What do Estonians remember from their history?

The ruins of Padise Monastery, sacked during the St. George's Night uprising in 1343 (Zosma/Wikimedia Commons)
12/10/2015 11:53 AM
Category: Society

When asked about the most important episodes in Estonian history, most Estonians tend to bring out similar events. Tallinn University's professor of cultural history Marek Tamm claims that on the one hand, this can be attributed to the revolutionary importance of these events. On the other hand, it comes from the shared common memory, which helps Estonians remember the story of the their everlasting fight for freedom.

For years, Marek Tamm has conducted a questionnaire among his students, asking their opinion about the most important historical events in Estonia. The answers are roughly similar, the most frequent being about the episodes concerning our independence and freedom, from the Baltic Crusade (known as the “Fight for Freedom” in Estonia) and the St. George’s Night uprising up to the declaration of independence and the Estonian War of Independence.

But why do all these students remember and value similar events from the history of Estonia?

"The reasons should not be sought from the sheer importance of these events, but rather from the peculiarities of the Estonian collective memory," Tamm said in a one minute lecture, a joint science video project by TU and ERR. We learn as children that our ancestors have always yearned and fought for independence, and the Republic of Estonia, declared in 1918, is the logical result of this freedom fight that lasted for generations. All losses or stoppages in the fight have been anomalies, which have not deterred us from our path to independence.

"Our common memory is held together by a simple story of an age-spanning quest for freedom, which started with a loss at Ümera and ended with a win at Võnnu. This is the story that writers, artists and historians have been telling people for nearly a century and a half and it has become one that remembers itself for us," Tamm explained, adding that this story has become the backbone of the collective memory of Estonians and enables them to see themselves as a common and sustainable nation. "It lets us connect scattered events into one meaningful whole, instead of showing Estonians and Estonia as the sum of random occurrences."

Yet, Estonians should not limit themselves, Tamm said: "Our vision of our past, and therefore our present, will become more rich and varied, if we can tell ourselves as many different stories as possible."

M. Oll

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