Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

Mari-Ann Kelam


An Opinion

What motivated the preservation of Estonian identity in the United States of America, and in what forms did this identity express itself there?

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the re-establishment of independence seemed extremely unrealistic, what pushed you to engage in public action on behalf of Estonia (membership in the Estonian American National Council)?

What the Estonian people were subjected to in 1940 was so cruel that it lives on in the subconscious. The fact that a foreign power, in just a few short months, was able to destroy the government, law and order and private property of a democratic country and managed to arrest, torture and murder so many people, shook our people to the very roots of their existence. People were consumed by feelings of defencelessness and fear. During the night of 13–14 June 1941, more than ten thousand civilians, many of them women, old people and children, were removed from their homes, crammed into cattle wagons and sent off into the unknown. The majority of them died or were killed. No-one living in a country under the rule of law could have foreseen such a turn of events.

It was no surprise that when, just three years later in 1944, the Red Army invaded Estonia once again, tens of thousands of people tried to escape to save their lives and their personal freedom. As had been the case with many other nations, in the absence of any other option they voted against the Communist regime with their feet.

Despite the trauma caused by losing their homes, the continuing sense of insecurity and their limited rights in the refugee camps in Germany, the Estonians at once began to organise themselves into a community. They set up schools, churches, newspapers, summer camps, societies, folk dance troupes, drama groups and choirs, and the work of the scouts and students' associations continued. Celebrations were held on the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Estonia and at Midsummer and Christmas. Once the majority of the people from the refugee camps had resettled in Sweden, Canada or the USA, activities continued even more intensively.

In places where a sufficiently large number of Estonians had settled, socalled [Estonian Houses] were set up, around which Estonian social and public life revolves even today. The preservation of the language, culture and

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