Eli Pilve, researcher at the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, investigated the memories of people who suffered because of the scope of Soviet repression. There are many memories stored in the Estonian National Museum and Estonian Literary Museum that tell stories of how social background caused the loss of a job or exclusion from education. “It was easy to collect oral tradition from people, but documentary evidence is scarce because the repression of family members was hidden by the authorities,” Pilve explained.
She noted that persecution because of background became a usual Soviet practice and documents did not show the reality. “For example, the reason for dismissing a student or worker was listed as non-appearance or default in documents, although the real reason was inappropriate social background,” she said. Pilve added that this makes researching the topic methodologically difficult because all memories may not be reliable.
Paradoxes related to the Communist Party
Pilve also found many examples of paradoxes that people encountered in their life. “Arved Laatsit had fought in the Red Army during World War II and got two medals for that. In 1945 it was discussed whether to accept him into the Communist party but he was deleted from the list because his father had worked as a police officer of the Republic of Estonia, his brother had belonged to the Estonian Defence League and sister to the Women’s Voluntary Defence Organization. In documents, the reason for excluding him was substantiated with the explanation that Laatsit was a random person, who had been accidentally accepted into the party” she described one case.
So, on the one hand, people were eager to become a member of the party, and problems occurred when a person avoided joining or “inappropriate” family members were discovered. On the other hand, if a person already was a member, expulsion left a mark that could cost one a job and impede them in finding a new one. This, in turn, could affect the education and work experience of his or her children, Pilve explained.
According to Pilve, the important aspect is that, in reality, all these decisions depended on the skill of overlooking undesired facts and the empathy of the person who made the decisions. “If a man was fired from one collective farm, he could find a job in another, if the heart of the decision-maker there was in the right spot,” she explained.
As a researcher and project manager of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, Pilve is ready to analyse new-found material if it emerges. The institute combines academic research on anti-human regimes and ideologies with awareness-raising.
 Pilve, E. (2017) The Families of “Exploiters” and “Enemies of the People” in the Fetters of the Soviet Regime. Tuna. Magazine of Historical Culture, 1, 58−73.
This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.