teisipäev, veebruar 05, 2008

mälu instituut

President Ilves this week announced the establishment of the Mälu Instituut, or Institute of Memory, which despite its interesting name, serves an honorable purpose -- to look into the human rights violations committed in Estonia in the period from 1944-1991.

I would take it a step further and argue that the Institute of Memory should study the entirety of the Soviet period, not just the human rights violations, because from living here, at least, it sometimes seems that the 1960s and 1970s have fallen down some collective mental black hole.

It seems especially pertinent to address this condition of national memory loss as we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Estonia. What everyone knows, but won't say, is that out of those 90 years, 50 were spent under foreign occupation. That's not to diminish the symbolism of the event. I mean in three years, from 1917 to 1920, Estonia went from being part of two tsarist provinces to an independent country subject to international law.

But what of those 50 years? Perhaps the reason that we hear so little of them, except the dramatic beginning and end of Soviet rule, is because the older generation -- who experienced the Soviet period as adults -- are not used to telling their stories. There are a number of reasons for this, but I would peg one down as simple childhood trauma.

The elders of today experienced the beginning of the Soviet occupation as children. They were separated from their families, dispossessed of their land. Some families were not reunited until after the death of Stalin in 1953. A full decade or more had elapsed. So in a way, their personal memories were destroyed. What they did remember, they did not wish to discuss in public.

A second factor is that the current middle-aged generation in Estonia went through a deep revolution in identity in the 1980s. They disowned their Soviet heritage, they divorced themselves from their pasts as party members. Estonia in 1991 was something real, but a childhood singing songs about Lenin was now "fake". So for them too, the Laars, Ansips, and Savisaars of Estonia, the Soviet period is nothing to gather around and reminisce about.

This blotting out of the 1960s and 70s as a sort of a wasteland of useless memories, is interesting when you consider that in the United States, there are stacks and stacks of books that cover this period in great detail. Indeed a major campaign issue of this year's contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been their interpretation of who was most responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

There are actually many books to be written about in this period, especially with regards to the emergence of a new national intelligentsia in the 1960s that replaced the one forced underground or into exile in the 1940s. But for some reason it lacks the relevance in today's Estonia that it has elsewhere. It would be a worthy task to record memories of this time before they are lost forever.

22 kommentaari:

Rainer ütles ...

Are you quite sure the Estonians despearately try to block away the events of the sixties and seventeies? I'm not so sure. I think they have received due attention, especially since Soviet era was not a particularly proud moment for us. Maybe as a person who did'nt experience it first hand you are curious to learn more.

"The Westerners" can sometimes be rather insensitive to our vexations. Let me put this figuratively: Estonia for them is like a person, who has had a rear and debilitating desease that they never had. But having had this disease is also the only thing they have heard about Estonia. And so they expect estonia to keep reliving this desease over and over again for their amusement.

I hope I came across here.
What do you think?

Doris ütles ...

Let me guess... Headed by Marek Tamm? he'd be an excellent choice being very farmiliar with the running of similar institutions abroad :)

As for the 60's and 70's, there seems to be plenty of information, especially from the movies - Viimne Reliikvia, Suvitajad, Mehed ei nuta, Noor pension2r, Kevade... hmm, but I suppose you're right, all there is to talk about is culture from those days. Have you ever read "Kadri" and "Kasuema" by Silvia Rannamaa? those two books are a little girly, true, but they give an excellent idea of what it was to be young under communism.

Giustino ütles ...

As for the 60's and 70's, there seems to be plenty of information, especially from the movies - Viimne Reliikvia, Suvitajad, Mehed ei nuta, Noor pension2r, Kevade...

Ah, but Kevade is about growing up in 1913 and Viimne Reliikvia takes place in the 16th century.

Are you quite sure the Estonians despearately try to block away the events of the sixties and seventeies?

They don't block it out, they just don't discuss it that often. And given the context of today, it's hard to interpret the era.

I mean was Urho Kekkonen's visit in the mid-1960s really important, or is it just written that way today? Who knows. If I asked older relatives, they probably would have no opinion.

Rainer ütles ...

Kekkonen's visit WAS a major event in the day. I meant that we were'nt completely forgotten by the rest of the world. It also meant some degree of solidarity toward us from the fellow ugri-mugri people.

Giustino ütles ...

Kekkonen's visit WAS a major event in the day. I meant that we were'nt completely forgotten by the rest of the world. It also meant some degree of solidarity toward us from the fellow ugri-mugri people.

That's what we are told, but nobody that was an adult then has ever told me about it in Estonia.

Contrast that with an event like the JFK assassination in US. I have heard many people who remember tell me about that event.

Rainer ütles ...

Well it has been widely discussed. I have no idea why you have not been told this.

He was'nt greeted by the masses like foreign dignitaries are today. Ordinary people were kept at bay, excluding "random encounters".

Rainer ütles ...

By the way, let me express myself figuratively once more.

I have never seen a flasher in my life. Does that mean that self-exposing pervs don't exist?

Doris ütles ...

I have seen a flasher... ewww

Justin, all those movies were MADE in the era you're talking about. You can find plenty of subject about the time things were made if you look carefully.

now that's one of the things those who have never lived under a totalitarian regime will not understand: reading between the lines. constantly. I mean, nowadays is good, freedom of speech and press and whatnot, you can be pretty sure that what people say is at least a reflection of what they mean. But back then people weren't allowed to say, much less write things that really meant somehting to them, so they found clever ways of slipping the message in anyway. But the problem is, in order to understand that message a person must be either living in those conditions or be completely immersed in all the data from back then. I think my generation can still recognize some of the subtle jabs at the system from the newspapers and books of those times but the people born after, say, 1990 have no such skills. I wouldn't blame them at all if they thought that the raving red propaganda (in which I see clever little jokes poked at the system) wa actually seriously meant... What a sad world.

On the other hand, isn't it also sad to always be deciphering everything you read? Like a mad conspiracy theorist.

Rainer ütles ...

I agree with doris 100%.

That double life is also one of the reasons people who experienced that nerv-wrecking totalitarian regime aren't exactly wild about reminiscing it. Hence my parallel with a desease earlier.

Doris ütles ...

It's kind of like the Dilbert comic strip - people who have never worked an office job just DON'T GET IT

Giustino ütles ...

I have wondered what the public mood was like in 1980. Epp said that the Olympics were a very big event for Estonia. But I also read that the independence movement began to coalesce around this time. Any thoughts?

Martasmimi ütles ...

Congratulations to the
New York Giants!!!!!
Winners of the Super Bowl and the best football game ever played...

Mom & Dad

NYC Parade @

www.myfoxny.com ~ : )

Kristopher ütles ...

"The Westerners" can sometimes be rather insensitive to our vexations. Let me put this figuratively: Estonia for them is like a person, who has had a rear and debilitating desease that they never had

Damn straight. Like the idea for the Estonian National Museum -- a conceptual tie-in to a Soviet airfield? That's the only thing they could think of? There are at least two things about Raadi that are more interesting than an old military base.

Actually, G, not to rebut your idea of an expanded role for the Memory Institute, the business of which you speak is right up the National Museum's alley . It has a more ugri-mugri folksy-wolksy reputation but it is moving away from that, too, with some excellent exhibitions on life in the Soviet era.

Mart ütles ...

It wasn't that bad. I wish people would shut up about it.

lounamaa ütles ...

Enno Tammer has published a couple of books containing the memories of people who experienced the absurdity of the Soviet regime first hand. They are titled "Nõukogude aeg ja inimene" (2004) and "Nõukogude kool ja õpilane" (2006).

Blogaddict ütles ...

Like they say - if you remember the sixties, you were not there.

No wonder we barely remember Brezhnev. We were all there. And we are still embarrassed. Well, at least those of us who've not become political apparachiks under the new regime.

Kristopher ütles ...

I recommend the first Tammer book, even cautiously for non-Estonian speakers. Should be able to glean some interesting info from its pages, such as the comparison of prices then and now.

Tatsutahime ütles ...

For me "Institute of Memory" without any historians in the board, sounds too much from "1984" ...

Giustino ütles ...

For me "Institute of Memory" without any historians in the board, sounds too much from "1984" ...

I agree. But as I wrote earlier, when a former prime minister and statesman is also a historian -- it gets a bit complicated to separate politics and history.

One thought I have had is the reason that the 60s and 70s are less important in Estonia than they are in the US is because you have younger people running your institutions.

The oldest minister is Jüri Pihl (54), the youngest ministers are Maret Maripuu and Urmas Paet, (both 33).

In the US most of the candidates for president this election season are over 60. The Republican nominee is likely to be John McCain, who will be 72 this year.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Giustino, if you haven't seen films called "Sügisball" and "Tühirand" yet, I recommend seeing them. Many middle-aged people hate those movies because these remind them too well the "stagna-aeg".

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I visited the eastern part of Europe the first time in 1985. The GDR where my grandfather from Estonia used to live after 1945 and who passed away a year before. He haven't seen his native land again since such a travel could cause trouble for him as a former Estonian officer and he thought his Estonia was lost, forever. Anyway I, ve spent two times during that year in the GDR. I saw my family divided, many look at me as an western family delegate. Something far away from a kind of "coming home". The second time I have been there with my French girl friend. Taking the sub in Eastern Berlin watching the other Germans on their way home after work. It was like watching aliens. The gap was too big since you had to consider that any strange contact with Westerners could cause unwanted consequences. I do not miss these times. But I also lived not there.

Tatsutahime ütles ...

The fact that historians can be also politicians don't show that "history" is necessarily part of politics or that researching history couldn't be a science, even if there are active historians in government. Our state should not create systems for some people's personal sake, even a researchers one. Not from my tax money!

Collective memory as part of democratic mind, can't come from an institute - it comes from what people see worth to give to their children, and of course, what they learn from historians work, but also from literature etc etc

Politicians use collective memory - and sometimes abuse.

"Institute of Memory" is the typical way of designing the abuse of collective memory and the try of choose, which part of history someone should remember.

I still think that Estonia is democratic enough for this institute to crumble... But it might be corrupted enough for this institute to be an instrument to give our tax money to friends of Ilves or someone else currently on power.

Researching every part of history is of course extremely important. But it should be done by people, who are interested in research and able to make it, historians, journalists etc. Not the people who are interested in using it in sake of power.

Does anyone from estonian-speakers know is Unt's "Hüvasti, kollane kass" translated in english? For me this is one of the most important marks in soviet Estonia's history, birth of a generation, who wanted to have their own will.