A Small Literature in the Service of Nation-Building: the Estonian Case

  • Arne Merilai Tartu Ülikool, Ülikooli 16–110, 51014 Tartu
  • Katre Talviste Tartu Ülikool, Ülikooli 16–113, 51014 Tartu
Keywords: Estonian literature, small literatures, nation-building, self-colonization, Romanticism

Abstract

The idea of Estonia’s cultural and national self-sufficiency emerged in the nineteenth century. The contribution of writers and poets was essential to this development. Literature anticipated not only cultural, linguistic, and artistic, but also the economic and political emancipation of Estonians. Cultural practices leading to this emancipation were largely based on Baltic German models; many key elements to the independent Estonian national identity are of foreign origin. On the one hand, the nineteenth-century nationbuilding could therefore be described as self-colonization. On the other hand, it rather created a new nation than transformed a preexisting one, since the very concept of national identity was introduced by this process. Through various political and cultural upheavals, the most influential authors from this seminal period of the Estonian modern culture have remained iconic to this day. The traditional identification with them is so strong that the tentative origins of the nation and the identitary struggles of the national poets themselves may often be forgotten and the personal and individual nature of their contribution downplayed.

Published
2019-08-13