New Book Sums up Eastern European Emigrant Stories

January 4, 2021

The publication, East Central European Migrations During the Cold War. A Handbook brings researchers from eight countries to look at the emigrants from the former Soviet bloc. Each chapter provides the basic information from the escape (destinations, persons, organizations, relations across the Iron Curtain) until the fall of Communism and the return. Dr Pauli Heikkilä, currently visiting researcher at the University of Latvia, has written the chapter on Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian emigrants. He had this to say:

‘The project started in various conferences on Central Eastern European emigration. The papers on national diasporas followed a similar pattern and they sounded like the same story only with different names. Naturally, these stories are important as such, but there was a broad consensus of getting past this introduction by having the structured presentation in writing and then move on to find parallels and similarities in other national groups. This would increase the theoretical perspective in our diaspora research and eventually to discover what is truly unique in each national emigration. Assistant Professor Anna Mazurkiewicz from the University of Gdansk was the organizer of many of these conferences and she became the editor of the anthology. The guidelines were drafted in November 2014, and although Anna made laudable work, the book came out in May 2019. These things just take their time.

Originally my idea was to have three authors for the Baltic article, but I quickly ditched it. It would have made me an interim-editor to collect the contributions from two other authors and accommodate them to a single presentation. I figured that it would be equally burdensome to find the information myself. Such a collective article would have repeated the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian stories. Certainly, there are significant differences in these diasporas (such as Estonians in Sweden, and Lithuanians in the West since the 19th century), but on the other hand, the three groups engaged in Baltic cooperation in such a magnitude, which was impossible to ignore.

The guidelines were to summarize the current research, and furthermore, the instruction was to limit the literature in English. This eliminated the problem of three languages and my uneven language skills. It also serves the purpose to introduce the Baltic cases to researchers from outside the region. The Baltic Heritage Network is naturally mentioned in the article as an example of continuing Baltic collaboration and the place to start looking for archival sources.

The biggest challenge – and the main difference from other chapters in the anthology – was to have a balanced proportion of each national group. However, my ambitious plan to have a systematic chart of every national group in every destination country failed. If I could not acquire certain figures for each occasion, I could not use that exact figure for the other two countries either, only some approximates. The most significant detail left out regards the world festivals: Estonians started their festivals in Toronto in 1972 every four years, but I could not find the information on Latvian and Lithuanian gatherings and even the Estonian case was accidentally erased.

Despite these shortcomings, I’m quite satisfied with the outcome. The article, like the book, is not the final word of Cold War emigration but hopefully invites new researchers on the topic.’

The book is available on the DeGruyter website to download []. A cheaper paperback version came out in December 2020.