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'Exit' in deeply divided societies: regimes of discrimination in Estonia and Latvia and the potential for Russophone migration

Wiley-Blackwell in association with UACES, the University Association for Contemporary European Studies
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  • Ht Communities. Classes. Races
  • Hc Economic History And Conditions
  • Jv Colonies And Colonization. Emigration And Immigration. International Migration
  • Communication
  • Political Science


Hirschman’s model of ‘exit’ envisages that mass migration can communicate feedback to a state and elicit modifying policy behaviour. The regimes of discrimination against Russophones in Estonia and Latvia are examined to demonstrate that in certain conditions of inter-ethnic conflict the model does not work as predicted. In deeply divided societies the mass migration of a minority can be intentionally promoted by a majority regime of discrimination and thus does not perform a feedback function. Equally, in such conditions migration may operate as a safety valve to release the build up of minority antagonisms against the discriminatory regimes. The cases of Estonia and Latvia also illustrate the limitations of international conditionality from the EU and OSCE to prevent anti-minority policies, when there is a lack of international commitment and when governing elites resist. Given the lack of political will in Estonia and Latvia to modify the regimes of discrimination, and the poor prospects for integration or assimilation, the article predicts a significant out-migration by Russophones to other EU member states when restrictions on freedom of movement are eased after the transitional period.

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