October 12, 2015

Estonia’s Virtual „Russian World“

On the 12 of October, Jill Dougherty, a Russia Expert and former Moscow Bureau Chief for CNN, and Riina Kaljurand, a Researcher at ICDS presented the preliminary findings of the analysis of “Estonia’s Virtual “Russian World”” at the ICDS.

The analysis was a result of a two month project, which the authors undertook to find out to what extent the Estonian Russian speakers live in the Russian information space, what their main sources of information are and whether the information they get actually influences their attitude towards their home society. The main underlying question was whether Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority would be sufficient incentive for Russia to intervene militarily, or at least create instability. Would the Russian-speaking minority really be receptive to Russian propaganda and raise weapons against Estonia if the moment arrives?
The authors conducted 44 interviews with integration experts, politicians, historians, journalists and, most importantly, Russian-speakers with very different backgrounds in Tallinn, Narva, Valga, Sillamäe, and Kohtla-Järve.
The research underscores five principles that guide Russian-speakers in how they consume Russian media: Entertainment is primary, news is secondary; Skepticism about any and all news sources is rampant; Young people are tuning out, abandoning TV in favour of the Internet; Local news, not international, is of paramount interest; Cultural attraction to Russia does not necessarily equal political attraction.
Given these factors, the researchers do not see very high likelihood that Russia’s state media would succeed in inciting wide-spread civil disturbances among Russian-speakers. They are too diverse, too rooted in their cities and towns, albeit in some cases marginalised and fearful of perceived threats to their national culture. Even if the threat scenarios cannot be completely excluded, watching Russian TV, joining the virtual “Russian World,” does not necessarily mean that a person identifies politically with Russia; being alienated does not necessarily mean opting for life in Russia.

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