the European Union. Therefore, any issues that concern the EU, Estonia and Russia are noticed here. Narva is a city that is located close to the cultural center of the second capital, that is, St. Petersburg. It is only 100 km away and you can visit this wonderful city. Economically, Narva as a part of Estonia has the opportunity to do business with Russia; it has economic ties with Russia. Narva is a city where the majority of people speak Russian, a compact settlement of Russian people. Therefore, the city is unique mostly because many of these political disagreements are about Narva. Naturally there is then a standoff between Narva and Tallinn. So you can say that Narva is a unique city, an interesting city, and if the government were smart, if they gave people citizenship, life in Narva could be interesting and good.

Although most Narvans perceived Narva as unique, there was a minority who thought otherwise. One Narva resident and journalist suggested that Narva is not unique at all and that politicians attempting to divide the country perpetuated the myth of its “uniqueness”:

It is always discussed at the different levels of politics and people are trying to define this region as unique, but it is not unique. It is a quite stable region. If you look at the whole country, we only have one unique region — it is the southern part of the country because you never know what is happening there. It is never covered in the news. […] You know this region is industrial and mostly settled by Russians, okay it has historical aspects, but it is not unique.

When the respondents were prompted to define Narva using a limited number of words, a distinct pattern emerged. The most common responses included: border location or proximity (26.5%); natural environment (24.2%); Russianness (23.1%); history (21.3%); and depression and regional isolation (each 15.6%). These characteristics were reflected and reiterated by the Narvan interviewees. While the interviewees reflected on Narva’s history, natural landscape, and Russian-speakers, some suggested that Narva has a strong sense of local community, illustrated by its friendliness, emphasis on education and family, and local identity. Interviewees also reflected on Narva’s border proximity and cross-border interactions as affecting how Narvans understand themselves, their community, Estonia, and Europe.

One young woman who co-owns a company with her husband suggested that Narva is “Russian, but Europe or something like this. Russian-European, something in between, because it is like an island in Estonia”. This sense of being “in between”, or being part of a spatial community that embodies multiple places or identities simultaneously, was shared by other interviewees. One said:

It is a strange city which is mentally stuck between the Soviet Union and European Union — somewhat an independent part because people are still thinking about Russia, but living in Estonia. But Estonia is not here, it is somewhere else. It is a common expression if you are going somewhere like Viljandi — “oh come on I have some friends in Estonia or relatives in Estonia”, because Narvans think they are in some special middle point between countries.

Border proximity and location play a major role in how Narvan Russian-speakers perceptually and discursively construct their hometown and region. Although border proximity and cross-border activities are and used in state geopolitical discourses to construct Narva and its surrounding region, the discourses elicited in our research contrast with those produced by the Estonian state. While the Estonian state tends to marginalize or stigmatize Narva and its borderland region, Narvans themselves tend to place Narva’s geographic, demographic, natural, and cultural uniqueness in the foreground through a positive discursive pattern and a local focus.

When prompted to draw their homelands, the Narvan respondents sketched an array of mental maps. The majority drew and/or defined their homeland (often writing legends on their maps) as follows: Estonia (40%; see Figure 1); non-spatial responses (26.6%; includes symbols or abstract images; see Figure 2); Narva (15.5%; see Figure 3); Russia (13.3%); or no homeland (4%). Such response patterns illustrate the cognitive plurality and variation of homeland perceptions among Narvans.

bild trimbach

When asked to assess the degree of importance of various spaces in relation to their identities, patterns of spatial identification emerged. With responses of “very important” or “important”, the majority of respondents indicated that city/town (Narva) is the most important spatial identity (21.7%), followed by Estonia (18.6%), the world (17%), the region or county of Ida-Viru (14.3%), the European Union (13.5%), Russia (11.6%), and others (3%). The category “other” included countries of birth or residence such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Finland. This response pattern highlights the importance of the local scale and locality among Narvans and their spatial identities.

Concluding remarks

Narvan Russian-speakers’ discourses and perceptions of the borderland city of Narva and their spatial identities challenge and conflict with the often nationalized and politicized geopolitical discourses of the Estonian state and Estonian (and international) media.62 As indicated by the survey and interview responses, Narva’s Russian-speakers perceive their spatial community as unique within the broader Estonian and Russian national contexts. Narvan Russian-speakers tend to construct the borderland city of Narva as unique because of its border proximity, geographic location, natural environment, Russianness, and local history. Narvans also tend to describe and discursively construct Narva with those characteristics, in addition to its architecture, regional isolation, and depressing atmosphere.

Some respondents mentioned Narva’s uniqueness or described Narva as an “in-between” space. This description highlights the liminality of Narvan spatial construction and of everyday life in this borderland. The construction of Narva as an “in-between” space builds upon a hybridity and a plurality of identity and the notion that borderland residents tend to live “in between” social, political, cultural, and economic spaces.63 This sense of being “in between” highlights the transboundary relationships, experiences, and activities of Narva residents. It also highlights the historical, social, and economic connections between Narva and its twin town of Ivangorod.64 Such sentiments illustrate how “borderlands are a distinctive kind of in-between space that allows their residents to carve out an existence and attachment against and across split and competing political boundaries.”65 As inhabitants of such a space, Narvans offer a distinctive local perspective and discourse on this geopolitical hotspot and its spatial construction.

Narva’s Russian-speaking community also embodies multiple overlapping spatial identities. Although Narva’s Russian-speaking community is culturally, linguistically, and geographically peripheral in the context of Estonian and Russian nationalizing and territorializing processes, the survey results indicate that these processes nonetheless have an impact. The results demonstrate that Narva’s Russian-speaking community has internalized Estonian national constructions of national territory and territorial identity. The results also indicate that Estonian and Russian nation-building and spatial identity formation processes may have resulted in a strong local identity that is emphatically Narvan rather than Estonian, Russian, or European. This localism corroborates other scholarship focused on Narva that has brought to light a distinct “Narvan” identity.66 The survey and cognitive mapping responses illustrate the incongruences and complex intersectionality of territorializing and nationalizing processes. A comparison of the responses with demographic characteristics highlights these incongruences. The dominant spatial identities and homelands, Europe (86%), Estonia (75%), and Narva (76%), do not correspond perfectly with demographic characteristics such as place of birth (Estonia 73%, Russia 22%, other 5%), nationality (natsionalnost’; Russian 84%, Estonian 8%, dual nationality 8%), primary language (Russian 98%, Estonian 2%), or formal citizenship status (grazhdanstvo; Estonian 70%, Russian 23%, stateless 7%).67

The incongruences between discursive constructions of Narva, spatial identity, and demographic indicators illustrate the challenges of analyzing spatial communities and identity among the non-titular Russian-speaking community in the former Soviet republics. Geopolitical discourses and state-focused approaches to borderland construction differ and are critically challenged by local borderland communities. Traditional identifying categories such as language, nationality, citizenship, or national territories alone cannot adequately express the complex territorial relations, local nuances of identity, or understandings of place. Spatial conceptual or methodological tools can contribute to identity and borderland community research and challenge the nationalized and politicized notions of borders and identity that continue to propel community marginalization, irredentism, and conflict. ≈


1              Sankaran Krishna, “Boundaries in Question,” in A Companion to Political Geography, ed. John Agnew, Katharyne Mitchell, and Gerard Toal (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). By “enclave” I am referring to ethnic and/or linguistic enclaves or spatial communities.

2              David Laitin, Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998); Alena Pfoser, “Between Russia and Estonia: Narratives of Place in a New Borderland,” Nationalities Papers 42 (2013): 269—285. “Russian-speakers” (russkoiazychnye) is an encompassing multiethnic and multinational term that refers to those individuals who speak Russian as their primary everyday language. This term reflects a new post-Soviet identity among Baltic Russian-speakers.

3              Tom Balmforth, “Russians of Narva not Seeking ‘Liberation’ by Moscow,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, accessed April 4, 2014,; Neal Razzell, “Nato’s Russian City,” BBC, accessed June 29, 2015,

4              Joni Virkkunen, “Place and Discourse in the Formation of the Northeast Estonian Borderland,” in Boundaries and Place: European Borderlands in Geographical Context, ed. David Kaplan and Jouni Häkli (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002); David Trimbach, “Restorationist Geopolitics: Constructing the Northeastern Estonian Border,” Revista Aldea Mundo 37 (2014): 37—51.

5              Stuart Burch and David J. Smith, “Empty Spaces and the Value of Symbols: Estonia’s ‘War of Monuments’ from Another Angle,” Europe-Asia Studies 59 (2007): 913—936.

6              Michael Birnbaum, “U.S. Military Vehicles Paraded 300 Yards from the Russian Border,” Washington Post, accessed February 24, 2015,; “Video: zhitel’ Narvy razmakhival flagom Rossii pered uchastnikami parada v chest’ Dnia nezavisimosti” [Video: Narva resident waved a Russian flag in front of the Independence Day parade participants],” Postimees, accessed March 3, 2015,

7              “Hääletamis-ja valimistulemus hetkeseisuga” [Current voting and election results], Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon [Electoral Commission of the Republic], accessed March 4, 2015,

8              Jouni Häkli, “Discourse in the Production of Political Space: Decolonizing the Symbolism of Provinces in Finland,” Political Geography 17 (1997): 331—363; Guntram Henrik Herb, “National Identity and Territory,” in Nested Identities, ed. Guntram Henrik Herb and David Kaplan (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 9; Alexander C. Diener, One Homeland or Two? The Nationalization and Transnationalization of Mongolia’s Kazakhs (Washington, D. C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2009); Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).

9              Alena Pfoser, “Between Russia and Estonia”, 269—285; Alena Pfoser, “Between Security and Mobility: Negotiating a Hardening Border in the Russian-Estonian Borderland,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41 (2015): 1—19.

10           Thomas Lundén, “Valga—Valka, Narva—Ivangorod: Estonia’s Divided Border Cities; Cooperation and Conflict Within and Beyond the EU,” in Conflict and Cooperation in Divided Towns and Cities, ed. Jaroslaw Jańczak (Berlin: Logos, 2009), 133—149; Pertti Joenniemi and Alexander Sergunin, “When Two Aspire to Become One: City-Twinning in Northern Europe,” Journal of Borderlands Studies 26 (2011): 231—242.

11           Rain Sannik, “Estonia: Integration of Stateless Individuals and Third-County Residents,” in Opening the Door? Immigration and Integration in the European Union (Brussels: Centre for European Studies, 2012): 113—136.

12           David Smith, “Narva Region within the Estonian Republic: From Autonomism to Accommodation?” Regional and Federal Studies 12 (2002): 89—110.

13           Robert J. Kaiser and Elena Nikiforova, “The Performativity of Scale: The Social Construction of Scale Effects in Narva, Estonia,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 (2008): 545.

14           Ibid.

15           David Smith, “Narva Region”, 89—110; Joni Virkkunen, “Place and Discourse”.

16           Pami Aalto, “Beyond Restoration: The Construction of Post-Soviet Geopolitics in Estonia,” Cooperation and Conflict 35 (2000): 65—88; Eiki Berg and Saima Oras, “Writing Post-Soviet Estonia on to the World Map,” Political Geography 19 (2000): 601—625; Gregory Feldman, “Constructing the ‘Non-Estonian’: The Policy and Politics of Ethnic and European Integration in Estonia,” Anthropology of Eastern Europe Review 18 (2000): 117—127; Eiki Berg, “Ethnic Mobilization in Flux: Revisiting Peripherality and Minority Discontent in Estonia,” Space and Polity 5 (2001): 5—26; Pami Aalto and Eiki Berg, “Spatial Practices and Time in Estonia: From Post-Soviet Geopolitics to European Governance,” Space and Polity 6 (2002): 253—270; Pami Aalto, Constructing Post-Soviet Geopolitics in Estonia: A Study in Security, Identity, and Subjectivity (London: Frank Cass, 2003); Pami Aalto, European Union and the Making of a Wider Northern Europe (London: Routledge, 2006).

17           Ibid.

18           Richard C. Visek, “Creating the Ethnic Electorate through Legal Restorationism: Citizenship Rights in Estonia,” Harvard International Law Journal 38 (1997): 315—373; Pami Aalto, Constructing Post-Soviet Geopolitics; Priit Järve, “Re-Independent Estonia,” in The Fate of Ethnic Democracy In Post-Communist Europe, ed. Sammy Smooha and Priit Järve (Budapest: Open Society Institute, 2005): 61—80; Priit Järve and Vadim Poleshchuk, Country Report: Estonia (San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute, 2013); “Estonia 2014”, Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), accessed June 30, 2015, The present project conceives citizenship as a politicized, nationalized, and differentiated construct.

19           EUDO Citizenship,

20           David Smith, “Narva Region within the Estonian Republic: From Autonomism to Accomodation?,” Regional and Federal Studies 12 (2002): 89—110; Arne Bengtsson, “Bridge over the Narva River,” Baltic Worlds 2 (2009): 12—15; Neal Razzell, “Nato’s Russian City”.

21           Ibid.

22           Ibid.

23           Tom Balmforth, “Russians of Narva not Seeking ‘Liberation’”; Neal Razzell, “Nato’s Russian City”.

24           Corey Johnson, Reece Jones, Anssi Paasi, Louise Amoore, Alison Mountz, Mark Salter, and Chris Rumford, “Interventions on Rethinking ‘the Border’ in Border Studies,” Political Geography 30 (2011): 62.

25           Anssi Paasi, Territories, Boundaries and Consciousness: The Changing Geographies of the Finnish-Russian Border (Chichester: Wiley, 1996); Anssi Paasi, “Boundaries as Social Practice and Discourse: The Finnish-Russian Border,” Regional Studies 33 (1999): 669—680; Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century.

26           Eiki Berg, “Deconstructing Border Practices in the Estonian-Russian Borderland,” Geopolitics 5 (2000): 78—98; Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century.

27           Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century, 22.

28           Eiki Berg and Saima Oras, “Writing Post-Soviet Estonia”; Alexander Izatov, “Mental Walls and the Border: Local Identity Construction in Sortavala,” in Journal of Borderland Studies 27 (2012): 167—183; Corey Johnson and Amanda Coleman, “The Internal Other: Exploring the Dialectical Relationship between Regional Exclusion and the Construction of National Identity,” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102 (2012): 863—880; Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century, 22.

29           Ibid.

30           Ibid.

31           Anssi Paasi and Eeva-Kaisa Prokkola, “Territorial Dynamics, Cross-border Work and Everyday Life in the Finnish-Swedish Border Area,” in Space and Polity 12 (2008): 12—29; Pallavi Banerjee and Xiangming Chen, “Living in In-between Spaces: A Structure-agency Analysis of the India-China and India-Bangladesh Borderlands,” in Cities 34 (2012): 18—29; Reece Jones, “Spaces of Refusal: Rethinking Sovereign Power and Resistance at the Border,” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102 (2012): 685—699.

32           Ibid.

33           Reece Jones, Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel (London: Zed Books, 2012); Reece Jones, “Spaces of Refusal”.

34           Ibid.

35           David Laitin, Identity in Formation, 21.

36           Guntram Henrik Herb, “National Identity and Territory,” 9; Alexander C. Diener, One Homeland or Two?

37           Ibid.

38           Robert J. Kaiser, “Homeland Making and the Territorialization of National Identity,” in Ethnonationalism in the Contemporary World, ed. Daniele Conversi (London: Routledge, 2002), 229.

39           Jouni Häkli, “Discourse in the Production of Political Space: Decolonizing the Symbolism of Provinces in Finland,” in Political Geography 17 (1998): 331—363; David Newman and Anssi Paasi, 1998, “Fences and Neighbors in the Postmodern World: Boundary Narratives in Political Geography,” in Progress in Human Geography 22 (1998): 186—207.

40           Guntram Henrik Herb, “National Identity and Territory,” 9; David Kaplan, “Territorial Identities and Geographic Scale,” in Nested Identities, ed. Guntram Henrik Herb and David Kaplan (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 31; Gabriel Popescu, Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century.

41           Ibid.

42           Ibid.

43           David Newman, “Boundaries,” in A Companion to Political Geography, ed. John Agnew, Katharyne Mitchell, and Gerard Toal (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008): 130.

44           Jennifer Dodge, Sonia M. Ospina, and Erica Gabrielle Foldy, “Integrating Rigor and Relevance in Public Administration Scholarship: The Contribution of Narrative Inquiry,” in Public Administration Review 65 (2005): 286—300; Renee Paulani Louis, “Can You Hear Us Now? Voices from the Margin: Using Indigenous Methodologies in Geographic Research,” in Geographical Research 45 (2007): 130—139; Emilie Cameron, “New Geographies of Story and Storytelling,” in Progress in Human Geography 36 (2012): 573—592; Simon Case and Kevin Haines, “Reflective Friend Research: The Relational Aspects of Social Scientific Research,” in Reflexivity in Criminological Research: Experiences with the Powerful and the Powerless, ed. Karen Lumsden and Aaron Winter (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 58.

45           Ibid.

46           Catherine Kohler Reissman, “Narrative Analysis,” in The Qualitative Researcher’s Companion, ed. Michael Huberman and Matthew B. Miles, (London: Sage, 2002), 217; Emilie Cameron, “New Geographies”.

47           Ibid., 573.

48           Julia Preece and Dama Mosweunyane, Perceptions of Citizenship Responsibility Amongst Botswana Youth (Gaborone: Lentswe La Lesedi, 2004); Rebecca Maria Torres and Melissa Wicks-Asbun, “Undocumented Students’ Narratives of Liminal Citizenship: High Aspirations, Exclusion, and “In-Between” Identities,” in The Professional Geographer 66 (2014): 195—204; Lisa C. Fein and Jeremy B. Straughn, J., “How Citizenship Matters: Narratives of Stateless and Citizenship Choice in Estonia,” in Citizenship Studies, 18 (2014): 690—706.

49           Nissim Cohen and Tamar Arieli, “Field Research in Conflict Environments: Methodological Challenges and Snowball Sampling,” in Journal of Peace Research 48 (2011): 423—435; Bandana Kar, Rick C. Crowsey, and Joslyn J. Zale, “The Myth of Location Privacy in the United States: Surveyed Attitude Versus Current Practices,” in The Professional Geographer 65 (2013): 47—64; Eldar M. Eldarov, Edward C. Holland, and Magomed-Kamil B. Kamilov, “Oil and Gas Production in the Russian Sector of the Caspian Sea: Public Opinion on Development Paths and Consequences,” in The Professional Geographer 67 (2015): 342—350.

50           Ibid.

51           Ibid.

52           Survey and interview questions included questions regarding demographic characteristics, citizenship, and place. Questions were formulated in both Russian and English with the assistance of a professional native Russian-speaking instructor with social science research expertise. Pertinent place-based questions included: (1) Assess the degree of importance to you the following regions (1 = not very important; 2 = not important; 3 = somewhat important; 4 = important, 5 = very important): city/town, region/county, Estonia, Russia, European Union, World, other (describe); (2) Please write 3 words that suitably describe Narva. Why?; (4) Do you consider Narva a unique region (yes or no)? Why?; (5) Describe how you imagine the whole world and in that world your homeland; (6) Draw how you imagine the whole world and in that world your homeland.

53           Lynn A. Staeheli and Susan E. Clarke, “The New Politics of Citizenship: Structuring Participation by Household, Work, and Identity,” in Urban Geography 24 (2003): 103—126.

54           Rob Kitchen and Marc Blades, The Cognition of Geographic Space (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002); Renato Troffa, Marina Mura, Fernando Fornara, and Pierluigi Caddeo, “Cognitive Mapping Analysis and Regional Identity,” in Cognitive Processing 10 (2009): 328—330; Arnon Medzini, “The War of the Maps: The Political Use of Maps and Atlases to Shape National Consciousness; Israel Versus the Palestinian Authority,” in European Journal of Geography 3 (2012): 23—40.

55           Ibid.

56           Ibid.

57           Joni Virkkunen, “Place and Discourse”; David Trimbach, “Restorationist Geopolitics”.

58           Ibid.

59           David Kaplan, “Territorial Identities and Geographic Scale,” 31.

60           Eesti Statistika [Estonian statistics], accessed January 17, 2015, All demographic classifications were derived from Eesti Statistika. Eesti Statistka’s classification system is based on international standards. Classification consistency was maintained for greater comparability.

61           While the interviewee’s statement is factually inaccurate on the surface, perhaps indicating poor integration, it does convey that the border is a sociocultural barrier. This perception agrees with the popular work of Samuel Huntington, who noted that the Narva border is a border between “Western” and “Orthodox” civilizations. See Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

62           Joni Virkkunen, “Place and Discourse”; David J. Smith and Stuart Burch, “Enacting Identities in the EU-Russian Borderland: An Ethnography of Place and Public Monuments,” East European Politics and Societies 26 (2011): 400—424; David Trimbach, “Restorationist Geopolitics”.

63           Pallavi Banerjee and Xiangming Chen, “Living in In-between Spaces”.

64           Thomas Lunden, “Valga–Valka, Narva–Ivangorod”; Pertti Joenniemi and Alexander Sergunin, “When Two Aspire”.

65           Pallavi Banerjee and Xiangming Chen, “Living in In-between Spaces,” 28.

66           Gregory Feldman, “Constructing the ‘Non-Estonian’”; David J. Smith and Stuart Burch, “Enacting Identities”.

67           While most of the demographic responses were linked to either Estonia or Russia, there was variation in education, occupation, marital status, place of birth, multilingualism, and parent nationalities.

  • by David J. Trimbach

    Currently completing his PhD in Geography at the University of Kansas (USA). His research focuses on citizenship (in theory and practice), migration, borders, and political power.

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