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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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Moonshine in the 1940s: The Story of an Illegal Cottage Industry

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The story of Estonian moonshine in the 1940s is part of the history of illegal dis- tilling in Eastern Europe under Soviet and German rule and amid war and post- war reconstruction. Only in the newly annexed Soviet territories could alcohol be produced illegally on a large scale, because only there did private farming continue for several years until forced collectivization. In the Soviet heartland the kolkhoz system was not efficient enough to provide the peasants with the necessary means for extended alcohol production. Moonshining in the Soviet Union has barely been researched, and sources are rare.1 It is not possible to present reliable economic data or detailed statistics, but the impact of moonshine on everyday Estonian life and on the economic re- alities of the countryside was immense. Because the production of moonshine was illegal, the story of this cottage industry can only be reconstructed with the help of oral history, questionnaires and life stories.2 Sources of the state authori- ties provide a glimpse at the problem from above.3 The Estonian countryside had a long tradition of making homemade vodka, known as puskar or samagon. There were different techniques, recipes, and in- gredients, such as grain, potatoes, flour, bread, sugar, berries, sugar beet and yeast. The recipe could be part of a family’s heritage or be well-known in a vil- lage or a region. As a result the taste and the alcohol content varied widely. Two to three kilograms of flour or five to seven kilograms of potatoes were...

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