Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Estonia: Toward Post-Communist Reconstruction

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Estonia: Toward Post-Communist Reconstruction

Article excerpt

The path toward glasnost and perestroika introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, following years of stagnation under the successive administrations of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, spawned the beginning of Soviet collapse and spelled the end of the occupation of Estonia. Unlike the majority of other countries subjected to communism and totalitarianism, the forces that enveloped Estonia following World War II were not national in origin but, rather, occupying regimes forced upon Estonia under agreements signed by the Great Powers.

After Estonia's annexation by the USSR in 1940, the Soviet Union immediately demolished all of Estonia's legal systems and security structures. Concurrently, an Estonian territorial NKVD (Soviet secret police) was established by the Soviet regime as the enforcer of law and order in the Baltic state.

Regime Characteristics

Upon seizing power, the USSR imposed a strict, centrally planned one-party rule. Nominal "people's power" was subordinated to Soviet policymaking bodies or Party committees. Similarly, the executive was organized in the form of executive committees ("workers councils") of administrative units. In reality, however, the only right vested in the republics of the Soviet Union was that of implementing the directives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with very little attention paid to local conditions.

Although formally independent, in practice, courts were also beholden to the Party, since the judges, as Communist Party members, had to obey their corresponding committees. The penitentiary system was paramilitary in nature, centralized, and subordinated to the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Legislative power, for its part, was vested in the USSR Supreme Soviet and in the constituent soviets of the republics. Soviet laws trumped republican legislation, and the soviets of the individual republics lacked the power to adopt laws contrary to Soviet law. all laws were prepared and previously agreed on in corresponding Party committees and then unanimously adopted in the soviets of the republics.

Control over the economic and financial activities of all Estonian enterprises, institutions, and organizations was governed by the State Control Committee, the Council of Ministers, and the Audit Agency of the Ministry of Finance. The Pwkuratura (prosecutor's office) also had supervisory power. The heads of all pivotal institutes were appointed by, and answered to, the Party committees.

Soviet rule also brought with it a vast secret police system that pervaded every element of Estonian society. The basic force behind Soviet security structures was the KGB within the Estonian SSR Council of Ministers. Soviet police, or militslya, were the principal organ of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and were charged with securing public peace, handling criminal and economic offenses, supervising the technical condition of transport vehicles, and performing other functions. Grave crimes, such as political offenses, large-scale economic crimes involving foreign currency, "banditism" (which in Estonia meant armed resistance to the occupation rule), terrorism, sabotage, and mass riots, however, were under the jurisdiction of the KGB.

The Estonian KGB was organized in the same way as its Soviet counterpart. It possessed a Division 1, responsible for intelligence, whose activities are shrouded in secrecy to this day. However, speculation abounds that during the Cold War, the Division performed espionage activities through Estonians living abroad.

More is known about the activities of the Division 2, responsible for counterintelligence. Among its various functions, this unit monitored foreigners on Estonian soil, as well as the KGB-affiliated Inturist and Sputnik tourist organizations (which authorized and organized the trips of Soviet citizens abroad). The KGB's Division 4, predominantly active prior to the clampdown on Estonian armed resistance in the late 1950s, was responsible for combating "banditism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.