On the night of April 27, 2007, Estonia removed a Soviet-era memorial from the city center and relocated it to a military cemetery on the outskirts of the capital. This memorial commemorated Red Army soldiers who died liberating Tallinn during World War II. The relocation of "the bronze soldier" statue sparked a wave of unrest among ethnic Russians living in Estonia that resulted in more than 1,000 arrests, more than 150 injuries, and one death. It also resulted in demonstrations outside Estonia's embassy in Moscow, and a "cyberattack" on Estonian websites that is viewed as the first example of cyber-warfare. More importantly, geopolitical relations between Russia and the West were swept up into the vortex of these events and have emerged in a decidedly colder position than they entered. The events surrounding the removal of the bronze soldier statue are a requiring scholars to reassess their views of the bordering processes associated with governance strategies and structures. The recent literature in political geography has treated borders not as static lines on a map or on the ground but as dynamic processes through which identity and difference between people and places are marked, symbolically, discursively, and in practice. The focus of much of this work has been on the ways in which bordering processes not only reflect but also produce differences between places and peoples as well as the interrelationship between the two, with emphasis on questions like what bounded categories of identity belong where and what bounded spaces belong to which groups. Such bordering processes establish both the broad meta-narratives of identity and difference that underwrite governmental legitimacy and the micro-level rules, regulations, and procedures that make governance possible. Furthermore, bordering is not smooth but rather a contingent process that is strongly defined by events. The research project supported by this Small Grant for Exploratory Research will examine bordering processes as they unfold in order to critically assess the role that events play in altering bordering processes and to analyze the policy implications of these specific changes for interethnic relations in Estonia, interstate relations between Estonia and Russia, and the transnational relations between Russia and western nations. In analyzing the impact of the events surrounding the bronze soldier statue's removal on these bordering processes, the investigators will use a three-stage research design. First, they will examine the production of new "border knowledge" that is occurring as a result of these events. A content analysis of the texts of speeches will examine the ways in which the events are presented and used to reset the three border trajectories (local, national, transnational). The content analysis will be followed by interviews with those producing the new border narratives as well as with participants in the events themselves. Second, the investigators will examine how the new border narratives are being translated into systems of governance and techniques of rule within Estonia. In this stage, they focus on the more micro-level alterations of institutions, procedures, rules, and regulations associated with changes in political border-crossing practices on the border between Russia and Estonia as well as with changes in Estonia's Integration Program. This program initially was designed to reduce the border between Estonians and Russians in Estonia through the creation of one "civic nation" but has been judged by most analysts and officials to have failed. This second stage also will examine the impacts of changes in the procedures governing citizenship, especially with regard to the large stateless population living in Estonia. Third, the investigators intend to conduct a micro-level analysis of how these changing border practices are being implemented at the border in Narva, Estonia. In addition to collecting data on border crossings, numbers meeting the benchmarks of integration, and numbers of stateless applying for and/or obtaining citizenship, they will interview local residents about their experiences with border crossing, the Integration Program, and the naturalization process.

The results of this research project are expected to provide new information and insights into the events associated with the removal of the bronze soldier statue and also in the ways that they are being translated into border narratives and practices have contributed to the growth of cold war rhetoric and posturing that threatens to engulf not only Estonian-Russian relations but also Russia and the West. The focus of this study on a specific event and the ways in which they have altered geopolitical bordering processes will have immediate policy implications for Tallinn and Moscow and also for Brussels and Washington. The investigators will share their findings with a variety of governmental offices and other policy-related outlets will make a presentation on their research at the Wilson Center in the autumn of 2007. Furthermore, demonstration of the ability to trace through the eventfulness of bordering processes as they occur at a fine-grained level represents an important contribution to the field of border studies, which has tended not to pay close attention to this aspect of borders. The project therefore will make scholarly contributions but also have specific relevance to bordering processes and how they operate in Estonia today. A more detailed understanding of the eventfulness of bordering processes has the potential to expand ways of seeing both Estonia's political border with Russia and also the bordering practices separating Estonians and Russians.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Thomas J. Baerwald
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University of Wisconsin Madison
United States
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