Privaatne ja avalik nõukogude aja mõistmises ühe keskastme juhi eluloo näitel. Private and Public in the Soviet Era: The Example of a Mid-Level Manager’s Life Story


  • Ene Kõresaar Tartu Ülikool
  • Kirsti Jõesalu Tartu Ülikool



The focus of our analysis is the question of how the complex world of Soviet everyday life – which was characterised by a tension between public and private – has manifested itself in the recounting of life stories. In the article we first take a look at the problem of public and private, and the possibilities of using this theoretical model when researching everyday life in the Soviet Union. In approaching the subject, we support ourselves with the approaches of Garcelon, Voronkov and Zdravomyslova. Garcelon has, in research on Soviet society, distinguished the official and private spheres as opposites, and an area between these two spheres which encompasses features of both; Garcelon calls this the social sphere of working life. Zdravomyslova and Voronkov distinguish a third sphere: an in-between, an informal official part of life in which, in their view, Soviet society never gained total control of the individual. In both approaches, a situation arose in the Soviet society of the 1960s where informal rules began to dominate over official ones, thereby enabling a flexible kind of manipulation. In the article, we analyse the relationship between official, informal and private in the sphere of work using an oral history perspective. Here, we used Alessandro Portelli’s tripartite mode of history-telling. Portelli treats lifestory narrative as a structurally complex text where changes in usage of language and definitions of time denote general changes in experience. The characters, space and grammar change depending on the perspective used in narration. Proceeding from this, Portelli distinguishes an institutional, societal and personal level in the narration of history. The life story analysed was written by a mid-level industrial manager and sent to the life writing campaign ’My Life and the Life of My Family in Soviet Estonia and in the Republic of Estonia’ in 2001. A characteristic feature of the industrial manager’s work biography was the, for Soviet working life typical, wangling between the official and the informal. Nothing could take place in the public sphere without it also taking place in the other, and the managers were the ones who by virtue of their profession could perform this exchange. In the life story, it becomes apparent just how differently relations between the public and private sphere (among which we also find the narrator’s own person) are perceived autobiographically in the 1940s through 1950s on one hand, and the 1960s to 1980s on the other hand. In the recollections from the totalitarian period, the official/public sphere exists as a threat, its intrusion into the private sphere and influence on the individual‘s life is total and unavoidable. The narrative experience of the 1960s–1980s points more towards a parallellity between the official/public sphere and the private sphere. Instead, pragmatic relationships in the informal sphere dominate in the narrative experience of this period. The basic rule of everyday life which was analysed in the story was both the ability to use any existing free space – including spaces that the Soviet system unintentionally created in order to legitimise itself – as well as the ability to create such spaces through vertical and horizontal relationships.


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