Opposition to the regime

The majority of Estonians opposed the re-establishment of the Soviet power, expressed in both passive and active resistance to the regime. Between 1944 and 1953, the resistance mainly constituted direct armed combat by the Forest Brothers. To fight the Forest Brothers, the Soviet power used regular army units, security forces, the militia and local Soviet activists. This ‘war after the war’ claimed numerous victims on both sides. The guerrilla resistance was considerably weakened by the mass deportations in 1949. Although the Forest Brothers were waiting for a new war to break out and real help from the Western countries, only a few Western intelligence agents arrived in Estonia during the post-war decade, and they were swiftly captured by the Soviet security forces. By the early 1950s, the occupying power was able to suppress the armed resistance movement.

Besides the armed resistance movement, the Soviet regime was also opposed by underground youth organisations. Their activity in the post-war years was rather extensive and it continued after the armed resistance was suppressed. The secret youth organisations of the 1950s mainly emerged to protest the increasing compromises and adaptations to the Soviet system. The secret organisations of the time were characterised by strict discipline, constitutions, handwritten leaflets, oaths, and to some extent, the acquiring of weapons.

​Beginning in the second half of the 1960s, the existing underground youth movement was replaced by rather different democratic movements, which had better defined ideas and political foundations (dissidence). Democratic movements were no longer narrowly restricted to Estonians, as many participants were also non-Estonians, whose aim was to democratise the Soviet Union. The emphasis was thus not on nationality, but on democracy, with the founding principle being that no subjugated nation could achieve independence fighting on its own. Estonian independence was now seen as an international issue. This claim was enhanced by the activities of exile organisations who tirelessly raised the Baltic issue in the international arena.

​To counterbalance the controlled journalism, Estonians tried to acquire information about Western culture and societies, as much and as directly as possible. A significant source of information was Finnish television, which could be watched in Tallinn and elsewhere in northern Estonia; there were also radio stations, such as Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and the BBC World Service.

​The second half of the 1970s witnessed an intensification of Russification, propaganda of the ‘joint Soviet nation’ and bilingualism. The usage and users of Russian were afforded various privileges, and leadership positions in the Estonian Communist Party and Soviet Estonia were held by people even more obedient to the Kremlin. In the 1970s, opposition moved to the public sphere, where the main means were public letters and addresses to the power organs, international organisations and foreign governments. The most outstanding was the Letter of the Forty to Moscow, signed by forty Estonian cultural figures in 1980, pointing out the dangers of increasing Russification. Some of the underground activities included establishing and documenting facts about violations of human rights, collecting truthful material about the situation in Soviet Estonia and smuggling this information out of the country to various exile organisations in the West, who made them public.

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