The border between Russia and Estonia has undergone significant changes in the past two and a half decades from a border between two Soviet republics to an international border and external EU border. In the public discourse and the scholarly literature, this border has been characterised as a battlefield shaped by divergent geopolitical visions and evaluations of the shared past. While Estonia has sought to distance itself from Russia and condemns the Soviet past as an occupation, Russia derives pride from its historical role in liberating Europe in World War II and continues to hold on to positive memories of the Soviet past and its role in the Baltic states. The thesis looks at how these official narratives have been negotiated locally in the once united border towns of Narva and Ivangorod in the Russian-Estonian borderland. Based on an extended fieldwork stay and the analysis 58 life-story interviews with people living on both sides of the border, it examines how people living in the borderland position themselves in the context of shifting narrative and structural frameworks. How do they re-evaluate the relations to the other side and reconsider their memories of the shared past?
In examining these questions, the thesis seeks to make two general contributions to existing literature: it brings together the fields of border studies and memory studies to explore the reconfiguration of both temporal and spatial orderings in the making of a border. Secondly, it outlines a model for studying border change that focuses on the interrelations between the vernacular and the official level. The first part of the thesis looks at the politics of temporal orderings in the borderland and explores how people belonging to different ethnic groups and generations remember the past in the context of changing borders. It shows how people in part reproduce the polarised narratives mobilised at the official level but also how local experiences and generational change lead to a diversification of temporal orderings. The second part of the thesis explores the politics of spatial orderings in post-socialist memories. It looks at how by remembering the past people both reproduce and undermine borders; it demonstrates that it is not simply the memories of a shared past but also new inequalities following the establishment of the border that shape the ways in which people relate to their cross-border neighbours.
Overall, the thesis provides a complex and differentiated account of border change in which different temporalities and spatialities at the vernacular and official levels can interact, interrelate and stand in opposition to each other. It shows that although people living in the borderland experience constraints and even powerlessness in the face of changes in the border, they have an active role in negotiating the changes and develop multiple responses to official narratives. It demonstrates how by appropriating official narratives and relating them to their own purposes, people articulate local concerns and make claims for belonging, recognition and state care in the face of the changes.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.