Friday, May 11, 2012

Uustla and Reinventing Home in Estonia

I have been in Estonia for nearly 6 days now, so I can hardly make any pronouncements about the country or the people from such limited exposure.  Conversely, you cannot help but notice even in that brief time the complex balancing act that defines Estonia as it reinvents itself in the wake of the latest overlord.  After nearly 50 years under soviet domination, Estonia sang its way back to the republic that it had fought to become.
A brief history of Estonia invariably lists the various foreign overlords and the conflicts and the tactical accommodation when the only choice is that of which overlord seems less onerous.  When the Teutonic Knights came into Estonia on their way to the crusades, they obliged Estonians to become Christian.  Later this German influence meant Estonians were Lutherans, at least nominally.  When Russians in the time of the czar offered land and education for those who became orthodox, the pragmatic Estonians accepted the hand they were dealt and got on with life as best they could.

Then came the Soviet era and the land given by the czar was taken by the state.  Small villages and their boundary walls were bulldozed into large collectives.  Villages that had existed since the 15th century were depopulated either by moving workers into centralized housing--grim apartment blocks now either mouldering into the ground like the ancient boundary fences--or sent to Siberia.  "Every family has someone who went to Siberia." the son of our guide explained to us matter of factly on our first night in Estonia.

Even for those who survived Siberia or collectivization the way home was not easy.  After 50 years, the land might have been given to someone else or the farm might be buried under a housing block.  Moreover, many of those who had been settled here chose to stay rather than to return a country that had never been home to them in fact.  Uustla is just one of the stories about making peace with all that disconnection.

The folks living in Uustla now are Estonians, but Uustla was not their home.  Under soviet rule, both husand and wife were sent where they were needed, which was far from here.  The husband of the couple was born near here, so Uustla is almost home.  For 25 years they have cherished it and it has flourished under their tender care.  They carefully preserved the original farm gatepost with the family sign on the crossing.  The gate itself was missing and they managed to find the exact model of the gate in the national library and carefully reproduced it.  The detail of the lock in the photo above is one of the many pieces found on the farm and carefully, respectfully put back into place--or the best guess they came make of the right place for it.

This trip was organised and funded by:
Arch Network is a Scottish Non Government Organisation promoting learning and development in natural and cultural heritage between Scotland and other European countries..
Culture and Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism Program (CHIST


At 4:58 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

I might not want to stay in Siberia, or wherever "far away" really was for the folks in your post -- but I'm not sure I'd want to return to a land that was and may be again be in the way when the Germans and Russians next tangle.

At least Lithuania was a player, with Poland (and who was on top when largely depends on if you're in a Polish or Lithuanian neighborhood in Chicago when you're having this conversation) -- some tradition of strong nationhood to hold onto -- but Estonia and Latvia seem always kind of afterthoughts.

Then again, I haven't come across too Latvians or Estonians in Chicago. They might have a different story....


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