Estonia: Identity and Independence

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

Helga Nõu


An Opinion

When fleeing the war and the second Soviet occupation in 1944, an Estonian's identity was natural and inevitable. Initially, refugees did not know the language of the country where they were living, nor did they find work corresponding to their level of education, nor even a decent place to live, i.e. they lacked all the things which give people social status in the eyes of the those around them. Instead, Estonians abroad cultivated the strong national identity they had brought with them from home and which was based on intense patriotic idealism which was linked to the struggle against communism. Their national identity was reinforced by a hatred of the violence perpetrated by the Soviet Union, thoughts about those suffering back home, and a grim brand of homesickness. Schools, newspapers, publishing houses and hundreds of organisations covering all walks of life were started. It could be said that a miniature Estonia was created in several countries: Sweden, Canada, the USA and Australia. The 1950s and 1960s formed the peak years for the refugees, and many put more effort into their various Estonian activities than they did into their everyday work and life. At first, this activity had a concrete aim, since people still hoped to be able to return to their homeland. Over the years, this hope faded and the activities became an aim in themselves. The [liberation struggle] had been reduced to a slogan. For many people, their status in the exile community was the most important thing in their lives. When in 1991 Estonia suddenly became free, there were of course feelings of joy, but also of scepticism and disillusion, since now the importance of those carrying on the fight in exile was diminished. Many old former refugees feel they no longer have a [rightful place.] They have not been able to adopt the identity of their host countries, and their Estonian identity stems from the first period of independence between the wars. They do not feel at home in present-day Estonia.

What has been said above applies principally to the oldest generation of refugees who fled as adults. It also applies to those who lived in the Swedish conurbations where other Estonians were living. There are, however, plenty of people who lived away from such a refugee environment, married foreigners and devoted their efforts to their trade or profession. Their Estonian identity thus weakened and their everyday language was not Estonian. They perhaps adopted a double identity, sometimes they became divorced entirely from being Estonian, because it was easier to be a Swede, or an American, if

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