Isamaalaulud ja okupatsioonirežiim – nostalgia, utoopia ja reaalsus. Estonian Patriotic Songs and the Occupational Regime – Nostalgia, Utopia and Reality


  • Kanni Labi Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum



Estonian knowledge of history emanates from the fact that constituting an independent nation has for the most part been nothing but a utopia, and was a reality for a relatively short time. When it comes to selfidentification though, the expression ’a singing people’ is often used by the Estonians to describe themselves. Nostalgia for freedom is reflected in the Estonian culture of almost all periods and is carried on by the singing tradition, where patriotic songs emerge independent of different musical tastes within a particular generation and form an important part of a common Estonian repertoire. Patriotic songs occupy a central place in several fields of Estonian culture: besides music culture also in popular culture,and literary history – the works of poetry which have gained the most popularity are those which when put to music have been the most widely spread among the people. The main part of the most popular Estonian patriotic songs are choral songs from the national awakening at the end of the 19th century. Despite the national programmes aiming to wipe out ‘bourgeois nationalism’, they were sung at the song festivals in the Soviet era and were published in song books, expressing the people’s nostalgia for freedom lost. After the end of the Second World War, there was an attempt at launching a kind of patriotic new creation, where patriotism was merged with Soviet pathos; the aim was to show that the people’s utopia was in fact communism, but not a single one of those songs made it into the people’s common repertoire. Only the patriotic songs composed in the 1980s during the so-called new national awakening reached a popularity comparable to that of the old songs. The discourse on ’Estonianness’ and the shaping of a matching repertoire under imperial Russian rule took place under very different circumstances than its preservation and development in the second half of the 20th century under Soviet occupation, but certain aspects that help shed light on what followed can be pointed out. Through the events that took place during the national awakening, emphasis was placed on Russia’s role in the formation and development of the Estonian people, where cultural figures devoted to the people – such as Lydia Koidula - and their work were supported; patriotic songs were at the core of their activities. Formally, the patriotic repertoire was close to the characteristics of the only permitted art style in the Soviet Union – socialist realism : both are folksy, traditional, typical, historicist, pathetic and optimistic. At the same time it can be assumed that when the ruling power didn’t allow or tolerate even the most miniscule of deviances from the official line in no sphere of life, they had to make this official line concede in certain superficial manners to the real customs and endeavours of the people, in order to guarantee its own authority. So the patriotic repertoire remained, but the official treatment of its nostalgia and utopia was different than that of the people. The Soviet authorities’ strategy to achieve their aims – to level out and assimilate peoples and cultures – shaped the Estonian national identity and culture in a crucial manner: the patriotic songs were preserved because they were a permitted phenomenon through which the ideas forbidden in other areas could be expressed, and resistance to the ideological pressure helped preserve the Estonian people’s cultural memory. It can thus be claimed that the patriotic tinge which to this day can be sensed in the Estonian singing tradition is a result of Estonia’s political history.


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