Life in Soviet Estonia

Read article

The Soviet regime tried to erase Estonians’ memory of political and cultural independence. Estonia was folded into the Soviet Union “family of nations.” The memoryand dreamof independence and democracy, however, could not be eradicated.

Soviet propaganda poster, Art Museum of Estonia

Propaganda was Soviet Union’s main weapon of winning over the people. Often the propaganda sullied life in the previous independent Estonia, and praised the new and better way of life under the Soviet regime. It quickly became clear that the idealized life depicted in the pro-Soviet posters did not correspond in any way to what life in the Soviet Union actually looked like.

The Soviet regime offered few opportunities for the preservation of Estonian culture. One exception was the continuous tradition of song festivals, where Estonians gathered together every four years, and sang their traditional songs in their native language.

“And then the 30,000 singers on stage started to sing without a conductor! When it became clear by the second or third measure that the song was going full force and the people began to sing along with great enthusiasm, Ernesaks was finally released and allowed halfway through the song to go to the conductor’s rostrum. Anyone who was there that day will never forget it.”

(Enn Toom’s memories)

Soviet Singing Celebrations, Estonian History Museum
The regular shipping service between Estonia and Finland with a ship Georg Ots, Estonian Sea Museum

During the second half of the 1950s, the relations between the Soviet Union and other countries began to improve. In 1965, sea travel via ferry was restored between Estonia and Finland, and it became the main travel route for foreign Estonians to their former homeland. However, Estonia was no longer the same place that was longed for and cherished in memories.

I remember long queues that seemed so strange to me. I was told that sometimes people stand in a queue when they are not even sure what is being sold there.

(Estonian American’s memories, born 1942)

A soviet car, Estonian National Museum

The communist trade union school issued me a license to buy a car. I went to the car dealership to find out when I would get my car. The important boss man looked at my license and at me and said that it would be exactly 10 years from now. In response to such accuracy I checked my notebook and said that it would be good if I could get it before lunch. The car dealership boss man wondered what difference it would make since it’s happening in 10 years from now. I replied that in exactly 10 years, in the evening, the housing authority has promised to send me a plumber, so I have to be home then.

(Tõnu’s memories)