Sat, 19 Jun 2021

Stalin In Tallinn: Life In Soviet Estonia

RFE
11 Jun 2021, 04:15 GMT+10

Photos at the National Archives of Estonia reveal daily life during the communist occupation of the Baltic state.

A bookshop employee shows high school students a poster of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in the provincial town of Tapa in 1960.

Women's motorcycling champion Virve Gustel takes part in a race in 1953.

A propaganda image of a group of Tallinn workers mourning the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in March 1953.

These are some of the thousands of images from the The National Archives of Estonia, which holds one of the most comprehensive collections of European life under communist rule.

Estonia became a socialist republic in 1940 after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany struck a secret deal to carve up parts of Europe into fascist and communist "spheres of influence." Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied by Soviet troops. Afterward, a new political party of left-wing radicals took power in rigged elections. The first demand of Estonia's puppet government was for it to join the Soviet Union.

The ruined center of Tartu during World War II.

Estonia became a battleground between Nazi and Soviet armies after Germany's surprise invasion of the U.S.S.R. in June 1941. The tiny Baltic country was retaken by the Soviets during the war.

Workers in Tallinn rebuilding the bomb-ravaged city in 1950.

Raivo Vetik, a professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University, reviewed the photos selected for this gallery. The 63-year-old says work brigades such as this were often husband-and-wife teams who needed to work for 2,000 hours at such sites in order to qualify for a "free" apartment from the state. The labor was done on top of people's day jobs -- often in the evenings.

A worker from the Sakala collective farm delivers pails of milk in Viljandi County in 1950. Workers on a collective farm near Jogeva display a portrait of Stalin in 1951.

Under Josef Stalin, the ethnic Georgian ruler of the Soviet Union, some 20,000 people living in Estonia were sent into exile to Siberia.

Crowds gather around a statue to Stalin after his death was announced in March 1953. The monument, which stood at the entrance to Tallin's old town, is now kept in an outdoor museum with other communist-era statues. A man at a market selects radishes grown on the Working Peasant collective farm in 1956. A man walks with his skis and a briefcase in Tallin in 1960.

Professor Raivo Vetik says the image of a man with his skis brings back strong memories of the Soviet period, when winter sports were enormously important "because there was nothing else to do in the winter. Skiing was the main [recreational] activity for people."

A scene from a performance of Beautiful Helena in Tartu's Vanemuine Theater in 1969.

Hatmakers working on their new creations in 1972. Young runners being interviewed in 1985 by Leopold, a popular character from the children's television show The Biggest Friend. A 1988 march in Tallinn protesting the bitterly remembered secret protocols of the Soviet-Nazi pact signed on the eve of World War II.

By the late 1980s, a loosening up on the limitations put on free speech allowed massive anti-communist movements in the Baltic states to begin pushing for independence.

Crowds wave Estonian flags at a song festival in Tallinn in 1988. The massive event, which attracted around 300,000 people, was part of what would become known as the anti-communist "singing revolution."

Vetik was unable to get inside for the massive 1988 singing event due to overcrowding but described the atmosphere at previous festivals that are traditionally held once every five years in Estonia.

"Very often, when some songs were performed, the older people around me started to cry. For example, there is a song called Fatherland that is very close to the heart of most ethnic Estonians,' Vetik said. 'As a boy, I was wondering why they were crying.... In a sense, these kinds of songs were anti-communist, but not directly. This was a kind of resistance that we could get away with, without being shot or sent to Siberia."

A statue of Lenin is removed from its plinth in Tallinn in 1991.

The Baltic states declared independence from the Soviet Union in the summer of 1991. The U.S.S.R. collapsed a few months later.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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