Era of Local Soviets

In 1940, local self-government was practically abolished by the Soviet occupation. Formally, the administrative units were called rural municipalities and cities until 1950. Although the German authorities re-enacted the legislation of the Estonian Republic at the local level during the World War II, it was necessary to be guided by the war-time political situation. Such an institution as Estonian Self-Administration (Ger. Selbstverwaltung) was under the German civil government operating instead of the former central government level of the independent Estonian state.

The war was followed by a period of local soviets for almost half a century. Already on 25 July 1940, the activities of local and county councils were discontinued. According to the socialist constitution, all the power belonged to the urban and rural working people through soviets; however, the first single-mandate “election” in the Estonian SSR took place only in 1948 with all the candidates nominated by one party and accepted by the KGB. The unheard of “active voting” the rate of which fluctuated around 99.9% became a natural part of “exercising the power” of urban and rural working people until 1989. High party officials and statesmen had to be elected to local soviets as was customary then. For instance, comrades Stalin, Zhdanov and Molotov were elected as members of Tallinn City Soviet. In 1977, a new constitution was adopted and it was considered no longer necessary to employ the term “the soviet of working people” since almost all the adult population had a job; therefore, the term “the soviet of peoples’ deputies” was introduced. A deputy who did not live up to the expectations of the electorate (i.e. the communist party and the KGB) could be removed by the majority of “the electorate” at any moment.

Soviets and their executive committees existed in districts, independent cities, district cities, towns and villages. According to the constitution and other legislation, the soviets were supposed to form the political basis of the Soviet Union and all the other state bodies were to be under their supervision and accountable to them. Reality was quite the opposite – soviets were a tool of the communist party. They had no administrative authority, let alone an independent budget. This was ruled out since each local soviet was part of the unified budgetary system of the Soviet Union. Throughout the Soviet period, higher level soviets had the right to abrogate the decisions and orders of lower level soviets and their executive committees. Pursuant to law, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR managed the activities of local soviets and abrogated the decisions of district and independent city soviets, if those did not comply with the law. Those soviets in their turn could abrogate the decisions of city, town and village soviets located on their territory. The schools, hospitals and other institutions completely owned by the state were managed and financed by ministries. Collective farms, state farms and construction enterprises usually provided the infrastructure for various socio-economic services in rural areas as well as the services themselves.

​One should definitely not confuse local councils as a form of inner management in a centralized state (the “extension of the state’s hand”) with local governments. For that reason, it would make no sense to write about the slow progress of a local government during this period; still, sometimes it’s done. An entity without power can proceed neither quickly nor slowly.

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