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Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad
Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad
By David D. Laitin
Cornell University Press, 1998, 417 pp
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A remarkable synthesis of data and history, converted into powerful theoretical insight, this book is social science at its best. Laitin, a University of Chicago political scientist, takes the reader deeper into the portentous, complex issue of Russians in the "near abroad" than anyone has before. With the help of three able colleagues specializing on Ukraine, Kazakstan, Estonia, and Latvia, he constructs a rich but uncluttered account of Russian speakers living in foreign lands, including their identity before the breakup of the Soviet Union, their reaction to that cataclysmic implosion, and current interethnic relations in the new states.

In this work, Laitin brings all of his comparative perspective (most of his earlier work was on Africa) and theoretical acumen to bear. The theory is spare, accessible, and genuinely powerful, illuminating the subject in highly original ways and suggesting outcomes, including disturbing ones, missed by more impressionistic studies: to wit, in the end, Russians are more likely to assimilate into Estonian and Latvian culture than into Kazak and, more surprisingly, Ukrainian culture.