The Cold War and Estonia

​WWII totally changed the world balance of forces. The impact of the Soviet Union, as one of the winner states, on the decision-making in world affairs grew considerably. Moscow gradually extended its supremacy in Eastern Europe and subjugated the local ruling regimes almost completely to its control. The western states – at first, naively hoping to continue the cooperation of the war period – were not able to block the expansion of the Soviet Union. Instead of the previous cooperation, a new confrontation developed between the great powers – the Cold War that largely influenced developments in the world up to the second half of the 1980s. The Soviet Union and its allies cut themselves off from the rest of the world behind an “iron curtain”. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remained behind the curtain.

After huge human casualties, destruction and economic losses, the attempts of the Baltic countries in restoring independent statehood in 1944 failed and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were reoccupied by the Soviet Union. During the period called late Stalinism (1944-1953), the wide-range Sovietisation of social life, the suppression of resistance, the levelling of spiritual life and the application of the command economy were all started. The oppression of the Stalinist regime that peaked with deportations in March 1949 caused a general atmosphere of terror.

​The much awaited “white ship” did not come, and the realisation that the Soviet regime was there to stay for a long time gradually became prevalent. This realisation meant, in its turn, that the split among the Estonians remained. People who had escaped to the west towards the end of the War had no chance to return to their homeland. An energetic exile Estonian community was formed to be the carrier of the continuity of the pre-war Estonian Republic. Continuation of the occupation in Estonia caused adaptations to the regime that were the result of the de-Stalinisation policy started in the mid-1950s by Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor as leader of the Soviet Union. This period, called “Khrushchev’s thaw” (mid-1950s – mid 1960s), was the start of the stabilisation of social life. The widespread state policy of violence was stopped in the USSR; progress in economy was accompanied by a rise in living standards for the population. At the same time it became more and more clear that the Soviet Union was not ready to loosen its control over its satellite areas in Eastern Europe, confirmed by the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising (1956) and the Prague Spring (1968).

​Adaptations to the regime, started during the Khrushchev’s thaw, did not mean that it was accepted without any criticism.. This was proved by a mass movement for liberation, started in the second half of the 1980s that peaked in the restoration of the Estonian statehood in 1991. For Estonia the half of a century in the Soviet Union meant an economic, cultural, etc. isolation from the Western world that, contrary to the communist rhetoric, caused the backwardness of society.

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