borders summer 2016


Border Serbia-Croatia, a couple of years ago

In summer 20016 I am planning to photograph along the borders of the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) with neighboring Belarus and Russia. These areas interest me because of their social composition and socio-political issues relevant to the composition of European Identity. The Baltic countries have large numbers of EU citizens that identity as ethnic Russians, composing up to 30% of the population. Even higher numbers consider their first langue Russian. Furthermore there are other minorities such as Ukrainian, Belarusians and Seto. I am interested in how people configure their own identity and how the attachment to a territory affects self-perception.

this summermy plan for summer!

I will start my travel by reaching Vilnius, Lithuania, which is the closest airport to the border and I will use Vilnius as base to visit 3 locations. Lithuania is the Baltic country with the lowest percentage of population that identifies as Russian or Byelorussian, merely 7%, however it presents some very interesting locations: the villages of Šalčininkai, as well as Dieveniškės, Norviliškės were split in half at the fall of the Soviet Union, when a border fence was put in place, splitting communities and making it difficult for relatives to visit each others. Read here

I will follow the Lithuanian border to enter Latvia, where the city of Daugavpils, near the border with Belarus, counts a majority of inhabitants of Russian ethnicity. I will use this town as base to visit small villages near the borders, such as Silene, Kraslava and Patarnieki. The cities of Rezekne and Ludza will be my base to start the exploration of the Latvia-Russian border, heading to Zilupe and the Terehova village on the border crossing, as well as Karsava. The villages of Rekova, Vilaka, Balvi and Abrene are of particular interest as part of the Abrene District that has been swapped between the two countries, nowadays mainly in Russia . Read here on the Abrene District from a Latvian point of view (slightly nationalistic…i am sure the other side of the border would present a different story!)

Russian speakers in Baltic counties Estonia and Latvia have particularly large ethnic Russian minorities, with about 24% and 27% of the general population respectively, while Lithuania’s Russian population falls just under 6%. Percentages of Russian speakers, rather than ethnic Russians, are even higher since other Baltic minorities such as the Polish, Ukrainians, Belarusians, or people of mixed ethnic origin, have often adopted Russian as their primary language. Latvia’s Russian speakers made up nearly 34% of the population, Lithuania’s Russian speakers toted nearly 8%, and Estonia’s about 30%. In all three Baltic states, Russian-speakers are concentrated in capital cities and in territories close to the Russian border. However, the vague and ambiguous term of Russian compatriots, or even Russian speakers, has been little explored, in the Baltic or European context.

“The biggest problem in my opinion is Latvia’s view of Russian speaking people as “others”. It makes Russian-speaking people feel alienated and unwanted. Another problem is that Latvia might give citizenship to Russian-speaking people, but they can never be called Latvians because Latvia strictly differentiates between citizenship and nationality. My citizenship is Latvian, but [my] nationality can be only Russian or Polish. It shows that the [Latvian] country formed from and for one nation – Latvians, making other ethnic group as “citizens” and not Latvians.”

I will continue to the north Into Estonia I will focus on the Setuma region, which has ethnicities of Seto speaking a finnish-ungarian language and have a mixed Russian-Estonian culture, this minority has become cut of from its cultural capital of Pechory, nowadays in Russia. In this area I will visit the towns of Obinitsa, Piusa, Koidula. Read here

I will finish my travel in the Narva region, where the town of Narva is split from its counterpart Ivangord by a border crossing; in this area the majority of inhabitants are Russian ethnics or Russian speakers.