Kakskümmend viis aastat hiljem. Ajakirjanike meenutused nõukogude tsensuurist / Twenty-five Years Later: Estonian journalists recall Soviet censorship

  • Roosmarii Kurvits Tartu Ülikool / University of Tartu
Keywords: ajakirjandusajalugu, mälu-uuringud, tsensuur, nõukogude aeg, ajakirjanikud, intervjuud, history of journalism, memory studies, censorship, Soviet era, journalists, interviews


Artiklis analüüsitakse nõukogudeaegsete ajakirjanike tsensuurimeenutusi. Analüüsi aluseks on 57 eluloolist intervjuud aastatest 2015–2016. Põhiküsimus on, kuidas tõlgendavad ajakirjanikud nõukogude tsensuuri veerand sajandit pärast selle lõppemist. Uurimismeetodina on kasutatud raamistamise analüüsi (frame/framing analysis). Ajakirjanikud raamistasid tsensuuritemaatikat eelkõige neljal moel: ajakirjanik kui tsensuuriteadlik tegutseja; salastatud tsensuur; vähetähtis tsensuur; totter tsenseerimine. Intervjueeritud rõhutasid enese teadlikkust süsteemist ning leidsid, et kogenud ja tark ajakirjanik leppis tsensuuriga kui paratamatusega ja oskas keelde ennetavalt arvestada. Nad ei tõlgendanud seda aga mitte tsensuurile allumisena, vaid tsensuurist eemalseismisena.


This article studies Soviet era journalists’ recollections of censorship. The analysis is based on 57 face-to-face biographical interviews with press, radio and television journalists which were conducted in 2015–2016 (the total length of interviews is 99 hours, 5% deal with the topic of censorship).

The main question of the article is how do journalists interpret Soviet censorship twenty-five years after its end. Firstly, what do they remember or recall. Secondly, to which extent can these recollections be considered a source of truth, and how do they deviate from the truth. Thirdly, how do journalists interpret censorship and their relations with censorship, in particular, their relations with resistance to censorship. The method of frame analysis is used.

Soviet censorship was designed to regulate all spheres of life but, at the same time, to be invisible (according to the Constitution, freedom of speech and of the press was guaranteed to Soviet citizens). The complex and intertwined censorship system can be divided into two parts: ideological control and concealment of state secrets.

The ideological control, or party censorship was based on ideological correctness, defined and controlled by the Communist Party and the KGB (Committee for State Security). Guidance on what is ideologically dangerous and forbidden was given by the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party through its propaganda and agitation department. The rules were not always precise and specific, many guidelines were oral and not documented. Party censorship was executed on the individual publication level by editors-in-chief, whose task was to ensure that the correct ideological line was followed.

State secrets were the responsibility of Glavlit, whose task was to check that the press did not disclose military, state or economic secrets. Their work was based on regularly updated lists of data which were forbidden to be published. For example, in 1976, the list of banned data consisted of 176 pages. The existence and contents of the list of banned data was a secret, only a limited circle of accountable persons (including editorial leaders, but not lower ranking journalists) were allowed to know its content.

Four main conclusions can be drawn based on the analysed interviews.

  1. The journalists’ recollections of censorship cannot be regarded as objective truth. Recollections are contradictory both in minor details and in fundamental issues. Based on the recollections, no definite conclusions can be drawn about the entire censorship system, but they can be used to understand how specific bans functioned and specific censors acted.
  2. Journalists preferred to interpret censorship narrowly, as a ban on publishing state secrets. Ideological party control, exercised by editors-in-chief and party functionaries, was interpreted not as a censorship, but as a routine part of the Soviet editing process. In doing so, the journalists distanced themselves from censorship and the censorship process. Journalists placed themselves and the editors outside of the censorship system. Censorship was performed by “others”, in particular, by Glavlit officials and the persons who had to communicate with these officials.
  3. Journalists framed censorship in four ways: a journalist as a wise, censorship-conscious agent; secretive censorship; unimportant censorship; ridiculous bans. Journalists focused on self-agency, they did not interpret themselves as the victims of circumstance, but as skilfully coping professionals who knew the system and chose ‘doublethink’ to deal with it. Thus the self-superiority dominated – journalists set themselves above censorship. In addition, a number of journalists described the Soviet censorship in a neutral way, without expressing a clear negative or positive attitude towards it and without taking a side. They described, explained and exemplified the bygone phenomenon and the remote past.
  4. The interviewed journalists framed the experience of the Soviet-era censorship differently from how the editors of cultural magazines have done in their memoires. Among the editors of cultural magazines, the pathos of resistance dominated, while the so-called regular journalists among the studied sample represented the pathos of adaptation. The interviewed journalists emphasized their awareness of the system, its way of functioning and its boundaries. They found that an experienced and wise journalist accepted censorship as an inevitability of Soviet life and was able proactively to take bans into account. They did not, however, interpret it as being subjected to censorship, but as avoiding censorship. Thus, journalists distanced themselves from the scale of adaptation/resistance to censorship and described themselves as bystanders.

Author Biography

Roosmarii Kurvits, Tartu Ülikool / University of Tartu

Roosmarii Kurvits on kaitsnud doktorikraadi ajakirjanduse alal (2010) Tartu Ülikoolis. Tema uurimisvaldkond on eesti ajakirjanduse ajalugu, eelkõige ajakirjanike elulood, ajalehtede kujundus, pildikasutus ja žanride areng. Ta on avaldanud doktorimonograafia „Eesti ajalehtede välimus 1806–2005“ (2010) ning raamatud „Brendekenist Peeglini. Eesti ajakirjanduse biograafiline lühileksikon 1689–1940“ (2014; koos Anu Pallasega), „101 Eesti ajakirjanduspala“ (2019; koos Tiit Hennostega) ja „Eesti ajakirjanduse 100 aastat“ (2019; koos Tiit Hennostega).


Roosmarii Kurvits defended her PhD in journalism (2010) at the University of Tartu. Her field of research is the history of Estonian journalism, particularly, the biographies of journalists, the visual form of newspapers, visuals, and the evolution of journalistic genres. She published her doctoral monograph The visual form of Estonian newspapers from 1806 to 2005 (2010), and books From Brendeken to Peegel. The Short Biographical Lexicon of Estonian Journalism, 1689–1940 (2014; co-author Anu Pallas); 101 Estonian Journalistic Stories (2019; co-author Tiit Hennoste); A Hundred Years of Estonian Journalism (2019; co-author Tiit Hennoste) (all in Estonian).

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