Intellectual Occupation and Collaborationism in the Cultural Life of Estonia: Reflected in the Epistolary Communication between Tuudur Vettik and Roland Laasmae

By Randjarv, Laine | Trames, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Intellectual Occupation and Collaborationism in the Cultural Life of Estonia: Reflected in the Epistolary Communication between Tuudur Vettik and Roland Laasmae


Randjarv, Laine, Trames


1. Introduction

This article analyses a complicated and delicate issue which researchers often prefer to bypass. It is the evaluation of Soviet cultural figures--those who were to ensure the continuity of national culture--on the collaborationism axis. We will also try to define the concept of conformism.

The President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves has stated that collaborationism has been as little examined in Estonia as occupation has been in Russia. If we wish to avoid falling into the same trap of selective treatment of history that we see to the East of us, we must make an honest and thorough examination of Estonian history up to August 1991 (Ilves 2007).

The introduction to the article defines the concept of collaborationism and analyses its historical definitions in Europe, mainly in the context of WWII; the main body concentrates on describing the manifestations of collaborationism and conformism during the periods of military occupations (the Soviet as well as the Nazi occupation) and Soviet annexation in Estonia, referring to a reality where ways and means had to be found to carry on national culture and the nation itself in the conditions of consecutive occupations and the Soviet annexation. This constitutes the dialectic characteristic of the period. Since the researcher's task is "to analyse and understand this period, the how's and why's of its functioning, and not so much to condemn it" (Annuk 2003:31) with the help of all the available sources, it is imperative that we make a clear distinction between the terms collaborationism and conformism.

The same phenomenon took place in the annexed Soviet Socialist Republics as well as in the 'friendly' European socialist states which were also controlled by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Cultural Colonialism has been studied in depth on the example of Romania by Andrada Fatu-Tutoveanu (Fatu-Tutoveanu 2012:77). Her hypotheses and conclusions can be generalised to include the other former socialist states.

We will also look more deeply into the phenomenon of covert resistance while the occupation regime tried to employ cultural as well as scientific activities in the service of its ideology (Karjaharm 2006). Communist Party (CP) was only partly successful in this. Not all planned activities went according to the 'cultural brainwash'. Creative figures employed clever ways to convey a wordless (Kannike 2006:212) but rebellious message between the lines.

Before we concentrate on the conformism/collaboration 'ratio' of Estonian creative figures we will briefly touch on the concept of collaborationism and its historical dynamics.

What is collaboration and what forms did it take during the 20th century? Collaboration has become an emotive word coloured by negative connotations. Yet, has the deeper content of this concept been just as negative in its initial phase or has it acquired this specific connotation and become a condemnable phenomenon through its connections to certain historical events and the associated personalities?

Various definitions have been provided for the concept of collaborationism, yet it has mostly been linked to cooperation with enemy ranks (e.g. 'collaborator (traitor)'). The term collaborate dates from 1871, and is a back-formation from collaborator (1802), the French collaborateur, as used during the Napoleonic Wars for smugglers trading with England and assisting in the escape of monarchists (Hoffmann, Collaboration).

Stanley Hoffmann subdivided collaboration onto involuntary (reluctant recognition of necessity) and voluntary (an attempt of exploiting necessity). According to him, collaborationism can be subdivided onto servile and ideological, the former is a deliberate service to an enemy, whereas the latter is a deliberate advocacy of co-operation with the foreign force which is seen as a champion of some desirable domestic transformations. …

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