Settlers facing demise: Derek Saunders, The Unsettled Settler: Settler Identity in PostApartheid South African and Post-Soviet Estonian Literature, MA Dissertation, Tallinn University, 2019


Abstract: In 2007, riots erupted in Tallinn, Estonia, the largest single instance of civil unrest since the fall of the Soviet Union. The stated cause of this was the removal of the Soviet-era monument to the unknown Soviet soldier, which after Estonian reindependence took on various meanings, being seen by ethnic Estonians as a reminder of the Soviet occupation, and by Soviet-era immigrants, the so-called Baltic Russians, as a sign of their belonging in Estonia. However, in spite of the Tallinn monument, relations between Estonian- and Russian-speakers were believed to be improving. However, the riots sparked by the monument’s removal brought these divisions to the fore. This separation has remained in the public consciousness, with many Estonian Russians believing themselves to be discriminated against due to the country’s language and citizenship laws, the perceived secondary status of Russian in Estonian life, and, more recently, the implementation of new language requirements in Russian-medium secondary schools, where at least sixty per cent of all school subjects must be taught in Estonian. In addition, the continued presence of approximately 85 000 stateless individuals in Estonia has raised concern about the state’s seeming unwillingness to integrate its large Russian-speaking population.

In a similar process, White South Africans’ perception that they are discriminated against and are unwelcome in the country of their birth has also developed and grown apace since the election South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Mandela, in 1994. The end of apartheid was supposed to bring reconciliation, unity, and prosperity for all, yet racial divisions and a lack of real change for the majority of poor, mostly nonWhite South Africans, have remained realities of everyday life. The victimhood that White South Africans have adopted has manifested itself in the form of a lack of cross-cultural communication, a tendency to remember the benefits of apartheid for Whites while ignoring the draconian state, and a hankering after an idealised status quo that can never return. An increase in inflammatory demagoguery in the political sphere, a persistently high violent crime rate, and a loss of the exclusive attentions of the state have all contributed to a feeling of dispossession amongst White South Africans. Complaints about the current state of the nation may be met with responses along the lines of: “If you don’t like it, go back to Europe.” But how can White South Africans “go back” to Europe? And how can Russian-speakers resident in Estonia “return” to Russia? In South Africa, many of these people are the descendants of settlers that came to the respective countries three centuries ago; in Estonia, the first wave of Soviet-era immigration began in the early 1950s, not long after the beginning of the Soviet occupation. Children, parents, and grandparents have settled in Estonia, calling it home. Where should they go?

And yet, divisions remain within the changed society. With linguistic and social divisions persisting after the birth of the new order, the newly free countries found that there could be no quick and simple solution to the problems inherent in decades, or even centuries, of oppression and marginalisation of the Native Other. However, the settlers themselves remain. Cavanagh and Veracini argue that there is no such thing as a post-settler colony, as the settler, by definition, takes root and becomes resident within the colony. 1 Settlership and settler colonialism are resilient and persistent structures. Thus the question must be asked: what is to be done?

This thesis is based on the premise that, despite past injustices and the violence and inequity of the settler colony’s original formation, the settler is here to stay, be it in South Africa, Estonia, or elsewhere. Since these (often sizeable) populations remain in the country that they once occupied, living in close proximity with the people whose oppression they aided in, the issue of progression beyond violent clashes or restricted communication must be dealt with. The issue of the settler’s relationship with his home and the formation of settler identity in terms of the colony are the main focuses this thesis. In particular, the manner in which the settler is unsettled through his relation to both the colonising Empire and the colonised Native will be analysed. The prevailing model of the colonial system is dualist, envisaging a distant metropolitan Empire superior to the peripheral Colony. The settler is understood as a representative of the Empire, and not as a separate party at all. However, through his own distancing from the metropolis, and through the hybridisation of culture, the settler takes on an identity that has aspects of both Coloniser and Colonised, and yet is part of neither. When the prevailing hegemonic structure of settler superiority is disrupted, this disjuncture results in a necessary reworking of national narratives. During this process, however, the settler remains unsettled, leaving him unsure of his position within the new order. It is this that must be dealt with.

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