Doctoral thesis by Maarja Merivoo-Parro highlights fostering of patriotism in Estonian diaspora in the United States during Cold War

A Dec. 12, 2018 (ERR is short for Eesti Rahvusringhääling – Estonian Public Broadcasting) article is entitled: “Thesis details fostering of patriotism in Estonian diaspora during Cold War.”

The opening paragraphs read:

In a doctoral thesis successfully defended at Tallinn University (TLÜ) on Monday, Dr Maarja Merivoo-Parro examined what Estonian life was like in the Cold War-era United States and how this manifested in humor, music, education, recreation and academic mobility.

Following the abolishment of serfdom, Estonians have been involved in a number of significant waves of migration, both voluntary and involuntary. It is due to this migration that Estonians have a worldwide diaspora, complete with its own unique cultural landscape.

The greatest number of Estonians migrated during the World War II era, whether to go fight on the front, as deportees to Siberia or as refugees to the West. In her doctoral thesis, Dr Merivoo-Parro examined how the Estonian culture and national identity accompanied this migration.

[End of excerpt]

PDF version of dissertation is available online

The article includes a link to the dissertation; you can access the PDF version here:

Merivoo-Parro doktoo

An excerpt (p. 10) reads:

The means to look beyond archives was provided by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies who gave me a grant which helped me conduct an oral history project in the United States of America and thus gain insight into more aspects of the Estonian American community. I am moved by the generosity of spirit and welcoming manner of my interview partners who not only opened their heart and home to me but made my anthropological journey an adventure.


A further excerpt (p. 12; I have broken a longer paragraph into shorter ones) reads:

It can be argued that Estonian history is nothing more than a long series of migrations. A common grand narrative would go as follows: the first inhabitants came to the territory of modern Estonia (immigration) approximately 10 000 years ago when the ice caps receded. These first tribes of hunter-gatherers were later joined by others (more immigration). As time went on a sedentary form of everyday life started to gain momentum. Apart from archaeological interpretations, little is known about the culture of these peoples until the 13th century when German crusaders came (immigration + diaspora) and brought religion with “fire and sword”.

They were soon joined by Danes (immigration + diaspora) who played a big role in further developing the settlement at the site of present day Tallinn which went on to become an important trading venue during the Hanseatic period (a lot of im- and emigration).

The Swedes were also interested in the land and started to make their own settlements (immigration + diaspora) in the North-Eastern coastline and islands.

A permanent Russian presence (immigration + diaspora) can also be dated back to medieval times. In the 16th century Russian troops attacked East-Estonia, but were unsuccessful in the long run – when the Livonian War ended, Estonia was divided between Swedish, Polish and Danish rulers (more immigration and diasporas).

The Swedes slowly but surely gained more influence, but during the course of the Great Northern War in the beginning of the 18th century, Peter I of Russia managed to defeat the Swedes and incorporate its provinces by the Baltic Sea.

Russian rule and Baltic-German patronage persevered until 1918, when Estonia first declared its independence which lasted two decades after the 1920 end of the War of Independence.

During World War II, Estonia was repeatedly occupied (short-term immigration + diaspora) and eventually remained within the confines of the Soviet Union, losing a large portion of its population (among other events through deportations, the Great Escape to the West and Umsiedlung) and becoming subject to colonization (emigration + diaspora and immigration + diaspora) until declaring sovereignty in 1990 and independence in 1991.

The following years were marked by integration into various international organizations such as the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as well as a return of diasporans (repatriation) and voluntary emigration (emigration + diaspora).


The next paragraph, on pp. 12-13, which I’ve also broken into shorter paragraphs for ease in online reading, reads:

This very schematic and tradition-based overview (with somewhat arbitrary categorizations) attests to the inclination for a masochistic view on history, always told from the vantage point of the other that comes to conquer and rule. Indeed, this perspective has influenced Estonian historical thinking to the point where discussions rarely take place within the landscape of notions such as Renaissance and Baroque.

Rather, units of comprehensive analysis and discourse utilized are for instance the Swedish time and the Czarist time. I would argue that this is because history here began to be written by these same “others” who naturally placed themselves into the fore of events.

To me, this also hints at something that is quite obvious, yet understated – the territory of modern day Estonia has witnessed a vibrant multicultural scene for a thousand years. Although mainstream culture has been a sedentary one, the effects of trade, war and geopolitical position imbue Estonian history to the point where the population can be interrogated through the notions of homo migrans and homo viator.

Whereas the history of what can be called “us” in this context is frequently told through the movements and actions of “them” here, while history of “them” is never told through the movements and actions of “us” there. Almost never that is, because there is an exception to the rule: a tiny realm of scholarship focusing on Estonians abroad in the diaspora. This is the debate which this dissertation seeks to enrich.


Previous posts about Estonia

Click here for previous posts about Estonia >

A recent previous post is entitled:

Article by Andres Kasekamp: “Fascism by Popular Initiative: The Rise and Fall of the Vaps Movement in Estonia” (2015)

Theoretical and evidence-base study of diasporas

I find the above-noted dissertation of much interest. Previous posts addressing analogous or overlapping themes – related to theoretical and evidence-based study of diasporas – include:

History of Ontario includes Indigenous history

The latter post highlights the role that diasporas play in European settler and Indigenous histories. In the latter case, we can speak of the history of internal diasporas in the context of settler land seizures, ethnic cleansing, and in some cases cultural or physical genocide directed at Indigenous peoples.

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (1999) & The Struggle for Tibet (2009)

The latter post highlights points of view regarding who is best positioned to speak about Tibetans living in Tibet.


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