Karotamm, Nikolai

​23 October 1901, Pärnu – 26 September 1969, Moscow

Party leader in the Estonian SSR 1944-1950

In 1919 Karotamm started at the Rakvere Teachers’ Seminary, but left school in 1920 because of financial difficulties. Between 1921 and 1923, he served in the Estonian army and then worked as a casual labourer. In 1925 he travelled to Holland in search of work, where he joined the Dutch Communist Party the following year (Karotamm was a member of the Russian CP from 1928).

In 1926 he settled in the Soviet Union. From 1926 to 1928 and from 1929 to 1935, Karotamm studied at the Communist University for Western National Minorities in Leningrad. In 1928 he was sent to do underground work in Estonia by the Comintern. As collaboration with other underground activists failed, in 1929 he returned to the Soviet Union. In the 1930s he worked as a lecturer, an editor at a publishing house, a translator and an employee of the Comintern.

He was arrested in 1938 by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), spent a short time in prison without being charged, and then was released.

In July 1940 Karotamm was despatched to Estonia, where he became the editor of the most important daily, Communist, after the Soviet occupation, and he was appointed the second secretary of the Estonian Communist Party in August. In summer 1941 he was evacuated to the Soviet Union, where he acted as the Party leader of the Estonian SSR, as the leader Karl Säre, who remained in Estonia, was arrested by the Germans. In autumn 1944, after Estonia was re-invaded by the Soviet Union, Karotamm was appointed the First Secretary of the Estonian Communist Party, which essentially meant leading the entire country. During his reign, extensive rearrangements in the Soviet society and economy took place, with the aim of placing Estonia at the same level as other areas in the Soviet Union. After the March plenary in 1950, he was removed from the position of Party leader, accused of favouring ‘bourgeois nationalists’. The real reason was the power struggle within the Estonian Communist Party. The Kremlin was also dissatisfied with Karotamm’s too confident style of leadership, i.e. trying to find solutions to problems himself, without consulting Moscow. After being sacked, Karotamm left Estonia and was active in the field of scientific research in Moscow until his death.

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