Estonian Themes


This compilation features books of the Central European University Press, published since its establishment in 1993, that have some relevance to Estonia, its history and culture. After the latest release, titles in the backlist are arranged by content: contemporary topics are on top, older themes below. For more substantial information about the content and availability, please click on the covers of the book, or on the links inserted into the citations.

“The police boards were dominated by ethnic German guilds and corporations of the nobility. In Dorpat, for example, the board had to include an official with academic rank.”—Policemen of the Tsar.
“Baltic German nobility’s major police power was its monopoly of the positions analogous to—but more powerful than—Russia’s rural sheriffs. In Estland, he was known as a Hakenrichter, was elected for fixed term, and while having no fulltime assistants, could deputize other noble landowners should circumstances warrant this.”
“While the Temporary Rules of December 1862 took away the Russian gentry’s right to elect rural sheriffs, the Baltic gentry retained this right. A decree of February 1866, however, did restrict the Baltic nobility’s ability to interfere with peasant self-government.”
“In introducing the new system tsarist officials were acting in the belief that the Latvians and Estonians would prefer Russianappointed police to German landlords.”

“This book details an unusual Cold War operation whose purpose was to assess the role and impact of Western information beamed to the USSR in the form of shortwave radio broadcasts.”—Under the Radar.
“In June 1983, we agreed that the Latvian group MPIS (Memento Publication and Information Services) in Stockholm would coordinate interviewing among respondents from the Baltic countries, beginning with Latvians and Estonians.”
“In 1989, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty findings had shown that about 29% of the Baltic adult population listened once a week or more to Western radio. Findings showed Latvia at 28%, Estonia at 30% and Lithuania at 34%.”
“Suomen Gallup served as our liaison with the Tallinn-based institute EMOR, who held Radio Liberty in high esteem and were thrilled to be working with us in Estonia.”

CEU Press books with an Estonian focus:

Friedebert Tuglas’s The Poet and the Idiot can be read in English now, with eight more stories, in the first Estonian member of the CEU Press Classics series.

The important testimony to the fate of Estonia in the 20th century presents the autobiographical life accounts of twenty-five common Estonians. The list ranges from Hilja, born in 1905, to Tiia 1973.

State violence is a worst kind of mass violence. Even if it is called class struggle. The cruel deportations of kulaks and nationalists from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in March 1949 left a deep scar in those societies. How did it happen "on the ground"? How did villagers behave? Answers to these painful questions are sought on the example of one Estonian county.

“The German occupation of Estonia, which lasted from February 1918 to November 1919, did not disrupt Jewish life in Estonia to any significant degree, in contrast to the subsequent Bolshevik takeover.”
Spanning over 150 years of Estonian Jewish history, this book wrestles most profoundly with the subject of the Holocaust and its legacy in Estonia.
“Many Jews reacted incredulously to information coming from Soviet sources. Another significant factor was the common perception of the Germans as a nation of civilized people devoted to order. This stereotype did not relate well to the crimes allegedly committed by the very same Germans. The older generation was especially disinclined to trust reports about Nazi brutality toward the Jews.”
“Estonians sought to demonstrate to the new rulers that they were different, that they had higher standards than their communist oppressors or even their Baltic neighbors, and therefore should be treated as equals by the Nazis.”
“Remarkably, the best known antisemites and Holocaust deniers in Estonia are former dissidents who at one point were forced to emigrate. With the Soviet Union gone for good, they have discovered for themselves new enemies in the face of Jews and freemasons.”

Titles from the CEU Press backlist, contemporary topics on top, older themes below:

„Estonia is an example for changing to a stable equilibrium, namely liberal democracy.”—A Concise Field Guide to Post-Communist Regimes.
„The Estonian transition has been described as elitist, characterised by the dominance of political elites in making decisions and steering society in a direction that the elites see as necessary for the development of society and the good of the people.”
„There have also been corruption scandals—the most serious ones being those of former Minister of the Environment.”
„In contrast to the practice of informal patronal networks, the Estonian political elite has not annexed the economy, and it did not use the state to create or feed oligarchs either.”

“With internal dynamics stemming mainly from ethnic conflicts, as well as the emergence of identity politics and right-wing populism, Estonia is generally not unlike Western liberal democracies.”—from the momentous endeavor of analyzing post-communist regimes.
“The Estonian transition has been described as elitist and even ‘tutelary,’”

The political and economic performance of twenty-nine post-communist transition countries was examined in search of transition models. Estonia notoriously collects the best marks. One source of success is the high governance quality and the resulting institutional trust of a nation united in the goal of distancing itself from the decades under Soviet rule. 

“What will be the common denominator between Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, Kaliningrad, and St. Petersburg in the new epoch?“
Essays on the past twenty-five years of east-central Europe in the perspective of intellectual history.
„In the Baltic region, the post-modern and post-totalitarian era proved capable of squeezing two centuries of uninterrupted European history within two decades of transition.”
„Latvia and Estonia emerged as new political actors in the twentieth century. All three states introduced liberal minority policies, granting cultural autonomy to their large minorities, Lithuania to its Jewish, Latvia to German, and Estonia to German and Russian minorities. All three sought strength and inspiration in their ancient languages and cultures. All have a strong Romantic element in their historical memory and self-perception. Last but not least, all benefited from emigrés and their role in politics and culture“. 

"Give the nation back its history!" Mart Laar came up with this slogan during the singing revolution at the end of the 1980s. History politics gathered new momentum as soon as Estonia joined NATO and the EU and the single consolidating narrative suddenly lost its relevance. A whole chapter discusses the Estonian case in a comparative volume.

"The earliest privatization attempts in Estonia, which began while the country was still part of the Soviet Union, took the form of employee-management buyouts. The new government of independent Estonia quickly replaced this insider-oriented scheme by a privatization policy designed to strengthen the position of ethnic Estonians over the resident Russian population. Mass vouchers were distributed to all citizens, but their value was indexed to the number of years spent working in Estonia.”—from a collection of essays on the nationalism-economy nexus.
„Estonia tried to make itself less vulnerable by opening its economy to the gale of global market forces and forcing its firms and citizens to ‚toughen up.‘ The exercise was not only meant to distance the country from the immediate Russian threat, but also to purge the economy and the national spirit of the presumably debilitating legacies of the Soviet system.“

Gorbachev: If separatism would become dominant, that would be dramatic. The Soviet peoples would not understand. We lived together for fifty years, we are integrated. We have sixty million living out there in nationality areas. Fifty percent of Estonia are Russians, over 50% percent of Latvians are now Russian, Lithuanian majority in Lithuania. December 1989
Face to face conversations of superpower leaders on 1000 pages.
Kryuchkov: The Baltic states, for example, got more from the rest of the Soviet Union than they gave. Estonia got cotton, oil, energy, grain, forage, non-ferrous metals, and so on. Of course it also contributed to the rest of the USSR, but not as much. February 1990
: The text of the speech prepared for me for this conference included references to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. However, after I read the text, I left out those references. I understood that this could put you in an awkward situation. And although I did not mention this issue in my speech, I hope that you understand that we have many people of Baltic origin in the United States and we hope that you will be able to ensure orderly progress in the process of self-determination. I repeat, I understood your problems and I did not want to add to them from outside. But we hope that it would be possible to find a way, which would allow them to carry out such a process of self-determination. November 1990

“I believe that in Russian nationalism the prevailing trend is not towards ‘a single and indivisible’ [Russian empire], but nationalism as such: ‘let them, all these Estonians and Armenians, go to hell!’” – the 1988 note from the diary of Anatoly Chernayev, Gorbachev's national security adviser, quoted from the probably most important recent CEU Press publication on the collapse of the Soviet domination. 

“The Estonians published Kafka, and their writers—Jaan Kross, Jaan Kaplinksi, Mati Unta, Vaino Vahing, and others—allowed themselves freer rein. Perhaps the Estonian language was less understandable to potential censors, or perhaps it was because we had more communists”—Irena Veisaitė‘s memoir in conversations.
“Estonia was an enormous turning point in my life—in both practical and spiritual terms. Reading Tammsaare’s five-volume work helped me to understand the Estonians’ character and history, their relationships to the land, to nature, to people.”
“During an annual meeting of the Estonian Composers’ Union, Arvo made an open statement criticising the cultural policies of the day. It was clear afterwards that he would never again receive a state commission; his music was banned and he had no means of supporting his family. That was when Arvo and Nora decided to emigrate.”

„The Estonian line of contacts is associated with the Estonian curator and fine art expert, Ninel Ziterova, who was particularly interested in underground art in the former USSR republics.“
A book on artistic interactions within the Soviet bloc and with the west between 1945 and 1989.
„Ziterova worked in the Kardiorg Museum in Tallinn. At the beginning of the 1980s, the underground movements were spreading in Belarus, and Martynchik invited Ziterova to visit Minsk to see what was going on there and to visit unofficial artists’ studios. Consequently, the idea emerged to organize an exhibition in the Estonian city of Kohtla-Jarve. The Informal Art exhibition took place in Kohtla-Jarve in 1986. ‚It was quite a nervous time, unofficial artists were not really prepared to become visible suddenly. But, anyway, it was so inspiring!‘
Ziterova organized the avant-garde art festival in 1988 in Narva, Estonia, in which avant-garde artists from the former USSR republics of Russia, Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and others took part.“ 

The edited volume on family life and childhood in Soviet times and in post-Soviet Russia and the Baltic States. Essays on varied subjects like motherhood, childbearing, single mothers, divorce etc. How these used to be, or have recently been, perceived and handled in this corner of the world. 

The huge book distribution program of the CIA that spanned 35 cold-war years, reached hundreds of thousand East-Europeans and involved a broad network of institutional and private supporters in the west. Despatches included boooks by Helbemae, Kangro, Kolk, Kuusk, Maelo, Saaraste, as well as Mana, the Estonian cultural and political magazine published in Sweden.

Naivety or tactics? In 1944 Karotamm, First Secretary of the Communist Party claimed that rumors about collectivization were inventions of enemies or based on harmful prejudices. Estonian communists were even discussing a “Mongolian way” which would transform Estonia into a semi-independent republic.
Based on a wealth of archival materials, the critical overview is taken of the main stages and features of the collectivization of agriculture in the former Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. After Zhdanov was put in charge of founding kolkhozes in the Baltic Soviet Republics in 1947, Karotamm still argued: “Most of us know the problems of collectivization in the USSR—this takes years, sometimes decades.” Indeed, many kolkhozes existed only on paper, and some farmers were unaware they were actually members of a collective farm.
Next came the amalgamation campaign. In Estonia, 2,213 kolkhozes in 1950 were amalgamated to 937 in 1952. 

“Nearly 10,000 Estonians sent to the Novosibirsk oblast in April 1949 were located in twenty-one rayons, 6,576 were placed on collective farms, 2,898 on state farms, 456 in forestry enterprises and 104 in gold mines.”
A book on Soviet deportation memoirs from the Baltic States.
“After our return to Estonia we were not allowed to reside in our own region. We went elsewhere, to Moisakula. The local atmosphere was not friendly: 'Why did you come here?' It was a moral blow which reflected the truth.”
“Of the four museums of occupation, the Estonian institution is by far the smallest. It welcomes around 25,000 visitors yearly, one-fourth of the number at the Latvian museum and a seventh of the number at Grūtas Park.”

Along with other metropolis in Europe, the birth of modern Tallinn is explored. By the 1930s, functionalism would itself become a national symbol. Rustic structures also carried significant ideological weight in the formation of an Estonian identity. Thus, throughout the interwar era, one frequently finds the same designer embracing functionalist and, equally comfortably, historicizing styles, often within the same building type: post offices, schools, apartment buildings, or hospitals.
The oscillation between traditionalism and modernism prevailed in the late 1930s, too. “In blending the cosmopolitan (style) with the indigenous (materials, methods, and ornamentation), Estonia’s advanced architecture of the Päts ‘era of silence’ proclaimed the nation’s reconciliation of the progressive and the retrospective, the transnational and the native”. 

“The Lutheran tradition prescribed that peasants needed basic literacy in order to achieve salvation and, from the mid-1840s, Orthodox schools were founded in the region to provide education to Estonian and Latvian converts to Orthodoxy.”Defining Latvia.
“The Map of the Latvian-Inhabited Land used dots and hatching to depict Estonian ‘colonizers’ in Vitebsk province, referring to Estonian speakers who migrated to this area during the Great Northern War in the 17th century.”
“The British research group argue not only that measures on cultural autonomy adopted in Estonia and Latvia during the interwar period adequately addressed minority issues, but that they also constitute a blueprint for managing such questions in contemporary post-Soviet Europe.”
“In 1958, Estonia and Lithuania supported proposals to extend schooling by a year and hoped that Moscow would listen to them about the need to retain teaching of three languages, but they did not press for the same level of decision-making autonomy as Latvia.”

“The Romanov Empire, acknowledging the danger of German claims over the Baltic littoral as national territory, had to change its nationality policy in these territories, promoting weak Latvian and Estonian nationalisms in order to undermine the domination of Baltic Germans, even in spite of their invariable loyalty to the dynasty”.
The nation-building processes within the Romanov Empire are examined in parallel with related trajectories in other empires in Europe.
“In the Romanov Empire the officer corps proved to be the most efficient tool not only for the acculturation and consolidation of the imperial elite, but later for the Russification of numerous representatives of the Baltic German, Georgian, and even Polish nobility as well”. 

“In the 1840s approximately 100,000 Estonians and Latvians converted to Orthodoxy. In the long run, not even Russian religion turned these Baltic peasants into Russians, although many Russian (and, with a growing sense of fear, German) observers expected this to happen.”The Tsar, the Empire, and the Nation.
“Why should anybody in the empire be concerned about the national aspirations of peasants whose favorite entertainment was swinging (in the case of Estonians) and solving riddles (in the case of Latvians)?”
“The emergence of Estonians and Latvians as collectives with an independent agenda ultimately forced imperial authorities and Russian nationalists alike to change their attitude toward the provinces. Previously, both ethnicities were generally believed to be ’ethnographic material’ that sooner or later would assimilate to the larger neighboring cultures, be it German or Russian.”
“The victories in local elections (a hint to the Estonian victory in Revel in 1904) made the heads of these young nationalities spin.”

The backlist of the Central European University Press presents many more books relating to Estonians and Estonia:

  • Financial conglomeration linkages in Europe were unfolded by a young Tartu graduate. 
  • Estonia (Livonia) found itself on the edges of the world also in the middle ages – historians confirm. 
  • In the closing volume of our series on demons, spirits and witches, witchraft in Estonia is discussed from two aspects: the reflection of witch trials in folk belief, and community conflicts linked to witchcraft. 
  • One of the most successful CEU Press books ever, contains entries on the following Estonians: Elise Kaer-Kingisepp, Vera Poska-Grünthal, and Lilli Suburg. 
  • A book on forced migrations in the USSR is inconceivable without frequent references to Estonians. 
  • Stalin was furious at armed resistance in - among others - Estonia, and demanded a "merciless campaign to eradicate them."
  • What impact did Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America have on Estonia (and other parts of the Soviet bloc)? Besides analysing the effects of cold war broadcasting, the reaction of the communist power is also presented with original documents.
  • A chapter in the book about the attempts to rewrite history in a politically motivated way describes the struggle for official recognition of ‘displaced’ group memories in post-soviet Estonia. 
  • A problematic relationship between Communism and Fascism impacts on the concepts and practices occupation and genocide museums in the Baltic region. 
  • Our book on eugenics in east and central Europe presents the reception of the concept in the interwar Estonia. 
  • Estonians cannot be indifferent towards Belarusian identity struggle, and the sovereignty movement of Tatarstan. 
  • How was restitution of confiscated property handled after the fall of the communist regime? The rich analysis of the topic examines the Estonian case, too.
  • In all three CEU Press volumes on media policies the Estonian case is discussed at length: on the public service broadcasting regime, the specifics of journalism, and the minority media.