The Soviet occupation in Estonia

On August 23, 1939 the Soviet Union and Germany signed a pact called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in which they promised not to attack each other for 10 years. For Estonia, however, the most important part of the pact was a secret protocol in which the Soviet Union and Germany divided Eastern Europe. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Soviet Union aggregated its armies against Finland and the Baltic states. Apart from other countries, Estonia decided to remain neutral and didn’t declare mobilisation in the hopes of better results. On September 24, 1939, Estonia sent its foreign minister to Moscow. There the Soviet Union demanded that Estonia signed a “mutual assistance pact” which meant that there would be Soviet military bases in Estonia. It was an ultimatum and Estonia had no choice but to accept naval, air and army bases. The contract was signed on September 28, 1939. The same year, the Red Army came and started to build their bases.
In the spring of 1940 the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Baltic countries started to get worse. Hitler’s fast progress forced the Soviets to hurry with the eliminations of the independence of the Baltic states. In 1940 Estonia was cut off by air, sea and land. On June 16, 1940, Estonia had to face another ultimatum: let more Red Army soldiers in and make a Soviet-Union-minded government. Due to the fact that Estonia was unarmed and didn’t have the tools to fight, they had to surrender and agree. If Estonia hadn’t agreed with the ultimatum, the Soviets would have attacked the country. By June 1940 the Baltic states were totally occupied. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were incorporated into the Soviet union in August 1940.

Estonia regained its independence in August 20, 1991 in relation to the political instability in Soviet Russia.

Life during the Soviet occupation

During the Soviet occupation the Estonian economy model that had developed during the independence years of the 1920s and 1930s was demolished and the implementation of Stalinistic economy model began. The main features of this model were industrialisation and forced collectivization. Soviet Estonia was chosen to be a model republic of Soviet Russia. State farms and collective farms were created. Those who opposed were killed or deported. The resistance of peasants was broken by massive deportations. The most formidable of those was the March deportation of March 1949.
During the Soviet period, all state institutions had to do what they were told from the “above” and there was no freedom of speech. Those who opposed the Soviet ideology and propaganda were killed or deported.
In the 1950s, secret youth organisations occurred to protest against embracing the spirit of the Soviet system.
In the 1960s, Estonian citizens were given back the right to contact people in other countries. Duet to the fact that the Finnish capital, Helsinki, was so near, Estonians were able to see the Finnish television. Western popular movements like rock music or the hippies movement were not unknown in Estonia (they mainly were in the rest of the Soviet Union, though).
The 1970s was the period of Russification in Estonia. Russian was taught in the first grade at school already and Estonians started to seriously worry about their language and national identity.
In the 1980s, the ice started to crack in the Soviet Union. This time turned out to be revolutionary for the Estonian society. People from the creative associations met and proved to be highly influential. People felt as united as ever in protecting Estonian culture and identity. In June 1988 the political crisis was evident.

Traces of the Soviet occupation

It is clear that the occupation affected the character of the nation: 50 years of having to hide your thoughts and identity most certainly leaves its mark on people. There are, however, other signs of the Soviet past.
The clearest sign of the Soviet occupation is the number of Russians in Estonia. During the occupation, many ethnic Estonians were deported or killed. At the same time, ethnic Russians moved to the Eastern parts of Estonia, changing the ethnic makeup of the population dramatically. Nowadays, 24,4% of the whole Estonian population are Russians. East-Estonian cities such as Narva and Kohtla-Järve are full of Russians. In Narva there are only 5,2% Estonians and in Kohtla-Järve 16,1%.
Second big stain caused by the Soviet occupation was that the old, cultural and meaningful buildings were destroyed. Theatre Vanemuine (In Tartu) was bombed to the ground in II World War (rebuilt in 1967). At the same time most of the Narva old town, with most of its buildings, was also destroyed.
Many of the Estonian cities still have badly and quickly built apartment buildings which are unstable. Such buildings are in Tartu (Annelinn), Tallinn (Lasnamäe), Narva and Kohtla-Järve.
From the occupation time there are a lot of old factories which are broken, cause pollution and are very dangerous for people because of the possibility that it may crush.

How has this all affected our relations to our neighbouring countries?

Estonia was under the Russians’ power for many years and the relations between Russia and Estonia remain tense. During the occupation time many Estonians didn’t tolerate the Russians because many of the people who did something wrong or were not satisfied with the wishes of the Russians, were killed or deported to labor camps.

The Baltic states
The other Baltic countries, such as Latvia or Lithuania, also have a good relationship because we both share some historical and cultural similarities. All three countries are in a way still struggling to let go of the Soviet legacy and find their own identity in Europe.

Estonian-Finnish relations have been warm and very close. Many Finnish and Estonian soldiers have fought together in the war against Russia and helped each other. Estonian and Finnish cultures and languages are also quite similar, which may be one of the reasons why the relation has remained warm even during the difficult times.

Comment Germany:
We noticed the Russian influence which is well represented above.
What was striking for us as visitors was the big contrast of buildings influenced by the russian occupation and modern western influences, also in the culture of Estonia especially in Tartu and Tallinn.

Comment Finland
Text is very clear and it gave a good overall view of the topic. I think there is nothing that suprised me about Estonian history. These things are quite familiar to me.
Similar thing to history of Finland is that both countries have been under the soviet occupation and both contries have been in a war against Russia.

Comment Italy:
We don't study Estonian history very much because we concentrate on bigger and better known countries like England, France etc.
In our opinion the text is very well exposed and We found it very interesting.

Laar, M. and Vahtre, L. 2007. Lähiajalugu gümnaasiumile I.