Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan

Why do Russians choose to stay in Latvia, a state that adopts antagonistic policies that favor Latvians at the expense of Russians, yet migrate from Kyrgyzstan, a state that adopts accommodating policies to placate Kyrgyz and Russians? Michele E. Commercio suggests that the answer to this question lies in the power of informal networks.

Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan
The Transformative Power of Informal Networks

Michele E. Commercio

2010 | 248 pages | Cloth $69.95
Political Science
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Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration

Chapter 1. "What the Hell Kind of 'Non-Native' Am I"?
Chapter 2. Informal Networks, Exit, and Voice
Chapter 3. Soviet Socialist Legacies and Post-Soviet Nationalization
Chapter 4. Opportunity Structures and the Role of Informal Networks in Their Reconfiguration

Chapter 5. Native Versus Non-Native: Russian Perceptions of Post-Soviet Nationalization
Chapter 6. Russian Responses to Perceptions of Socioeconomic Prospects
Chapter 7. Ethnic Systems in Transition

Appendix: Methods

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Chapter 1
"What the Hell Kind of 'Non-Native' Am I?"

To the Kazakh who divides us into "native" and "non-native"

An evil will has made it so more than once already:
Broken fates scattered,
Shaking, dangling, buried around the world
In a foreign land, on a foreign shore. . . .

So yes, it is not only war that kills
Not only war that grays the hair.
Striking down on the spot, as if with a stray bullet,
The word of lead—"non-native."

For centuries we shared joy and tears,
We tended our gardens and raised our children,
With roots grown into this land together with you—
What the hell kind of "non-native" am I?

Our grandfathers' graves are here, our children were born here,
Here our talents and skills turned into business.
Our fathers were comrades-in-arms in the war.
What the hell kind of "non-native" am I?

My grandson and your granddaughter have been married for a long time.
Borshch and besbarmak go great together.
But you—for your own—just like clockwork. . . .
What the hell kind of "non-native" am I?

You believe in Allah according to your faith?
Well, He doesn't teach people evil.
I don't know a single verse in the Koran
Where the word "non-native" appears.

You've decided to sow sparks of dissent?
But won't our children have to put out this fire?
Over you hangs a curse
Which will be uttered by your "native" grandson.

This stupid favorite troubles your soul?
But his age is short—he knows this.
Chokan and Abai don't agree with you.
They would recognize me as native.

The use of the phrase "non-native" in this poem about Russian-Kazakh relations suggests that though not characterized by violence, ethnic relations in post-Soviet Kazakhstan can be tense. Like the poem, which serves as a metaphor for this book, the war between Russia and Georgia that broke out in 2008 indicates the continued relevance of ethnic conflict in the post-Soviet region. The war concerned South Ossetia, a separatist region in Georgia that declared its independence in the early 1990s. The confrontation stemmed, in part, from the fact that South Ossetians have long declared a collective desire to live among "their own," or with North Ossetians who reside across the border within the Russian Federation. While Russia may be willing to accommodate this request, Georgia is committed to the preservation of its territorial integrity. Although Russia recognizes South Ossetia's independence, the international community considers the region an integral part of Georgia. This book is about ethnic relations between Russians and non-Russians in certain Central Asian and Baltic states. While some Russians in these states want to live among "their own" and thus migrate to Russia, others have no desire to abandon what they view as their homeland and therefore simply coexist or attempt to organize themselves on a political basis.

The Meaning of To the Kazakh who divides us into "native" and "non-native"

Though the poem entitled To the Kazakh who divides us into "native" and "non-native" refers to Russians in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, it depicts the plight of Russians in many post-Soviet states including Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. Svetlana Nazarova, a middle-aged Russian woman who lives in Almaty and edits a local journal, wrote the poem in 1997—Kazakhstan's officially designated "year of ethnic harmony." Three years later, Nazarova stood in front of a large group of people who had come together to celebrate Russian culture. Before she recited her prose, the poet explained that despite the fact that she and her family had lived in Kazakhstan for generations and considered Kazakhstan their homeland, since the Soviet Union's demise Kazakhs had come to regard them as non-native.

The poem is an artistic attempt to express this irony and in so doing unite Russians who are less content in post-Soviet Kazakhstan than they were in Soviet Kazakhstan. Nazarova achieved her objective. Several Russians who were touched by the sentiment of her eloquent yet simultaneously germane prose surrounded Nazarova at the end of the evening to receive an autographed copy of the poem. During an interview I had the pleasure of conducting a few weeks later, the poet described her view of the Russian minority question as follows: the status of Russians in Kazakhstan deteriorated once the country declared itself independent because this historic change in status gave Kazakhs the freedom to declare Russians colonizers and carriers of imperial policy and to create a state of and for the indigenous population. In other words, independence gave Kazakhs the freedom to "nationalize" their state, or to build a state of and for ethnic Kazakhs.

The widely held perception among Russians that Kazakhs consider them non-native has a decisive impact on their attitudes, preferences, and behavior. This book offers a systematic comparative analysis of the initial stage of post-communist transition—1991 to 2005—and its effects on Russian minority populations in two newly independent states: Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. Keeping in mind causal mechanisms embedded in long-term historical processes, the analysis focuses on the role played by formal and informal institutions in the formation of Russian attitudes, preferences, and behavior in these states. I argue in general that informal institutions have a stronger influence on Russian minority politics than formal institutions, and in particular that the absence or presence of dense interpersonal informal networks explains different responses of Russians in Kyrgyzstan and Latvia to various forms of discrimination. The emphasis I place on informal institutions contributes to a growing body of research that suggests that many rules of the game structuring political life are established, communicated, and followed outside official boundaries. Informal institutions can therefore be considered an integral element of a complex constellation of variables that shapes outcomes related to minority politics. This collection of variables in the Kyrgyz and Latvian cases is simultaneously rooted in history and connected to level of economic development.

The approximately twenty-five million Russians who lived outside Russia proper but within the former Soviet Union suddenly acquired minority status when Lenin's geopolitical creation collapsed in 1991. The federation's disintegration forced these Russians to cope with various implications of minority status in new conditions characterized by dramatic political, economic, and social upheaval. The Russian minority problem raises compelling questions regarding nationalism and ethnic conflict, such as what factors encourage peaceful coexistence in potentially unstable multiethnic states, and how do those factors influence post-communist development? At the same time, the Kyrgyz and Latvian cases raise an important question concerning minority responses to a range of post-communist challenges: Why is there more out-migration and less political mobilization among Russians in Kyrgyzstan, a state that implements accommodating policies, and less out-migration and more political mobilization among Russians in Latvia, a state that implements antagonistic policies? In probing these questions I take into account contrasting historical legacies of state socialism, perceptions of existing socioeconomic opportunity, and future expectations of socioeconomic mobility.

Because the ethnic conflict literature emphasizes drastic responses that minorities have to grievances such as violence, boundary reconfiguration, and assimilation, it overlooks critical moderate responses like out-migration and political mobilization. For example, a highly regarded taxonomy of methods to regulate ethnic conflict consists of four ways to eliminate differences—genocide, forced mass-population transfers, partition and/or secession, integration and/or assimilation—and four ways to manage differences—hegemonic control, arbitration, federalism, and consociationalism. Yet tense Russian-titular relations have failed to generate any of these extreme outcomes. Instead, there is a real but relatively narrow range of variation within generally moderate Russian responses to post-communist challenges that includes different levels of out-migration and political mobilization.

Frustrated minorities do adopt less confrontational measures to redress grievances. The puzzle of Russian minority politics concerns moderate responses, such as "exit" or voluntary out-migration and "voice" or political mobilization, to what Russians perceive as highly dissatisfying circumstances. The existence of widespread grievances among Russians in post-Soviet states regarding their political, economic, and cultural status vis-à-vis the relevant titular nation indicates that the status quo is being challenged. That challenge, however, manifests itself in ways that are apparent only when we explore temperate strategies such as out-migration and political mobilization. And there is significant variation in terms of the degree to which Russians in these states exercise these options: while the level of Russian exit from Kyrgyzstan is higher than it is from Latvia, the level of Russian voice in Kyrgyzstan is lower than it is in Latvia.

Variation in Levels of Exit and Voice

Possible hypotheses regarding this variation include arguments about level of development, inclusive versus exclusive institutions, and regime type. Explanations found in the comparative political economy literature suggest that variation in levels of exit corresponds to variation in levels of economic development. Given that Kyrgyzstan is far less developed than Latvia, these arguments would predict a higher level of Russian exit from the Central Asian state than from the Baltic state. Although this is in fact the case, the effect of informal institutions must be taken into account in order to comprehend precisely how economics play out. The Kyrgyz and Latvian cases suggest the following: (1) both formal and informal institutions determine access to the economy; (2) degree of access to the public and private sectors of an economy influences perceptions of prospects; and (3) when minority access to the public sector is denied, level of economic development is critical because the more developed a private sector is, the more likely a minority with access to it will consider commercial activity a viable alternative to a battle with the core nation for influence in the political arena.

Institutional explanations are inclined to focus on formal rather than informal institutions. Arguments in this literature claim, for example, that inclusive institutions facilitate political participation while exclusionary institutions foster alienation from the political system. Given that minority policies implemented in Kyrgyzstan are inclusive while those implemented in Latvia are exclusive, these arguments would predict a higher level of Russian voice in Kyrgyzstan than in Latvia. The fact that Russians in the Baltic states are far more politically active than their counterparts in the Central Asian states indicates that something other than formal institutions impacts Russian voice in the post-Soviet region.

Regime type explanations also address variation in levels of exit and voice. Regime type might affect exit in the sense that all else being equal, rational, self-interested individuals will choose to migrate from an authoritarian state rather than a democratic state. And this is the case here: the level of Russian exit from the more authoritarian state, Kyrgyzstan, is higher than it is from Latvia. Data presented in Chapter 6, however, show that regime type is not a motivation for migration from either state. Furthermore, in the course of interviews I conducted with representatives from six organizations working on behalf of Russians in Kyrgyzstan and ten working on behalf of Russians in Latvia, regime type did not arise as a factor contributing to exit. Another regime type hypothesis is that levels of voice are higher in democracies than in non-democracies because people are afraid to demonstrate in authoritarian societies. Yet the "Tulip Revolution" that occurred in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and the antigovernment protests that broke out in Burma in 2007 render this hypothesis questionable. In both cases people took to the streets despite the fact that they confronted fairly authoritarian governments.

The story this book tells is much more interesting than these arguments suggest. The Kyrgyz and Latvian cases illustrate that the absence or presence of strong informal networks explains variation in levels of exit and voice among Russians in post-Soviet states: connectedness to or isolation from such networks affects Russian access to the public and private sectors of the economy. That access (or the lack thereof) influences Russian perceptions of socioeconomic prospects, which then drive decisions regarding exit and voice. The conclusion of this analysis—that informal institutions are more influential than formal institutions—highlights the need to move beyond a straightforward analysis of formal politics. In some cases, informal politics matter most.

The Significance of Informal Networks

Every Russian minority population in the post-Soviet region confronts a particular opportunity structure, or set of institutions that governs power relations between ethnic groups. In the process of governing such relationships, these institutions generate perceptions of socioeconomic prospects that then determine choices made by members of the minority in question. Opportunity structures are made up of formal policies that affect citizenship, language, and public sector employment, as well as informal personnel practices that privilege the ethnic majority in the labor market. In some cases, a minority inherits dense informal networks that are based on socially shared unwritten rules designed to resist efforts made by elites to exclude the minority from power. These networks create economic opportunities that would otherwise not exist because of various nationalization efforts, and thus permit alteration of the respective opportunity structure.

Institutions are formal organizations and informal rules and procedures that structure behavior and therefore enable or privilege some actors and constrain or disadvantage other actors. But formal institutions differ from informal institutions. The former are "rules and procedures that are created, communicated, and enforced through channels widely accepted as official," while the latter are "socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels." Legislatures, political parties, ministries, courts, bureaucracies, and labor unions are examples of formal institutions. Constitutions, laws, and policies fall into the same category because they flow through officially sanctioned channels. Clientelism, patrimonialism, clan-based norms, and corruption are examples of informal institutions. Personnel practices that favor one group and in the process undermine the mobility of other groups are also informal institutions because they are based on socially shared rules that are communicated by example rather than enforced by officially sanctioned channels.

Though the networks that Russians in some republics inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed are technically informal organizations rather than informal institutions, they operate on the basis of unwritten rules that aim to resist attempts made by elites to exclude Russians from power and can therefore be considered institutions. The core rule is straightforward: Russians must "take care of their own" in an environment of discrimination that greatly restricts the labor market for those outside the titular nation. These informal networks, which encourage collective action because they provide trust, resources, communication, and opportunities in an atmosphere of shortage, resemble Soviet blat. Alena Ledeneva considers blat "a reaction of ordinary people to the structural constraints of the socialist system of distribution—a series of practices which enabled the Soviet system to function and made it tolerable." The use of networks by Russians in certain post-Soviet states is a reaction of ordinary individuals to structural constraints imposed by nationalization policies and/or practices designed to curb their ability to prosper. Dense interpersonal networks render nationalization tolerable for most Russians in such states. Connections played a critical role in the second wave of business development in post-Soviet Russia, which was "formed by the representatives of the upper echelons of the Soviet bureaucracy or the nomenclatura, [and] was profound. . . . The dissolution of the Communist party and attempts to reduce the influence of the former nomenclatura do not mean that such a strong and well connected apparatus has disappeared." In fact, Ledeneva argues that individuals well connected to the system, particularly those running the Komsomol, had in the immediate aftermath of the federation's demise much better starting conditions than other individuals. Chapter 4 illustrates that this is the case in Latvia as well: just as in post-Soviet Russia, networks in post-Soviet Latvia continue to play a central role in the business community. A comparison of the Kyrgyz and Latvian cases indicates that variation in network strength affects interethnic relations.

This variation is best understood within the context of the degree to which formal and informal institutional outcomes converge. Figure 1.1 diagrams the role of informal networks in Russian minority politics in independent Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. Institutional outcomes converge when following an informal set of rules generates a substantively similar result to what strict and exclusive observance of a formal set of rules would produce. Such convergence generates complementary institutions. Institutional outcomes diverge when following an informal set of rules generates a substantively different result from what strict and exclusive observance of a formal set of rules would produce. Such divergence produces competing institutions.

While elites in Kyrgyzstan and Latvia aim to promote the interests of the respective core nation in order to ensure core nation "ownership" of the state, Figure 1.1 indicates that they pursue this goal differently. Although Kyrgyz elites design formal institutions to promote Kyrgyz interests, they make sure these institutions simultaneously take Russian interests into consideration. This results in formal policies that accommodate Russians. In contrast, Latvian elites design formal institutions to promote the interests of Latvians at the expense of Russians. This generates formal policies that antagonize Russians.

Institutions that provide differential access to resources and thus dictate who gets what from the economy are a critical part of the Russian minority story. Both formal and informal institutions can influence minority access to the economy because they have distributional consequences. For example, informal personnel practices favoring ethnic Kyrgyz restrict Russian access to Kyrgyzstan's public sector. This means that Russians derive little benefit from state assets, meager as they are. While the country's stagnant economy presents few opportunities in general, sparse informal networks hinder Russian entry into the slowly emerging but still undeveloped private sector. In contrast, language and citizenship policies as well as personnel practices favoring Latvians restrict Russian access to Latvia's public sector. As a result, Russians realize little benefit from state assets. The country's developed economy, however, presents private sector opportunities to well-connected Russians. Dense informal networks facilitate Russian entry into the flourishing private sector. Figure 1.1 shows that whether or not Russians inherited strong interpersonal informal networks determines their ability to alter the opportunity structure created by elites in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's demise.

In the Kyrgyz case, competing informal institutions diminish the potential merits of accommodating formal institutions. Formal policies are designed to placate Russians, but the interaction of those policies with informal personnel practices blocks any intended accommodation. Because they contradict the intended effect of formal policies, widespread informal personnel practices that privilege ethnic Kyrgyz are competing informal institutions. Adding insult to injury, Russians did not inherit networks that might facilitate collective action on their behalf. So although formal policies are designed to protect Russian interests, informal nationalization practices and sparse informal networks constrain Russian conduct.

Though the Kyrgyz opportunity structure appears permissive because it is characterized by accommodating policies, it is actually confining because it is also characterized by informal personnel practices that lessen the potential merits of accommodating policies. But the key variable here is sparse informal networks, which hinder collective action and thus impede the minority's ability to alter its situation. A confining opportunity structure that provides Russians with minimal access to the public and private sectors generates negative expectations of socioeconomic prospects among Russians. These expectations have crystallized into a collective preference for exit over voice.

The Latvian case is more nuanced. Complementary informal institutions reinforce the intended effect of formal institutions: informal personnel practices and formal policies privilege Latvians at the expense of Russians. However, Russians inherited dense networks that facilitate participation in the economic and political spheres of society, and thus contradict the intended impact of these policies and practices. Russians have tapped into informal networks that emerged from the reconstruction of formal Soviet institutions to dodge nationalization policies and practices, and this allows them to reconfigure their opportunity structure. Within the context of a developed economy, these networks have enabled Russians to establish business firms as well as political parties and nongovernmental organizations that represent their interests. This has generated positive perceptions of socioeconomic prospects.

Although the Latvian opportunity structure is confining because it is characterized by antagonistic policies and practices that privilege the majority, being connected to dense informal networks permits Russians to reconfigure its boundaries. These networks contradict the intended effect of nationalization policies and informal practices, which is to obstruct Russian mobility, and provide Russians with unrestricted access to the private sector. This access generates positive expectations of socioeconomic opportunity, which have crystallized into a collective preference for voice over exit.

Discovering the Informal

This study is based on qualitative data obtained from a paired comparison of two cases selected on the basis of the most-different design method. The Kyrgyz and Latvian cases differ in terms of two critical independent variables: level of economic development and type of nationalization strategy. World Bank data discussed in Chapter 6 establish Kyrgyzstan's economy as considerably less developed than Latvia's economy, and a comparative analysis of formal policies governing majority-minority ethnic relations including those related to citizenship, language, and public-sector employment presented in Chapter 4 reveals that Kyrgyz nationalization is accommodating while Latvian nationalization is antagonistic.

By the same token, the cases share similar background characteristics that were held constant as possible explanatory factors were explored. Both the Kyrgyz and Latvian Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR) maintained union status, which bequeathed to post-Soviet elites almost all of the trappings of statehood necessary for the implementation of nationalization projects. As Rogers Brubaker has said, "the successor units already existed as internal quasi-nation-states, with fixed territories, names, legislatures, administrative staffs, cultural and political elites." Moreover, during the Soviet era Moscow imposed collectivization, industrialization, and central planning policies in the union republics that continue to affect Russian-titular relations in the post-Soviet republics. The Kyrgyz and Latvian republics were similar in terms of demography as well: at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse, the titular nation comprised 52 percent of the Kyrgyz SSR's population and 52 percent of the Latvian SSR's population, while Russians comprised between 21 and 35 percent of each republic's total population.

In order to uncover sources of varied minority politics in these cases, I interpreted opinions Russians have about their individual and collective situations via textual analysis of a large collection of interviews I conducted between September 1999 and December 2000, and between June and August 2005. The book is based on an original data set of 425 interviews with non-elite Russian respondents in Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan), Riga (the capital of Latvia), and Almaty (the former capital of Kazakhstan), plus numerous interviews with representatives of local Russians in each city. The Almaty data form the foundation of Chapter 7, where I assess the Kazakh case in order to develop a theory of ethnic system transition. I interviewed Russians as opposed to "Russian-speakers" because the former were accustomed to majority status for seven decades. Although the Soviet Union contained many nationalities, Russians were the numerically, politically, and culturally dominant group since the federation was founded in 1922. By 1989 they constituted 51 percent of the union's total population; Ukrainians, the next largest group, constituted 15 percent of the total population. Moreover, Russian was the lingua franca throughout Soviet territory, and Russians dominated all-union institutions in most of the republics. The transfer of power to the core nation that accompanied the union's disintegration rendered Russians a numerical, political, and cultural minority within most successor states. Russians in these states therefore acquired an unprecedented subordinate status vis-à-vis the respective titular nation.

Unlike many scholars, I do not define the twenty-five million Russians residing in non-Russian republics at the time of the federation's demise in broad terms emphasizing the language component of identity. Sweeping terms like "Russian-speakers" and "Russified settler communities" blur acute historical and cultural differences that distinguish Russians from other Russian-speaking groups. While Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians may speak Russian, each group has its own homeland, native language, culture, and history. As Walker Connor points out, "'Mother Russia' evokes one type of response from a Russian and something quite different from a Ukrainian." The inclusion of the many groups that speak Russian into a conglomerate collective identity precludes a study based solely on the ethnic group that suffered the most dramatic transformation in status when the Soviet Union collapsed. This book is thus based on interviews with individuals who identify as Russian, rather than Russian-speaking Ukrainian or Russian-speaking Belarusian.

I conducted research in capital cities for two reasons. First, headquarters of political parties and nongovernmental organizations that represent Russians as well as associations that facilitate Russian out-migration are located in capital cities. Sometimes these entities maintain affiliate branches outside the capital, but this is not always the case. Second, Russians in post-Soviet states tend to be concentrated in capital cities. Bishkek is Kyrgyzstan's most Russian city: Russians constitute 33 percent of the capital's total population. Though more dispersed than Kyrgyzstan's Russian population, Latvia's Russian population is concentrated in three cities, including the capital: Russians constitute 55 percent of Daugavpils's population, 51 percent of Rezekne's population, and 44 percent of Riga's population. Kazakhstan's Russian population is also dispersed: Russians reside in all fourteen administrative regions. However, they are most heavily concentrated in five oblasts and two cities, constituting over 40 percent of the East Kazakhstan, Northern Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Karaganda, and Kostanai oblast populations, and over 40 percent of the Astana and Almaty city populations.

I triangulated interview data in an attempt to address the inevitable problem of questionable and/or unreliable responses. This means that I interviewed three groups of Russians in each city. The first group was potential migrants, or Russians who at the time of the interview were planning to move to Russia. While I cannot confirm that these Russians actually left, the point is that they were in the process of figuring out the logistics of migration when the interviews took place. The second group was likely permanent residents, or Russians who at the time of the interview planned to remain in their current city of residence. Lastly, the third group was representatives of local Russians affiliated with political parties or nongovernmental organizations that defend the rights of Russians. Data from interviews with potential migrants and likely permanent residents informed questions I later posed to representatives of each Russian minority population. Answers to these questions served as a check on responses from interviews with additional potential migrants and likely permanent residents. Elites confirmed trends in potential migrant and likely permanent resident data, while potential migrants and likely permanent residents confirmed trends in elite data. I interviewed respondents in their native language without the assistance of an interpreter in parks, private homes, offices, or my apartment. With one exception interviews were open-ended, tape-recorded, and transcribed by local Russians. Potential migrants in Riga, however, completed a written survey because bureaucratic restrictions prevented oral interviews at the Latvian Ministry of Interior Immigration Police.

Though a post hoc check of each sample ensured variation in typical categories such as age, gender, education, and occupation, I generated potential migrant and likely permanent resident samples differently. Repeated visits to the organization responsible at the time for processing paperwork that alleviates bureaucratic hassles migrants encounter en route to Russia produced each potential migrant sample. Potential migrants in Bishkek visited the Federal Migration Services of Russia, which is a Russian government agency with branches in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Potential migrants in Riga visited either the Federal Migration Services of Russia or the Latvian Ministry of Interior Immigration Police, but bureaucratic restrictions blocked access to the former so I conducted interviews at the latter. Finally, potential migrants in Almaty visited a private institution called the Public Foundation for Migration. I went to each organization three times a week and approached every possible Russian with an interview request until I obtained a large set of interviews containing similar responses. Because I was an anonymous entity to whom they could tell their personal story without repercussion, potential migrants rarely turned down my request for an interview.

It was a challenge to generate a heterogeneous sample of Russian likely permanent residents because this group does not gather at a particular place to accomplish a particular task. Moreover, when I started my fieldwork entrepreneurs were just beginning to establish market research firms and they frequently confronted bureaucratic restrictions regarding survey subject matter. I therefore utilized the "snowball" method of selection to interview members of a population that is difficult to locate because it is so spread out. Referrals from initial interviews with Russians I knew fairly well eventually created an extensive network of contacts. Most initial respondents put me in touch with a few Russians they thought might be willing to discuss the Russian minority problem; Russians who were willing to talk about the issue provided contact information for additional Russians. This method gradually produced a sample of Russian likely permanent residents of Bishkek, Riga, and Almaty that varies in standard categories like age, gender, education, and occupation.

While the interview data are dispersed throughout the book, they dominate the second half. The first part of the book establishes a framework for understanding the parameters of the opportunity structures Russians respond to in post-Soviet states. Chapter 2 presents various approaches to understanding Russian minority politics in Soviet successor states and, in so doing, emphasizes the need to consider the significance of informal networks as a key explanatory variable. Chapter 3 discusses certain aspects of the socialist legacy with powerful implications for the Russian minority question such as federalism, nationalities policy, demographics, and the success or failure of locally initiated affirmative action polices. Chapter 4 considers the role informal networks play in the reconfiguration of opportunity structures that arose in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.

The second part of the book analyzes Russian perceptions of and responses to opportunity structures in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan and Latvia. Chapter 5 illustrates that although Russians in both states view themselves as victims of discrimination, Russians in the Baltic state envision a brighter future for themselves than do Russians in the Central Asian state. The conventional wisdom argues that this is because the former picture a prosperous future connected to Latvia's membership in the European Union, while the latter cannot even dream of such opulence because membership in such an elite club is not an option. In fact, Russians in Latvia envision a brighter future for themselves than do Russians in Kyrgyzstan because the former have utilized informal networks to organize on an economic and political basis, while the latter lack the tools required to achieve this objective. Chapter 6 analyzes Russian responses, including exit and voice, to perceptions of socioeconomic prospects that stem directly from the opportunity structure they confront on a daily basis. Chapter 7 develops a theory of ethnic system transition based on the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and Latvian cases, which states that a minority can move from a subordinate to a satisfactory position vis-à-vis the majority if (1) elites dominate the public sector, and (2) the state in question has a developed economy.