Estonia: Identity and Independence

By Jean-Jacques Subrenat; David Cousins et al. | Go to book overview
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Raimo Raag

The National Identity and Culture of Estonians Living in the

1. Points of Departure

The process of membership in society starts during childhood and continues for the rest of one's life. With little exaggeration, it can be said that there are six key aspects to the socialisation of the individual: home and family; relatives; friends and acquaintances; education; work; everyday life. The outcome of this process of socialisation is self-sufficiency of the individual, and finding one's place, to a greater or lesser extent, amongst those nearby, in the midst of other human beings and groups in society, as well as the behaviour resulting from such relationships. The way people determine their own lives and relate to their environment does not go unchanged over time. Such changes are especially noticeable when an individual ends up outside the environment he is used to, and moves his place of residence in order to, for instance, seek work or education. In such cases the individual must inevitably be clear about his attitudes to, and relationships in, this new environment.

After World War Two, especially towards the end, tens of thousands of Estonians found it suddenly necessary to clarify and resolve such attitudes and relationships, as they fled Estonia and found refuge abroad. Although by no means all Estonian refugees were aware of the fact, they would have to make a choice in their new homelands: either to adopt the new language and culture or not, and, in so doing to abandon, or attempt to preserve their own culture and language. John Widdup Berry identifies four courses of action undertaken by emigrants in their new environment. If a person preserves his old culture, but at the same time enters the new society around him, then this is termed integration; if he preserves the old culture but rejects the new one, this is termed separation; if he abandons the old culture and embraces the new one, this is termed assimilation; and if he rejects both the old and the new culture, this is termed marginalisation (Berry 1990: 243–246).

Those Estonians who moved to, or ended up in the West, during World War Two, and their descendants born in the West, have often been characterised as successfully integrated. Below I shall briefly describe the


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Estonia: Identity and Independence
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