Siberian Estonians - History and Cultural Relations

The first settlers in Siberia were administrative and criminal exiles who were moved to the village of Rizkovo in Tukalsk County of the Tobolsk region, on the order of Czar Nicholas I. The plan was to make this village the home for all the Lutheran exiles (Germans, Latvians, Estonians, Finns, Swedes, etc.). The plan was never carried out, however, as there was not enough land for the settlers, different nationalities did not get along, and disorder (fights, drunkenness, and robbery) became a problem. Thus, following a proposal by the Evangelist Lutheran Consistory, a new Lutheran community was founded on the Om River, where most of the inhabitants of Rizkovo then moved. Most Estonians moved to the village of Revel (Virukula).

In the 1850s and 1860s new Estonian colonies appeared in eastern Siberia as well. In 1850 an exile by the name of Uri Kuldmae founded the village of Upper Suetuk in the Minusinsk region and in 1861 another Estonian village, Upper Bulanka, was founded nearby. Most of the exiles in both western and eastern Siberia led an unsettled life, however; some were hired as craftsmen or worked in gold mines, and some lived by burglarizing neighboring Russian villages or were simply homeless. It took some years to turn the Estonians into agriculturalists.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century voluntary migration of Estonian peasants to Siberia began. Thousands of landless and land-starved peasants set off to the inner regions of Russia, including Siberia, in their quest for better life. The migration process was accelerated considerably by construction of the Siberian railroad in 1891-1899. In 1897, 4,202 Estonians lived in Siberia (2,031 out of them in the Tobolsk region and 1,406 in the Eniseji region). The largest settlements (besides the above-mentioned) were the villages of Kovalevo and Zolotaja Niva in Tukal County of the Tobolsk region. In 1895-1990, twenty-three Estonian villages were founded in Siberia, and in 1899 Estonians reached the Pacific coast, where the village of Novaja (New) Livonija (Liivikula) was established.

Migration to Siberia culminated during the period of the Stolypin agrarian reform (1906-1911). Large Estonian colonies appeared in western Siberia in 1907-1909; a total of more than 40 Estonian settlements were established in Siberia after 1906. In 1918 over 40,000 Estonians lived in more than 150 villages there. Pastor A. Nigol, who went to the Estonian settlements of the Tobolsk region in 1917 wrote: "Everything here is almost the way it is in the motherland. There is no trace of any kind of Russian influence."

On 4 February 1920 a peace treaty between Soviet Russia and the Estonian Republic was signed in Tartu. One of the provisions of this treaty was the option of Estonian citizenship for all the Estonians living in the lands of the Russian Federation. Thousands of Siberian Estonians opted for Estonian citizenship and returned to their ethnic homeland. The majority of Estonians chose to stay in Russia, however. In 1926 there were 32,000 Estonians in Siberia.

A major cultural revival occurred in Estonian villages in Siberia during the 1920s and 1930s. Schools were opened everywhere, teaching was conducted both in Estonian and Russian, and the network of clubs, reading rooms, and "red corners" grew. Many of the Estonian settlers were literate, but they did not speak Russian fluently (in 1922 in the Tomsk region only 3 percent of Estonians could speak Russian well, and 55 percent did not speak it at all). For this reason, the Estonian press remained popular. In 1920 the newspapers Siberi tooline (Worker of Siberia) and Toolise kalender (Worker's Calendar) came out. The Siberi teataja (Siberian Herald) and Kommunaar (Communar) and its literary supplement Vus kula (New Village) were very popular. In these were published the work of journalists Eduard Paal, Felix Kotta, Anton Nimm, and others. In addition, the Siberian Estonians knew of the newspaper Uus ilm (New World), published in the United States for American and Canadian farmers of Estonian ancestry.

In 1937-1938, under the cover of the struggle against "national democracy," all the Estonian newspapers published in the former USSR were closed, as were all Estonian institutions and clubs. Approximately 200 Estonian schools closed, and many teachers were repressed. All these measures had a negative influence on Estonian culture, and led to the exclusion of Estonians from industry and the sequestering of Estonian as a household language.

In the 1960s the kolkhoz movement grew, but many Siberian Estonian villages were not considered worth developing. The youth of these villages began to move either to villages—where housing and cultural institutions were built and where there was a need for labor—or to cities. Many left for Estonia. Moreover, as a result of ties between Siberian Estonians and other ethnic groups, there were many mixed marriages. The overwhelming majority of Estonian-Russian and Russian-Estonian families chose a Russian identity. These occurrences led to a continuing diminishment of Siberian Estonians as a distinct group.

Attempts to revive the Estonian national culture in Siberia face many obstacles, primarily related to the small population and dispersed settlement of the group. In recent years, however, amateur art groups have been created anew in many villages. The Estonian folk festival "Baltics 1989" was held in the village of Tsvetnopolje of the Odessa District of the Omsk region. Certain craftsmen and professionals among the Siberian Estonians carve wood, knit, and weave. The number of Estonians engaged in professional occupations and sports is growing, and includes the poet A. Sarg, the author of "Poem about Rizkovo," and the gymnast N. Puusepp.

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Dec 17, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
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