The EU accession marked the end of postcommunist institutional transition, yet the nature of relations between state institutions with their societies was far from settled. The article argues that across the East European region continuous uncertainty about the nature of the state-society compact was central to maintaining the relevance of identity in politics. This compact is best understood from the distinct perspective on who owns the state and who benefits from the current form of the state. Since, postcommunist nation-state-building was as much about the exclusion of some groups of residents from the political community as it was about limiting states’ reliance on thick political ideologies similar challenges persist across the region over time. The exclusion at the foundation of the states placed “national identity” at the heart of postcommunist politics and offers considerable insights for comparison of the causes, effects and challenges of identity politics in wider Europe.