The First Meeting of the Working Group for the Diaspora in the East

February 7, 2012

During the discussions at the second Compatriots programme conference we established that gathering archive material related to the Estonian diaspora in the East is a difficult task. The Estonians in the East don’t have all that many cultural societies, and when they do, the society often doesn’t have its own premises. In order to help improve the situation we formed the working group for the diaspora in the East.

The group’s first meeting took place on the 22nd of November 2011 at the Estonian Literary Museum in Tartu. The participants were Aivar Jürgenson, Anu Korb, Peep Pillak and Kadri Tooming. Ülle Damasickiene (Vilnius) wasn’t able to join us, but sent her suggestions and opinions via e-mail.

We discussed the possibilities for gathering information on archive materials in the diaspora in the East, and found that the Baltic Heritage Network website is great for finding and spreading information, but that it would be good to make memory institutions in other countries as well as Estonian communities abroad (societies, Estonian houses, parishes) aware of it. Some of the information on the website ought to be in Russian to make it more accessible for speakers of Russian. It would be wise to arrange information days in the different communities on a regular basis. The next information day could be held in Krasnoyarsk in connection with the 20th anniversary of the Krasnoyarsk Estonian Society.

We could also use the website to receive feedback from holders of cultural heritage. When gathering information on Estonians in the East and their archives we will try to involve not only memory institutions, but also Estonians in the countries in question, try to find local co-workers and introduce interesting collectors in the Eastern diaspora and their collections (virtual exhibitions).

We need to cooperate more with Lutheran parishes. The priests write reports which are published in Eesti kirik. Information on the diaspora in the East can also be found in the yearbooks of the Estonian Genealogical Society and the Heritage Protection Society. Articles on the founding of Estonian communities and their fates are published in both Estonian and Russian periodicals, particulary since the 1980s, but in newspapers, articles are difficult to find – here we could really use the help of local communities. Jaanus Piirsalu has written about Estonians in Russia on his blog, as well as several articles in Eesti Päevaleht.

The website also has information about the diaspora in the East: books, articles, films, memory institutions and archive materials. Currently, the section on Russia only features information on some archives.

The fonds of the committees for citizenship selection (in Estonian opteerimiskomisjonid) (Siberia, Moscow and Petrograd) at the National Archives in Tallinn contain personal dossiers on those choosing between two citizenships (optantid) The archival fonds of the National Archives also contain different registers. There’s also registers of optantid in Omsk at the Omsk evacuation committee’s fonds at the Omsk Oblast Historical Archives.

The Estonian National Archives have published parish records of Lutheran parishes on the web.

Historians have worked in the archives of Almaty, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Tobolsk, Vladivostok and Saint Petersburg. The information they gathered is published on the National Archive’s website.

The Kniga pamyati is published in Russia. It contains information about repressed persons and persons who died in the war.

The materials from Memoriaal are published online. The raising of a memorial stone in the Levashova memorial graveyard was an important event, since annual memorial days are held there. The Ishutino graveyard in Andreapol District of the Tver Oblast was put under heritage protection by the Russians.

In Andreapol itself there is a museum of local lore. The local Estonians established their Estonian Society as a branch of the Tver Estonian Society. In Toropets there is a photography museum where four out of six photographers were Estonians.

Anton Soolamees (who himself has Estonian roots) has compiled a book on the history of the Tver Oblast, the first edition was published in 2007, with 300 copies. The second edition was published in 2009, significantly expanded.

In Liivi village (in Russia’s Far East) there is an Estonian museum. Since the later half of the 1980s, the museum has been conducting interviews in Russian with local Estonians. A journalist named Valton has written about the Estonians in Liivi village.

Archive materials about Estonians in the Caucasus might be in Sukhumi.

People also have archival records in their homes, and we often lack information about them; for instance, in Krasnoyarsk, we found records on repressed persons collected by the now deceased Osvald Bodganov through the help of the Veera Nikolayeva, head of the Krasnoyarsk Estonian Society. The records are currently in the possession of his daughter Yelena Feigina.

Aadu Must’s books on Siberia are now finished and will be published in three installments. The first, which is going to print at the moment, contains three parts: Swedish prisoners of war in Siberia, forced expulsions and Lutheran colonies. The second part, which will cover Baltic Germans and officials, is being finished.

We decided to gather all papers on the Estonian diaspora which have been published on BA, MA or doctorate level on the Baltic Heritage Network webpage.

The next meeting will take place in February 2012. We will then discuss the archival projects for 2012. We are also planning to expand the working group.

Anu Korb