Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

Andres Tarand


The Soviet Period

According to the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on the eve of the Second World War, Estonia effectively lost its independence by signing the military bases agreement dictated to it by the Soviet Union in September 1939. The annexation became official as a result of false elections and of joining the Soviet Union in July 1940 [by the will of the people.] At once, Stalinist terror set to work. To start with, people simply [disappeared] (they were arrested without attention being drawn to the fact). In June 1941, one week before the German attack on the Soviet Union, the first mass deportations were organised in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. By September of that year, most of the territory of Estonia had been occupied by German forces and by October 1944 the Estonian mainland had been reoccupied by the Red Army. In actual fact, the war in Estonia continued for a further ten years with a resistance movement known as [the Forest Brothers] on one side and the continuation of the Stalinist terror regime on the other. In total, Estonia lost approximately one fifth of its population during the war and as a result of acts of repression. [Approximately] is used here in the sense that it is not possible to state the number of victims with any great degree of accuracy due to the wide dispersion of information, because of the falsifications made by the occupying forces and, in some cases, due to the fact that the information simply does not exist. But the general proportions are known. The largest group is made up of people imprisoned in or deported to Siberia (actually, the expression [to send to Siberia] also denotes prison camps or colonies of deportees in the European part of Russia). This group is followed by those who fled to the East or West, those who were forcibly incorporated into the Red Army or the German Army, and those who died or were executed during the war.

During dinner at a conference in Linz a few years ago, a former Polish minister, Michael Wilczinski, who happened to be my neighbour at table, asked me with genuine interest, [How is it possible that you, the Estonians, although there are so few of you, managed to stand up to the Russian regime for so long?] It is a familiar topic for Poles because they have themselves been subjugated by their neighbours on more than one occasion over the course of the last couple of centuries. I had not prepared an answer but, when speaking with a companion in misfortune, even a fumbled answer produces some kind of result. It is harder to get people to understand if they come from

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