Soviet Occupation

History of Estonia between 1945 - 1991

Terror and Resistance

After World War II Estonia was once again occupied by Soviet Union and stuck behind the iron curtain. An anti-Soviet guerrilla movement known as the "Metsavennad" ("Forest Brothers") developed in the countryside, reaching its zenith in 1946–48. It is hard to tell how many people were in the ranks of the Metsavennad; however, it is estimated that at different times there could have been about 30,000–35,000 people. Probably the last Forest Brother was caught in September 1978, and killed himself during his apprehension. In March 1949, 20,722 people (2.5% of the population) were deported to Siberia. By the beginning of the 1950s, the occupying regime had suppressed the resistance movement.

After the war the Communist Party of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ECP) became the pre-eminent organization in the republic. The ethnic Estonian share in the total ECP membership decreased from 90% in 1941 to 48% in 1952.

After Stalin's death

One positive aspect of the post-Stalin era in Estonia was the regranting of permission in the late 1950s for citizens to make contact with foreign countries. Ties were reactivated with Finland, and in the 1960s, a ferry connection was opened from Tallinn to Helsinki and Estonians began watching Finnish television. This electronic "window on the West" afforded Estonians more information on current affairs and more access to Western culture and thought than any other group in the Soviet Union.

In 1955 the TV Centre was built in Tallinn, that began TV broadcasts on June 29 of that year. The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, the venue for the song festivals, were built in 1960. Only after the Khrushchev Thaw period of 1956 did healthcare networks start to stabilise. Due to natural development, science and technology advanced and popular welfare increased. All demographic indicators improved; birth rate increased, mortality decreased. Healthcare became freely available to everybody during the Soviet era.

In the late 1970s, Estonian society grew increasingly concerned about the threat of cultural Russification to the Estonian language and national identity. By 1981, Russian was taught in the first grade of Estonian-language schools and was also introduced into Estonian pre-school teaching.

By the beginning of the Gorbachev era (1985), concern over the cultural survival of the Estonian people had reached a critical point. The ECP remained stable in the early perestroika years but waned in the late 1980s. Other political movements, groupings and parties moved to fill the power vacuum. The first and most important was the Estonian Popular Front, established in April 1988 with its own platform, leadership and broad constituency. The Greens and the dissident-led Estonian National Independence Party soon followed.

Reference: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1945 and 1991 in Estonia

Tallinn Song Festival Grounds

The Tallinn Song Stage (Lauluväljak) was built in 1959 for the Estonian Song Festival. The stage was meant to hold over 15,000 singers but it’s also possible to use it the other way – the performance will take place in front of the stage and audience is sitting on the stage. The stage was the main places of the Estonian revolution and new independence in 1988-1991. Estonians gathered there to sing patrio ...
Founded: 1959 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Mihkli Farm Museum

Mihkli Farm Museum, found in 1959, is a previous farm typical to West-Saaremaa, with many architectural sights as well. Most buildings lie in a circle around the yard, part of which is separated by a stick fence as flower garden. Farm is surrounded by old ash trees, leafy branches used to be cut from them for sheep's winter feed. In addition to a complete set of buildings there was a rich collection of everyday items ...
Founded: 1959 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Tartumaa Museum

Tartumaa Museum was founded in 1959 to exhibit the history and culture of Tartumaa county. There is for example a rich collection of coins and archaelogical findings in the permanent exhibition. Reference: Tapio Mäkeläinen 2005. Viro - kartanoiden, kirkkojen ja kukkaketojen maa. Tammi, Helsinki, Finland.
Founded: 1959 | Location: Elva, Estonia

Dejevo Military Base

Dejevo village was established during the Soviet era. There were several missile bases and garrisons around the village. After soldiers left and missiles were hauled away, the village was totally abandoned. In 2011 most of the brick and concrete buildings on the surface were demolished.
Founded: 1940-1991 | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Kihnu Museum

The museum of Kihnu was established in 1974 into the old schoolhouse. Expositions are divided between four rooms. Two of them are dedicated to the everyday life of the island through centuries: tools, clothes, handicrafts, furniture. The other two are dedicated to the local representatives of naïve art and to other famous men from Kihnu: Theodor Saar, a researcher in the studies of local lore; Enn Uuetoa, a captain a ...
Founded: 1974 | Location: Kihnu, Estonia

Soviet Submarine Training Centre

The secret submarine base and training centre was built to Paldiski under the order of Soviet Union between 1965-1968. The huge building complex had two nuclear submarines built on dry land. Soviet soldiers left from Paldiski in 1994 year later the decommissioned reactors were removed. The reactors functioned continuously from the early 1970s until 1989. Today most of training centre buildings are abandoned and ruined.
Founded: 1965-1968 | Location: Paldiski, Estonia

Estonian Distillery Industry Museum

Estonian Distillery Industry Museum belongs to private company Onistar. The museum is located in the old distillery building of Moe manor that was built in the 18th century. The Moe manor itself is demolished as well as most annexes. The first official notes on the distillery date back to 1794, when Reval District Registry of Distilleries was drawn, including also the distillery of Muddise (present-day Moe) Manor. The in ...
Founded: 1794 (museum 1971) | Location: Tapa vald 5, Estonia

Pilistvere Stones

Pilistvere memorial looks like a burial ground covered with piled stones, with a wooden cross at the head. Since 1988 Estonian people have brought there stones to remind of their relatives who were deported to Siberia and prison camps during the Soviet occupation.
Founded: 1988 | Location: Kõo, Estonia

Mõniste Museum

The Mõniste Museum is the oldest open-air museum in Estonia. The museum complex consists two buildings with annexes. The threshing barn dating back to Czarist times features the interior of the 19th century building, tools, household utensils and clothing. The farmhouse from the times of the first Republic of Estonia exhibits the tools that blacksmiths used, horse necessaries, handicraft tools, national costumes, f ...
Founded: 1948 | Location: Mõniste, Estonia

Saatse Seto Museum

Saatse Seto Museum was opened in the former schoolhouse on 1 July 1974. The renovated museum is small and cosy and it displays the most extensive collection of historical objects in Setomaa. It also includes a large wooden figure of Peko, the god of fertility, created by local artist Renaldo Veeber. The museum possesses a beautiful park spreading over several hectares with a study trail, only a few hundred metres from Rus ...
Founded: 1974 | Location: Värska, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.