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The Village and the Class War
Anti-Kulak Campaign in Estonia

Anu Mai Kõll, Professor Emerita of Baltic History, former director of the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University, Sweden

Before collectivization of agriculture in Estonia, “kulaks” (better-off farmers) were persecuted and many of them were finally deported in March 1949. This book is situated on the local level; the aim is to understand what these processes meant from the perspective of the Estonian rural population, a kind of study that has been missing so far.

Analyzes the mechanisms of repression, applying new aspects. Repression was mainly conducted through a bureaucratic process where individual denunciations were not even necessary. The main tool of persecution was a screening of the rural population with the help of records, censuses and local knowledge, in order to identify, or invent, “kulak families”. Moreover, in the Estonian sources, the World War II history of each individual was a crucial part of screenings. The prisoners of war of the Red Army, held in camps in Estonia, played an unexpected part in this campaign. Another result is a so far neglected wave of peaceful resistance as the kulak identifications were challenged in 1947-48. This has not been addressed in the existing literature. The results mainly answer the question “how” this process worked, whereas the question ”why” finds hypothetical responses in the life trajectories of actors.

Lists of tables, graphs, photographs Preface Introduction. The Land Question in Estonia Soviet Repression as a Special Case of State Violence The Anti-kulak Campaign Inventing Kulaks Participation on the Local Level Epilogue of the March 1949 The Grammar of Terror Concluding Discussion Appendixes Bibliography Index

"Kõll’s study is a signifi cant leap forward in understanding postwar Baltic history. While up to today the ordinary participators in terror have either been seen as ideologically driven traitors or as mere objects of the communist leadership, Kõll presents them as subjects in their own right. Thanks to this effort, history of Stalinist terror in the Baltic States can fi nally be related to other new explorations on local participation in state violence in twentieth-century Europe."—David Feest, Georg-August-University, Göttingen, Germany

ISSN 2306-3637 Historical Studies in Eastern Europe and Eurasia Vol 2

296 pages, cloth
ISBN: 978-615-5225-14-7
$55.00 / €42.00 / £35.00

"Focusing on three townships in Estonia’s Viljandi County, Anu Mai Kõll demonstrates how the Soviet regime, despite its shortages in manpower and lack of legitimacy among the subject population, attempted to create a new society in rural Estonia. Yet this study is not only about the victims of Soviet power; it is also about the participants in the creation of Estonia’s new order. Directly addressing an earlier historiography that has sometimes portrayed dekulakization in ethnic terms (Russians versus Estonians) or as a matter of locals struggling against the imperatives of the center, Kõll demonstrates that while decision makers in Moscow made the choice to persecute local populations, 'the implementation and its consequences were on the other hand strictly local.' Participation was simply the least bad option for local Estonian administrators (many of whom were not members of the Communist Party) who had to consider the fate of their own families and thus needed to demonstrate their loyalty to the new system. For rural Estonians, the late 1940s was a time of confl icting loyalties (victims and participants were often closely related) and unpredictable outcomes. The local community 'was not united against Soviet officials; it was still negotiating the boundaries of the permissible.'
According to Kõll, the story of Soviet repression in Estonia was not about evil persons and denouncements; it was about a drawn-out bureaucratic process that 'was carried out through a systematic screening of the entire population with the help of records, archives and local knowledge'. 'The face of evil,' she concludes, 'seemed to be more bureaucratic than personal'.” - Slavic Review

"The blurb on the dust jacket of this important study of collectivization in Estonia in 1947-1949 lauds it for contributing to Baltic history by showing how everyday Estonians also participated as subjects in Stalinist terror. This Anu Mai Kõll indeed does, and very effectively; she also looks at how and why so many ordinary people participated in the brutality. But more important is the book's contribution to the growing historiography of collectivization, particularly collectivization beyond the classic case of the Soviet 1930s." - The American Historical Review

"Kõll questions the degree to which the campaign in Estonia was class-driven and implemented by outsiders. Through careful comparison of local evidence from three local soviets in Viljandi, she finds substantial variation in dekulakization, including the criteria used in kulak selection and the numbers of those so identified. Within this context she uncovers both collaboration and a surprising degree of resistance by local leaders and the village population. One of the most interesting discoveries is the numerous letters supporting appeals for reconsideration of those labeled as kulaks, including letters by the very local soviet officials who selected them.
The book underscores the impact of German occupation on dekulakization in Estonia. Kõll consistently finds that using Red Army POWs during the German occupation and other behavior which might be interpreted as pro-German led to kulak status.
The consequences of living between Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II scarred Estonian society not only during the war, but continued to shape the destinies of Estonians until the collapse of the USSR." - The Russian Review

"Kõlls Fokus ist neu: Sie beschäftigt sich nicht mit der Kollektivierung an sich, ihren ökonomischen Voraussetzungen und Resultaten, und sie geht auch kaum auf die Deportationen vom März 1949 ein, nach denen bekanntlich die Zahl der Kolchosbauern in die Höhe schnellte. Im Zentrum der Aufmerksamkeit steht der Prozess der Selbstzerfl eischung der dörfl ichen Gesellschaft, der selbst aufgetragen wurde, „Kulaken“ zu identifi zieren – d.h. diejenigen, die als „Feinde“ aus der Gemeinschaft auszuschließen waren. Es geht Kõll somit darum zu zeigen, dass im Gegensatz zur Gewaltgeschichte des Holocaust, in der Opfer und Täter klar voneinander zu scheiden sind, der Prozess der Sowjetisierung bewusst so angelegt war, um eine ähnliche Trennung in „Böse“ und „Gute“ zu verschleiern. Damit sieht Kõll auch einen Gegensatz zur nationalen estnischen Meistererzählung, die nach wie vor davon ausgeht, das „Böse“ sei ausschließlich in äußeren Kräften zu verorten.
Kõll macht zwei wesentliche Unterschiede zum Verlauf der Kollektivierung Anfang der 1930er Jahre in der UdSSR aus. Zum einen verweist sie auf die ethnische Dimension des Geschehens, die vor allem auch in den retrospektiven Lebensgeschichten der Esten hervorgehoben worden ist. Zum anderen aber betont die Autorin die unmittelbare historische Situation in einem Imperium, das gerade den Zweiten Weltkrieg siegreich überstanden hatte. Mit diesem Aspekt betritt die Autorin tatsächlich Neuland.
Diese feine Studie von Anu Mai Kõll hat in jedem Fall einen Leserkreis verdient, der über die an baltischer Geschichte Interessierten hinausgeht. Sie zeigt eindrücklich, was Studien zur Mikrogeschichte für das Verständnis der größeren Zusammenhänge bieten können. - Forschungen zur Baltischen Geschichte