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Everyday Life in Stalinist Estonia

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Olaf Mertelsmann

In Estonia, as in other Eastern European countries, the Stalinist era remains in the center of attention of historians. Politics, repression and resistance dominate the historiography, while everyday life is definitely under-represented. This book attempts to close the gap and focuses on different aspects of everyday life in Stalinist Estonia.

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What is Sovietization?

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It is not easy to define the term “Sovietization,” because the actual implementa- tion of the process varied from country to country. In addition, over time the content of this term underwent slight changes. If we examine only one country, such as Latvia or Estonia, we risk overlooking the larger context.1 Thus this dis- cussion of “Sovietization” starts by looking at the history of the term. The word “soviet” (совет) means “council” in Russian and was used in the Russian Empire as a politically neutral term, as in Council of Ministers (sovet ministrov). In the context of the February Revolution in 1917, across the empire workers’ and soldiers’ councils were established, often elected, and played a role in the revolution. They turned into a parallel power structure vis-à-vis the institutions of the provisional government, especially because the remnants of the old administration began to dissolve and lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the population. In most workers’ and soldiers’ councils, it was not the Bolsheviks who dominated but other socialist parties such as the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. The “trick” used by Lenin and the Bolsheviks during their coup d’état, also known as the October Revolution, was to seize power in the name of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets under the slogan “all power to the soviets.” The long-term goal of the coup d’état, the establishment of a one-party dictator- ship headed by Lenin, was hidden. Workers’ and soldiers’ councils played a cer- tain role locally in...

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