Austerity against the Homo Sovieticus

Political control, class imaginings, and ethnic categorization in the Vilnius riots of 2009

in Focaal
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This article analyzes the public discourse on the riots of 16 January 2009, in Vilnius, when protest against economic shock therapy ended in violent clashes with the police. Politicians and the media were quick to ethnicize the riots, claiming an “involvement of foreign influences” and noting that the rioters had been predominantly “Russian-speaking.” Analyzing electronic and print media, the article identifies a wider tendency, particularly among middle-class Lithuanian youth, of portraying the social class consisting of “losers of the post-soviet transition” as aggressive and primitive Others. A pseudo-ethnicity that combines Rus sian language and culture with lower-class background into a notion of homo sovieticus comes to stand for what is hindering the “clean up” of Lithuania and middleclass aspirations to form a new European identity. As such, the riots serve as a lens that illuminates the way ethnicity is flexibly utilized to shift political loyalties.