Identity and Othering in Past and Present: Representations of the Soviet Era in Estonian Post-Soviet Textbooks


  • Katrin Kello


This paper analyses representations of the ‘core Soviet era’ (1945-1985) in Estonian post-Soviet history textbooks (1989-2016). Attitudes towards the Soviet system have been a rich resource for identity building, and hence a powerful political tool across the whole of the post-Soviet block. Based on an analysis of sections about the Soviet era in Estonia in 21 textbooks, the paper takes a look at how textbooks reflect broader processes of social meaning making, identity building and othering after a profound social and political turn. In 1989 and during the early 1990s, perspectives and narratives in Estonian history textbooks were closely related to social memory and national politics, enacting a specific social representation of the Soviet era that dominated the Estonian-speaking public space during the 1990s. The Soviet era, Russia and local Russians became the main Others for Estonia and Estonians. Over time, public discourse has diversified. The national curriculum and textbooks, however, still maintain the canon that formed in 1990s and thus reflect earlier sentiments. Apart from the increasing salience of Soviet-era daily life in more recent textbooks, the thematic choices and emphases have changed little since the 1990s. Therefore, even if the style of writing has ‘cooled down’, issues of identity preservation, resistance and accommodation, together with a saliently negative representation of wrongdoings by the Soviet system, still prevail. On the one hand, this testifies to the resilience of an established tradition in the textbook genre in general. On the other hand, it reflects the dominance of an ethnocentric tradition in Estonian history textbook writing. The paper discusses the implications of these findings for interethnic relations in Estonia.