Soviet Repressions in Estonia


This event is sponsored by the Forum on Contemporary Europe, Center for European Studies, and Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.


Event Summary:

Professor Koll's presentation describes the "dekulakization" process in Estonia during the 1940s as a systematic class struggle campaign aimed at breaking up the cohesion of the perceived ruling rural bourgeoisie, so as to make Soviet influence in the region easier. Tools of the campaign included taxation, forced reduction in farm size, redistribution of livestock and equipment, political persecution, severe social stigmatization, and in some cases deportation to Siberia. The difficulty in identifying "kulaks" from an egalitarian countryside full of similarly small farms was addressed by enlisting locals to identify, to a surprising extent, perceived kulak members of their own communities. These were often neighbors, and sometimes family. Still, there remained a hazy line between perpetrators and victims, as Koll illustrates with a case study toward the end of her talk. Koll also discusses the role of German occupation during the early 1940s, and the German POW camps that followed, in the dekulakization process. In her concluding comments, Professor Koll notes the ambiguous nature of a campaign aimed at dividing a population across invisible lines, which nonetheless left no option for passive observation and made everyone choose a side. Koll notes that the effects of class warfare persist to this day among the rural Estonian population, in the pervasiveness of alcoholism and strong distrust between neighbors.

A discussion session following the presentation raised such issues as how locals came to be in the position of identifying kulaks; whether there were regional variations in deportation rates; what aspects of the Estonian environment facilitated dekulakization; where the Estonian case falls on a continuum of collectivization; and what the success rates was of appeals by families accused of being kulaks.