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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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Living on a Stalinist Kolkhoz: Peasant Survival Strategies in Estonia

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The collectivization of Soviet agriculture in the early 1930s and its aftermath has been studied extensively in recent decades by historians like R.W. Davies, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stephan Merl, S.G. Wheatcroft, O. Verbitskaia and Lynne Viola. 1 Fitzpatrick 2 in particular drew attention to village life and survival strategies after collectivization. Stalinist agricultural policy might be seen as a mode to channel funds from agriculture into the hands of the state to finance in- dustrial investment and other state expenditures like the military and the arms industry. Deliveries by the peasants amounted to a huge agricultural tax burden, also called “primitive socialist accumulation.”3 Keeping the standard of living in the countryside low—in fact, exploiting the peasants—was intended to serve other projects. This “austerity policy” could, in the event of a drought, even lead to famine and mass starvation. The peasants needed survival strategies to cope with this challenge. This paper explores those strategies on the basis of a local study grounded in archival and oral sources from Estonia.4 Basically, the sur- vival techniques showed similarities all across Soviet territory, but regional, geographical, cultural and economic differences should also be taken into ac- An earlier version of this paper was presented at the workshop “Consumption Con- strained: Austerity in Rationing in the 20th Century” on April 28–29, 2007, in Tartu and published in Humanitāro Zinātņu Vēstnesis 2009, no. 15, pp. 83–94. 1 R.W. Davies, The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929...

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