Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

Liis Klaar


The Estonian Identity in Exile
An opinion

Amongst Estonians in exile, you are a good example of someone who has lived in several countries where there have been Estonian communities of varying sizes. Could you sense any differences in the Estonian identity in the different countries?

Does the Estonian identity abroad correspond to the Estonian identity you now encounter living in Tallinn?

For the first few years, we lived in the Augsburg refugee camp in the American zone of Germany. There were refugees from all three Baltic States, and there were also schools working in their languages. All sorts of hobby circles, choirs and theatre groups were set up. To begin with there was a lot of creative activity going on but each year the number of pupils and teachers fell as people moved on as soon as they had the opportunity. The USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all needed to increase the size of their workforce and they were prepared to accept refugees. However, my father contracted asthma in the camp and no country wanted a family with three children where the father was ill. My parents were hoping to be able to go to Sweden as my mother's brothers had fled there in sailing boats straight across the Baltic Sea. After being turned down three times, we finally made it to Sweden in 1950. I was then 12 years old and I had lived in a refugee camp for six of those years.

In Stockholm, to where we were not able to move until 1954, there was a large Estonian community. There were Estonian Guide and Scout groups, choirs, a folk dance group and other hobby circles. In 1945, an Estonian primary school was established. The curriculum was that of a Swedish school but the teaching was in Estonian. There was also a church and an evening school.

It was as if I was living in two different worlds. My life during the daytime — school — was conducted in Swedish, but I spent my evenings and weekends in an Estonian environment. The language we used at home was of course Estonian. But that was not the case in every family, as some parents were of the opinion that it was better for their children to assimilate rapidly.

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