The Soviet Union was different all around, geographically and timewise. The 1940s Stalin’s Soviet Union was a very different from the 1970s Brezhnev’s Soviet decade. Everything that happened in between and after, we will try to explain below. For Estonia, it all began with the world’s deadliest event.
The World War II Estonia
At the beginning of the First World War Estonia came to the Soviet sphere of dominance. After the Molotov Ribbentrop’s pact some unusual arrangements that were made between USSR and Estonian leadership. By the year 1941 Estonia was filled with Soviet military bases. The politics of the country had changed dramatically as the world was preparing to engage into the most dreadful wars of all time. As the year passed, the German army was advancing faster than the Soviet Union expected. The Molotov Ribbentrop’s pact was already broken by August 1941 and the juggernaut of the German had already seized control of the entire territory of Estonia. The German occupation began. The German occupation of Estonia lasted until 1944. During those three difficult years and because of the sieges of major nearby Soviet cities like Leningrad, Estonia was constantly under a big amount of pressure from both sides despite the official German rule. There were Estonian people on both sides of the fence. In 1944 the red Army was pushing the Germans away from the Soviet borders and storming all of the German dominated countries. Estonia came back under the Soviet control. Soon after, that the red Army entered Berlin effectively ending the Second World War chapter of Estonian history.
The Second World War has left Estonia absolutely devastated. More than 20% of the population either fled abroad, got caught up in the Holocaust, sent to Siberia or executed during the war itself. One half of the established industry was destroyed. Some pockets of resistance movements were left. Most notable were the forest brothers, who fought against the red Army using guerrilla tactics. What was left in the country was tearing itself apart in an ideological conflict. Stalin and his government took the same approach on Estonia as all around the Soviet Union. People, who opposed the government were quickly dealt with in a brutally simple fashion. Some were killed, some were sent to Siberia. Even today, Siberia has a large ethnic Estonian communities, who have not yet decided to come back to the home country. By the 1950s all pockets of resistance were eradicated, the ruling Communist Party became the most powerful branch of government and the Iron Curtain dropped upon Estonia’s borders.
After the death of Joseph Stalin many policies became more relaxed. The Khruschev era was in many ways a continuation of Stalin’s general policy but with a more relaxed social twist. Nikita Khrushev implemented a lot of construction and agrarian reforms. Estonia once more became what it used to be throughout all of its history – a hub for communication between Scandinavia and Europe and Russia. It was, at that time, that the country became much less affected by the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. Contact was made possible with Finland and many other Western countries. As a result, the Ferry started going from Tallinn to Helsinki. The housing problem was solved during that era. A lot of new houses with small apartments were built for citizens, who struggled because of the housing problem. Today, many districts, that surround the city center of Tallinn bear a huge resemblance to Russian cities. As the Soviet Unions’ “Western window”, Estonia was funded pretty heavily to become a lever the future socialist expansion plans. The Estonian ethnic population, a great deal of which was lost in the Second World War, began to stabilize. Communications infrastructure was improved. Those improvements included a brand-new Estonian TV tower. But not all the Soviet television was available to the Estonian people. Finnish television and radio waves found their ways into Estonian homes. A healthcare system was introduced that became free to everyone. This period of growth lasted all the way until 1970’s.
The period, that is typically associated with Leonid Brezhnev, is sometimes referred to as the times of peaceful stagnation. It was a generally a quiet period, at the end of which one major event took place.
The 1980 summer Olympics. In the year 1980, the Soviet Union hosted the summer Olympic Games. The main event was held in Moscow, but some of the sea sports, mainly the sailing events were decided to be held in Tallinn. In order to prepare the city for such an event, the Soviet Union sponsored the construction of the first Tallinn airport, a grand hotel (which is to the date called Olümpia), Tallinn TV Tower, a town concert hall the, pirita yachting centre and other things.
At the end of the era the Soviet Union had two leaders Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. Each of them, respectively, had 2 and 1 year of rule before they died.
During the Gorbachev era the wind of change could already be felt in the year throughout the entire Soviet Union. The perestroika (rus. Reconstruction) was the main policy that Gorbachev pursued from 1985 to the end of his political career. During that time, much debate was already going on about the future of the country. There was a tendency towards violence, alcoholism and new political movements.
The final years
By 1988 the situation began to destabilize in Russia and other regions of the Soviet Union, including Estonia. The Estonian people reacted quickly. The declaration of Estonian independence was released in the same year and two years later after a referendum the country became free and independent the first time in a very long period.
Because of the post- Second World War atrocities and the overall chaotic tendencies of those times Estonian people, in general, don’t think highly of the Soviet Union times. Regardless of that, the Soviet period was a chapter in Estonian history. And like any book, Estonian history could not be fully comprehended without reading through the book entirely. It shaped people’s minds. The Soviet mentality is a common term to those who have experienced the era. Some people hated it while some people loved it and to the day reminisce about the “good old Soviet times”. In that regard, the USSR was an extraordinary place. After the Soviet Union collapsed nobody was left indifferent.