Essay competition for secondary school students, dedicated to the memory of the victims of communism
On 17 June 1940, Soviet Union troops invaded independent Estonia. The era of occupations had begun. Over 75 000 people in Estonia of a population of 1 million were murdered, deported or imprisoned because of the communist terror regime. Tens of thousands more fled abroad, some of whom died on the way. Thousands of men resisting the regime hid in the forests to avoid being mobilised to the Red Army. Some of them were killed in battles with Soviet forces, some due to harsh conditions in the forests, some were captured and arrested. The rest of the population was kept under strict control that violated human rights. This ensured a constant state of fear, which got slightly milder and indirect after Stalin’s death. However, the fear did not disappear completely, neither in Estonia nor the 14 other so-called Soviet Republics controlled by Moscow until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In everyday life, censorship prevailed. The archives were largely closed and lists were made of forbidden books, the possession of which led to a punishment. Clubs and student societies were banned. The only one allowed was the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, also known as Komsomol. The history books that had been in use were claimed to be full of lies and replaced with new ones. Any knowledge about the history of one’s state was considered dangerous and was guarded by the authorities. The status of a political prisoner was often the result of possession or circulation of forbidden information. In order to avoid trouble, one had to carefully consider to whom and what to tell. Eventually, people stopped talking about things they wanted to discuss, even in their own homes. All this had to ensure the continuation of the regime and a belief in its ideology. One was to glorify the ‘Soviet citizen’ and forget one’s nationality. It is important to note that the terror affected all nations in the Soviet Union.
After the restoration of independence in Estonia, it became possible to rediscover one’s past. This is not merely the work of historians. History consists of individual human stories, each of which makes up the history of a community, a nation and a state. The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory has started a new tradition and hereby asks students to reflect on the issues that historians were unable to objectively research for 50 years. Nevertheless, they left no family untouched. If one person fell out of favour of the regime, it affected all family members.
We annually commemorate those deported to Siberia on 25th March 1949. People were violently taken away from their homes and many never returned, having died already on the way or due to the harsh conditions of their destination. On this occasion, we call upon students to look to the past and think back on the crimes committed by the communist regime in Estonia that did not differentiate based on age and nationality. Patarei prison on the shore of Tallinn Bay stands as a symbol of communist terror. Many innocent Estonians’ lives ended there, many started their journey from Patarei to faraway prison camps. The names of over 22 000 Estonians, who were murdered or died in imprisonment or in exile, are engraved on the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Maarjamäe, Tallinn.
We look forward to essays from secondary school students on the topic “The influence of the communist regime on my family and by extension – me” (maximum of 8000 characters, including spaces). We encourage students to interview their grandparents, relatives and acquaintances for personal memories and ideas. We expect an analysis of the physical and mental influence of the Soviet regime on loved ones’ lives. Please send the essays to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org by 29 February 2020 (included). The essays may be written in the language of student’s school, they need to be submitted with the student’s name and school, his/her e-mail address and phone number. The results of the essay competition will be announced on 25 March on the day of the March Deportations, accompanied by a commemoration event of which all participants will be notified. The authors of the best essays are awarded with a thematic field trip to St. Petersburg’s museums and memorials.