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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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The Private Sphere under Stalinism

Extract

Historical background In many ways, Estonia, like Latvia and Lithuania, represented a special case in the context of Soviet history. When exploring the private sphere, one must keep in mind the cultural and historical differences between Estonia and other regions of the USSR.1 Estonians are a Finno-Ugric people, speaking a language similar to Finnish. In the thirteenth century, the country was conquered by German and Danish crusaders, and until World War I, a Baltic German elite dominated. As a result, Estonia became part of the Central European cultural space. The Refor- mation took place in the sixteenth century, and Protestants still predominate to- day. Aside from Germans, there were also other ethnic minorities: Russians, Swedes, Finns and, beginning in the nineteenth century, a small community of Jews. Different languages, cultures and faiths were always present, as in many other parts of Eastern Europe. Once a part of the Swedish Empire, Estonia was conquered by Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century and incorporated into the Russian Empire. The German elite preserved its advantageous position. Until the Russification campaigns in the 1880s, German remained the language of administration and higher education.2 Meanwhile, compulsory education in the vernacular was in- troduced in the eighteenth century. The end of the nineteenth century was the period of the “national awakening” of the Estonians, who saw, especially in the German elite, the “other” and the national “enemy.” Since nearly the entire population was literate, the Russian Empire offered opportunities for a career and a...

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