Mutual Stereotypes in Latvia and Estonia
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In my master studies I have tried to establish the main stereotypes of Latvia and Latvians in Estonian print media and amongst the individuals and vice versa – the stereotypes of Estonia and Estonians in Latvian print media and amongst the individuals. I have researched both the stereotypes of the state as well as the nation, to draw the certain distinctions and even contradictions in both. Starting the research it was clear that the reflected information and formed stereotypes of both countries and nations should be comparatively extensive considering geographical position, close historical development, and economic, political and cultural cooperation between both countries at all times. To do so I have followed the main five research steps: 1) defining the main terms such as social stereotype, social identity and social space, including the international space and its' construction. Meanwhile researching the literature about the process of stereotype shaping; 2) studying the historical developments of both states, emphasizing the time periods significant to formation of state and national identity as well as mutual cooperation; 3) reviewing the transition of the print media in both countries, taking into consideration the role of the media in creating the social reality as well as the symbolic power of the used language; 4) conducting content and discourse analyses within the biggest printed daily newspapers “Postimees” in Estonia and “Diena” in Latvia in years 2003 and 2007, leaving a 3 year gap to monitor any changes in the coverage intensity and style, taking into account such an important event as both countries joining the EU in 2004; 5) organizing focus group discussions in Estonia and Latvia to form an image of stereotypes and assumptions living amongst the individuals of both countries. The basic definition of stereotype shaping is that everyday field of information is so large and wide while human cognitive process is limited. That is why so called “simplified pictures” help to narrow down the world and information in it. The information is being generalized, often leaving out the details and exceptions (Lippmann, 1922). It was apparent when, for example, Latvians label Estonians as slow but questioned more about it in the focus group discussions dimensions of term slow were widened, revealing different possible reasons how all the experiences are grouped under one stereotype. Stereotypes can also be grouped as hetero- (stereotypes of another group) and auto- (stereotypes of one's group) (Šulmane, Kruks, 2001). These two groups of stereotypes were taken into consideration further in the work as the stereotype of one's own groups greatly influences the stereotype which is formed about the other group. Creating stereotypes about ones’ own nations the context of state and its achievements are taken into consideration. It made me realise that less political, cultural and economic achievements by the state the less self – confidence of being part of the group in this case the nation. It further leads to comparisons with neighbouring nations and states bringing out the elements lacking in their own group. There are authors (Katz and Barley: 1933) who view stereotypes as mostly incorrect and contradicting the reality. At some point it could be agreed upon based on above mentioned example, that one stereotype can have many dimensions, giving more rational explanation how people label and understand the certain stereotype. Stereotypes are adapted in two general ways: one’s own experience and through other people or sources. According to Tajfel &Turner (1986) the substance of stereotypes is not too multi-formed and keeps repeating the same patterns such as favouring my group to the other, highlighting the diversity of my group vs. the other, highlighting the good examples of my group to the bad ones of the other or attributing the failures of my group to the particular situations while the failures of the other group to their abilities. Doing the media analysis as well as the group discussions, it was noticed that the mentioned patterns were used both in printed media as well as conversations of the group participants when talking about the other country or nation. At the same time, it was noticed that the mentioned ways of polarization of my group vs. other group can counter change according to auto- stereotype or perception of one owns group and ones' social identity or belonging to a group. For people to develop a social identity and see themselves as a part of a group they also need to categorise, identify and compare one group with another (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). To understand the history of creating the social reality and to provide more explicit explanation of mutual perception, economic, political and cultural developments and cooperation of Estonia and Latvia following time periods of history were studied: 1) Formation of Latvian and Estonian Nation State (18th – beginning of 20th century) – this period of time is significant with industrial development which included printing development and spreading literacy and printed communication between Baltic people, rose new nation awareness, self realisation and later states. These are essential elements to make people feel the unity and relate to each other, developing the national identity and communicating essential information such as common values and perceptions. 2) Nation State (1918 – 1940) - the period of independent statehood formed an important part of national mythology in the Baltic countries. Along with gaining the independence and country, nation strengthened their national identity and importance, equality with other nations. 3) Period of Occupations (1940 – 1987) – during the Soviet occupation there was a forming and enforcement of new kind of identity. The Soviet Union was constructed around a dual identity: on the one hand ethnic/national identities; on the other, Soviet identity as the foundation of the new society (Castells,1997). This was the most traumatic period of time for the Baltic national identity which consequences can be followed later in the postcommunism transition period. At the same time it should be mentioned that the closeness between the Baltic countries rooting in the events of establishing their national identity and relating to each other through common history is still present. 4) Regaining the Independence (1988 – 1991) – in some way events of the regaining the independence for Latvia and Estonia can be put as parallels to the performance of the enlightened nationalists back in the early 19th century, mainly cultivating the national pride, history, values and cultural treasures of the nation. This can be seen as the moment when the Baltic identity has played one of its most important roles in bringing together the Latvian and Estonian nations and it is still present in peoples' attitudes towards each other’s nations. 5) Post - communism Transition (1991 – 2003) - after regaining the independence Estonia and Latvia were on the pace of finding the most effective way how to rebuild the new democratic states. At the same time it can be mentioned that the Baltic identity became less united both countries starting to develop their own states as well as competing to be attractive investment market within Baltic region. This was also the time when Estonia started to position itself as a Nordic State building a close, cultural (Finno-Ugric), economic as well as political relations with Finland and Sweden claiming that so called Baltic identity was more of a leftover from the Soviet Union and is just a geographical place. 6) Membership in the EU and NATO (starting 2004) – along with the independence came the vision of the Western world and European Union. Both countries set mutual political priorities working towards joining the EU and NATO on 2004. On one hand the privileged position of Estonia in the negotiations with the EU caused certain tension between Baltic countries and weakened the spirit of cooperation while, on other hand the cooperation between Estonia and Latvia along the years has only become more strong, being both political partners within the region as well as major economic investors in both countries. As media, language and society can be grouped as three main social reality and communication creators, it was important to study the printed media transition and its role in creating the social attitudes. The media in early nineties at the time of regaining the independence played an important part in creating the social opinion. The same as society also the media market went through its transitional phases finding its place and role in democratic society. Media more or less in indirect way forms perceptions of groups and cultures to which we, ourselves might not belong (Mcquail, 1994). It is done by using certain words and meanings with language or, for example, often using comparisons. In media research content (total number of “Postimees” articles - 268, “Diena”articles – 318) and discourse (total number of “Postimees” articles – 10, “Diena” articles – 12) analysis were conducted of newspapers “Diena” and “Postimees” articles of years 2003 and 2007. The current newspapers were analysed based on both being the leading daily newspapers in Latvia and Estonia with almost identical newspaper structure, readership profile and amount. The specific years were chosen to monitor any change in intensity, style and topics between the both years, taking into account such significant events as both countries joining the EU in 2004. Also the year 2003 can be considered as the time when printed media in Baltic's had strengthen its role, market and overcome the transition period. The content and discourse analysis have served to define the most used keywords and expressions regarding Latvians and Latvia in the newspaper “Postimees” and Estonians, Estonia in the newspaper “Diena”. Secondly, to define positive, negative or neutral connotations towards the keywords. And finally to see how the reflected events correlate to expressed assumptions made by individuals in the focus groups. By the time I am writing the conclusions it is year 2009. The world has been shattered with the financial crisis. It has left certain consequences also in the markets of Baltic States. And surprisingly they are very different. While Latvia was struggling to receive the financial support from the International Monetary Fund Estonia had offered its financial support to Latvia. In Latvian media it is reflected and discussed as one of the most humiliating experiences for Latvia and once again Latvian opinion of self group has been lowered. Latvians seem to have an inferiority complex toward the Estonians, believing and by year 2009 for sure knowing that Estonia is doing much better (Birzulis, 2002). Some explanations as to why this is so include the large amount of foreign investment Estonia had received from Scandinavia after regaining the independence, or its longer exposure to Western influences (for example, people in Tallinn were able to watch Finnish television long before the Soviet collapse). But instead of blaming geography or historical determinism, Latvia would be better served by learning from Estonia in a number of policy areas, such as goal-orientated state economy planning, bigger transparency of political events or strategic planning on how to overcome the economic crisis.