Lesen unter der Diktatur. Die estnische Spielart des Totalitarismus

Liina Lukas


The Poetics and Reception of Hidden Resistance: the Estonian Game of Totalitarianism. Where, with whom or with what does totalitarianism begin? An answer in the spirit of Hannah Arendt would be: at the moment when people stop thinking; at the moment when they allow themselves to be turned into instruments of a totalitarian regime. By what means does a totalitarian society achieve that moment?

What means does a person have to fight against such an instrumentalization at that moment? What are the means of writers, whose essential nature should be that they never stop thinking? How does a writer working in a totalitarian society manage to create a free space, a place to think, in a situation governed by a single way of thinking that can only be expressed in one language: that of totalitarianism? How does a reader create his or her free space for thinking? What do reading and writing mean in a society that prohibits or hinders free expression and thought for authors and readers?

Totalitarianism does not work everywhere in the same way. European history alone has seen different forms of totalitarian power, its ways of ruling depend on the socio-historical development of the society. Literary reactions to totalitarian power are also different: totalitarianism in Nazi Germany was different from that of DDR, which, in turn, was different from practices in Soviet Estonia.

In my article, I approach these questions from a very personal perspective, remembering my own reading experiences in the totalitarian society of Soviet Estonia. I can only discuss the years from 1983 to 1985, because earlier I read children’s literature, and afterwards the Soviet regime was already falling apart.

I will study communication between readers and authors in the totalitarian society and thereby determine the main difference between the factors that shaped the reading situation in Estonia and the DDR. In Estonia, readers and authors were able to outsmart the totalitarian rule thanks to the cultural continuity based on a symbolic language (rooted in cultural memory), which owes its existence to the fact that totalitarianism was perceived as something foreign, something speaking another language. In the DDR, the poetics of resistance had to be built on a different foundation, since the national culture of the past as a source of identity had been devalued by recent history and was not a suitable basis.


totalitarianism; Estonian literature in the Soviet regime; GDR literature; author-reader relationship; ethnosymbolism; poetics of resistance; models of reading

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/IL.2013.18.2.16


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