Stalinismi „Teised“: Ilmi Kolla kui teisitimõtleja / Stalinism’s ”Others”: Ilmi Kolla as a dissenter


  • Eve Annuk Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum



Ilmi Kolla (1933–1954), stalinism, luuletused, loominguvabadus, nonkonformism, poems, artistic freedom, nonconformity


Artikkel käsitleb luuletaja Ilmi Kolla (1933–1954) luulet stalinismiperioodi kontekstis kui vastupanu ajastu diskursiivsetele jõujoontele. Ilmi Kolla luuletuste enamikku ei olnud võimalik avaldada, sest need ei vastanud sotsialistliku realismi ja stalinliku ideoloogia nõuetele. Ka avaldamiseks vastu võetud tekstide puhul heitsid ajalehtede ja ajakirjade toimetused talle sageli ette luuletuste sobimatust kehtivate ideoloogiliste ja esteetiliste nõuetega. Selles mõttes võib Ilmi Kolla luulet näha sotsiaalse protestina, mis ei olnud küll otseselt selle eesmärgiga loodud, kuid mis toimis sellisel moel.


The article analyzes the poetry of the Estonian writer Ilmi Kolla as the resistance toward the discursive hegemony of the Stalinist era. The dominant tenor of the Stalinist era was falsely optimistic, leaving no space for articulations of individual experiences and existential questions, the topics which were central for Ilmi Kolla’ poetry. The writers could not, in the Stalinist era, publicly oppose the ideological and social demands of Soviet rule. Instead, one could adapt the position of a passive dissenter; in the context of literary production, such a position could mean remaining silent (i.e. not publishing texts) or cultivating aesthetic practices which were out of touch with the official ideological demands of the era – this last option meant writing into the drawer.

During the Stalinist period in Estonian SSR, the only officially accepted method of creating literary texts was ‘socialist realism.’ The acceptance of this method suggested ideological conformism; indeed many authors conformed to the ideological demands of the era. Estonian literature of earlier periods was re-evaluated according to Stalinist ideological demands. In poetry, the newly-established demand for socialist realism prescribed the range of accepted topics; acceptable themes included war, building up the new socialist society, class struggle and the struggle for peace, and the worship of Stalin. Ideological emphasis was laid on the foregrounding of a collective viewpoint and communist values. However, there were several authors who did not conform to the pressure; the poetess Betti Alver, for example, did not publish any poems during the twenty postwar years.

Ideological education of authors became one of the cornerstones of producing the socialist realist works; of particular importance was guiding the literal production of young authors. This was arranged through the Writers Union, where advisers of prose and poetry were employed. Journal editors performed the same role and critical articles were published concerning the production of young authors. 

As a young author, the position of Ilmi Kolla in the Soviet literary landscape was precarious because she hardly complied with requirements of socialist realism. Therefore, she failed to publish most of her poems. Kolla indeed tried to conform and wrote conforming poetry for earning income, but these poems often failed. Even poems which were accepted by the editorial board for publication were not considered ideological enough and were harshly criticized. 

The central theme in Kolla’s poetry was individual and erotic love, instead of collective values demanded by socialist realism. Kolla’s poetry tended to have existential undertones and was tempered by a sense of sorrow. Such poetic modes were considered unacceptable in the context of Stalinism since these indicated a sense of human weakness, understood according to Stalinist ideology as lacking in optimism and yielding to negativity and decadent feelings. The most well known poem by Kolla, “Sorrowful moments” carries a sense of an approaching death; it focuses on an individual who loves and longs for the happiness, whose soul is sick and who is thinking about the transciense of life and about the appoaching death. This poem was published only after Kolla’s death in 1957 and then became widely read. The poem has been considered Kolla’s existential outcry; it has been interpreted as a turning point in the poetic practices of the period (Veidemann 2000). Many poems by Ilmi Kolla which she could not publish during her lifetime were distributed from hand to hand in a manuscript form after her death, impacting in this way the attitudes of many people. Readers have recalled how discovering the poetry of Kolla affected them strongly in the Stalinist atmosphere of the 1950s; many remember how Kolla’s poems became close to their hearts and were experienced in the context of the era as something extraordinary and out of sync with the official trends. A collection of Kolla’s poetry was published after her death in 1957, but the compiler Heljo Mänd has acknowledged that she did not dare to publish Kolla’s more spiritual poetry because of the fear of criticism. Since individualism was suppressed in the Soviet Union, the expression of poetic individualism can be understood as a form of dissent or opposition  (Hersch 2016). Therefore, the poetry of Ilmi Kolla can be seen as an opposition to Soviet rule and as a protest toward society which repressed individuality. In addition to Kolla’s poetry as a poetic dissent, her freeminded personality was also somewhat inappropriate in the Soviet system. As many other writers, Kolla teased the system, conformed where necessary, but also used the system in her own interests. The poetry of Ilmi Kolla can be understood as a social protest which was not directly created for the purpose of dissent, but which functioned in this way in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist society.


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Author Biography

Eve Annuk, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum

Eve Annuk – PhD, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi kultuuriloolise arhiivi vanemteadur, nais- ja meesuuringute ajakirja Ariadne Lõng peatometaja. Peamised uurimissuunad on eesti kirjanduse ajalugu, nõukogude perioodi kirjandus- ja kultuurilugu, soouuringud,



Eve Annuk – PhD, Senior Researcher in Estonian Literary Museum, Estonian Cultural History Archives; Editor in chief of the Estonian Journal of Gender Studies Ariadne Lõng (Ariadne’s Clew). Main research areas: history of Estonian literature, literary and cultural history of Soviet period, gender studies, biography studies.