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Author:Marija Norkunaite (University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
In the Baltics, the Russian-speaking residents’ identity as taxpayers becomes one of the main means for them to claim deservedness as fully-fledged members of the national community. However, their readiness to pay taxes diminishes if the state is perceived as breaking the social contract.
Paper long abstract:
This paper is based on an ethnographic study of three predominatly Russian-speaking former socialist cities in the Baltics: Visaginas in Lithuania, Daugavpils in Latvia, and Sillamӓe in Estonia. In the national Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian states, the Russian speakers can claim their membership as minority subjects only. The more so, in the Baltics, the Russian-speaking residents of these three cities in particular are imagined as alien and threatening to the national state “others.” Thereby, my Russian-speaking interlocutors’ identity as taxpayers becomes the main means for them to claim their deservedness and equity as fully-fledged subjects in what is now a national state. Even if Russian-speaking residents do not belong to the titular nation or do not hold citizenship altogether, they contribute to the state budget in the same manner as any other ethnically Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian citizen. Even so, my interlocutors’ motivation to be good, taxpaying subjects diminished if they perceived the “state” as the one breaking the social contract. My interlocutors did not see taxes merely as a manifestation of a “fiscal exchange”. The most important for them was the reasoning behind the state tax policy. Tax noncompliance was argued to be acceptable when the “state” was imagined as self-interested – or even “anti-human” – machine existing for itself and creating policies for its own benefit, rather than for the people. If the state treated them as nothing but yet another source of money to be extracted, then my interlocutors also did not feel morally obliged to comply.
Tax matters: are rules made to be broken?