Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Law and Identity; Political Trust; Estonia; Estonian Politics; Law and Society; New Democracies; Law Mothers and Identity; Law and Gender Identity; Minority Integration; Law and Community; Law and Colonialism; Law and Democratization

Major Advisor

Dudas, Jeffrey R.

Associate Advisor

Hertel, Shareen

Associate Advisor

Bayulgen, Oksan

Associate Advisor

Hettinger, Virginia

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


The research on political trust is well-established; however, there has been limited research on how governments cultivate political trust or how people develop political trust in a new democracy. This manuscript develops the discursive nature of law and identity through a case study of Estonia. Using law as a tool for understanding political trust, this study examines the integration laws which formed the foundation of Estonian and Russian-speaking relations in the newly independent Estonian Republic. The initial result of the integration laws in the Russian-speaking communities was heightened feelings of insult and betrayal. Despite the efforts of the government to increase integration in society and cultivate political trust, the response to the integration laws was varied. In many cases, the more effort the government invested in trying to include Russian-speakers in society, the lower the political trust and more out-of-place the Russian-speakers felt. The development of political trust is not a unitary story. Using 33 original in-depth interviews from the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia, this study reveals how law challenges and also bestows personal and group identity and, importantly, how the conflict between identity and the law impacts the development of trust in the new democracy of Estonia. Personal interpretations of Soviet history, the role of motherhood and gender, as well as the density of Russian identity in a community significantly impact the perceived intentions of the integration laws and effect the development of political trust in the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia. How the integration laws disrupt or support one’s identity and self-understand determine the perceived intentions of the laws and the development of political trust. The case study of Estonia emphasizes the importance that law plays in developing the identity of a new democracy.