Ambivalentsus baltisaksa naiste mälestustekstides. Ambivalence in Baltic German Women’s Autobiographical Writing

Maris Saagpakk

Abstract


In this article I examine the autobiographical texts of two Baltic German women, Natalie von Maydell (1878-1970) and Agnes von Baranow (1877-1968) and analyse their depiction of two breakthrough events in Estonian history: the establishment of the Republic of Estonia and the compulsory relocation of the Baltic Germans. Natalie von Maydell’s memoir, “Ein reiches Leben” is an unpublished manuscript in the family’s possession; Agnes von Baranow’s reminiscences titled Mein Baltenland were published soon after the resettlement in 1941. The analysis has been informed by postcolonial theory, in particular Homi K. Bhabha’s discussion of the master. In her reminiscences, Natalie von Maydell describes her return to the Paasvere Manor at the end of the winter of 1919. During the winter of 1918-1919 the manor had been overtaken by the Bolsheviks, who had vandalized it; Maydell portrays the outward changes in the manor house, how their home did not look homey any longer. In addition to the immediate damage to the building, lost or damaged household items and the violation of a secure home atmosphere, the writer describes the more significant change in the servants’ attitudes: while the damage and pillage could be rectified, it was impossible to control the people again. The circumstances had changed Estonian attitudes toward Germans, and to Maydell it was a painful and alienating experience. Home had become “unhomely.” At the same time, Maydell claims that the Estonians came to talk to her husband secretly, at night. With this sentence she smoothes over the new situation: the attributes of an old, paternalistic system are citations of earlier better times. Life that previously had clear boundaries was now blurred and confused: from one perspective it seemed the same but the next moment she would be reminded again in one way or the other. It is also important to note that the fragility and ambivalence in the Baltic German position was not temporary and the response of Baltic German writers to this was torpor, the stubborn persistence of historical truth and the extolling of the good old times. At the end of her reminiscences Agnes von Baranow describes her departure from Estonia and her family’s move to the areas of today’s Poland, describing a grandly organised resettlement and her feelings as a participant in this process. In her autobiographical text the writer eases the pain of the loss of homeland, using phrases that belong to the Nationalist Socialist propaganda rhetoric. The writer describes the “new challenges” awaiting the Baltic Germans and speaks of “a struggle” and “stamina”; such usage was common at the time and expresses the writer’s feelings only to a limited extent. However, she uses other strategies for reflecting on her position as well. For example, she portrays the Baltic German manorial lords as peasants who believed in hard work and whose existence was based on historical truth. The background for this type of thinking is the repressions of Baltic Germans during the Republic of Estonia, and the Blut und Boden rhetoric, which in essence was opposed to any elite and valued the connections of a simple farmer with the land he cultivated. When we draw on Homi Bhabha, we can discover one more level. Bhabha emphasises that a person in a hegemonic position, who is a master and has master’s privileges, is aware of his questionable behaviour and his debts to the cultural Other. He inevitably asks why he is where he is. For this reason the colonizer has to prove to himself daily that his actions are justified. In the case of Baranow it is not important that she equals the positions of the manorial lord and the peasant, although the difference in the position is clearly stressed. For an intelligent person to convert the manorial lord into a peasant is a defence strategy. When the writer stresses the intimate connection of the lord with the land, it is based on an instinctive feeling that closer connections with land will provide some kind of right to the land. This way of thinking is a good example of the ambivalence of the writer’s identity. On the one hand, she is extremely proud of her family’s distinguished history and position; on the other, she feels the pressure of the surrounding environment to downplay this position. The analysis shows that the writers feel this schizophrenic ambivalence of their position, the incompatibility of their past and present and manifest their position through the text, transcending the controversies by writing. The smoothing over of ambivalence in the text helps the writers to block out the uncomfortable feelings of non-belonging and unhomelyness that have started to grow. Natalie von Maydell and Agnes von Baranow use different strategies, ranging from positing their inner superiority to avoiding vulnerable subject matter to the use of propagandistic rhetorical devices. The texts reveal that the instinctively raised question why? is not resolved and is directed into self-apology. The creation of meanings in the texts is always connected with the question of power from the point of view of colonial relations. The one who is able to establish his/her own truth does not bother to listen to the other’s truth. Autobiography was the last opportunity for a Baltic German author to announce his/her truth; it was the key question for preserving a sense of self-dignity and identity.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v4i5-6.520

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