The Estonians’ Adaptation to New Cultural Realities
Lessons from history

Aili Aarelaid-Tart

Institute of International and Social Studies, Tallinn, Estonia
Paper presented at the Fourth Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism, April 2002

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Why the biographical method?
Base data, method and definitions
Two types of rethinking identities

The Kinship Relations
In Estonia - In Sweden

Rites of Passage
In Estonia - In Sweden

The Calendar Traditions
In Sweden - In Estonia



Why the biographical method?

Today millions of migrants move from one culture to another for political or economic reasons. In addition to the actual physical replacement there are also large changes in the mentalities of the re-settlers that must take place. Two keywords are important for understanding the migrants’ inner world – the integration into the mental world of the new society and the patterns of identity that preserve both the common traditions and the mother tongue of the previous cultural context. The integration into something new and the keeping of the old are quite like two sides of the same coin. There must be a dialectical balance between them. When one of the mentioned two sides prevails and the other is suppressed, then all kinds of socio-cultural conflicts can be unleashed.

Most researchers describe these mental transformations on a macro-level as something that belongs to the national state viewed as a special kind of social body. National states achieve success in nation-building only when they permanently (re)create a unique largest population group (indigenous), which in turn retells its history in categories and periods congruent with those that the state uses itself on official levels. Unlike the United States’ “melting-pot” ideology, “Old Golden” Europe is a place where the nation-state ideology is still victorious and the goal is to transform the mentalities of the re-settlers from every place of the world into those of a European. That means all large European states like Germany, UK, France, Scandinavian countries etc. would like to integrate the coming in migration groups only when it harmonizes with their own national mentalities. Such European national distinctions and loyalties grew out of routine everyday behaviors.

For every re-settler his or her new national identity is first of all made up of all the diverse everyday relationships mentioned above. The existence of every single individual is surrounded by several life constructs that are common to his/her original community: kinship system, eating and dressing habits, rites of passage, annual calendar traditions etc. When an individual crosses the border of an alien culture (a definite semiosphere), then there will be an enormous change in his/her life constructs.

Mainstream sociology, history or politology do not depict the hardships an individual faces in the process of meaning-in-the-remaking. In the case of migration the analysis of political frameworks for constructing new adaptation-oriented accounts or testing public matrices for the recreation of the collective consciousness of re-settlers is preferred. In the center is the problem of integration as a socio-cultural process of shifting the consciousness and the behavioral norms of an ethnic community or nation towards the composition of identity in the other – neighboring, superior etc. – nation. The integration can happen voluntarily when cohorts of migrants leave their old habitats and enter the new cultural realities. The other possibility is compulsory integration, which can take place in the case of annexation or occupation of one ethnic territory by another ethno-political regime (the Catalans under Franco, the Baltic nations under Soviet (Russian) rule etc.) All these inter-ethnic power relations and struggles for superiority happen on a level we call “public”. The public sphere is the ideological construct concentrating on the state machine as a symbol? of nation-building. The opposite term is “private”, that means domestic sphere of the family and neighborhood. Public and private are, of course, complementary phenomena, but for a better understanding of the specifics of each of them different methods of analyzing can be implemented.

Integration on the private level is interpreted as a great turn in the individual’s life in all its color and richness. This is an excellent field for the biographical method. Each person tells us his or her unique story, but by summing up tens of them a researcher can see the main patterns of the cultural transformations of re-settlers.

In individual cases the process of moving from one culture’s norms to another one’s is rich in detail and provides a more comprehensive understanding about what was happening. I’ll give you only two examples from one of my fieldwork in Estonia and Sweden.

An old Estonian refugee in Sweden told me how nervous their Swedish neighbors were when they (after arriving in 1944) started to make sauerkraut soup that’s very common in Estonia. The neighbors knocked angrily on their door and asked what this repulsive smell was. Do the Estonians really eat rotten cabbage?! Another lady told me how astonished she was when she was told that the Swedish people do not eat salt herring; they eat sweet herring instead. Several respondents told me how unhappy they were when they understood that couldn’t buy dark bread or blood pudding in the shops. The solution to those conflicts of eating habits was, by the way, that Estonians started to bake dark bread themselves and even sold it at the markets. Soon Swedish people started to like it and bought that bread, although it was now called “Estonian bread”.

Some other examples are from the 1940s Estonia and describe the conflict between the locals and the Russian settlers concerning behavioral and dressing habits. Several respondents emphasized how amazed and shocked they were about the extremely noisy way of speaking the Russians were accustomed to, and how noisy their children were. A ridiculous story was one about the wives of the Russian officers. They went to theater performances in the beautiful long silk nightgowns they bought in Estonian shops. It is known that for a long time simple Russian people did not use nightgowns at all. So it is understandable why these pieces of clothing to them resembled the dressing style of the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century, and why they were so happy to buy them for just a modest amount of money.

“The history of the individual is never anything other than a certain specification of the collective history of his group or class,” asserts Pierre Bourdieu. (Boudieu, 1977, 86) Every collective body of humans has its own unique sense of the self-ness or “we”-identity that is different from those of others’ (be tribal, ethnic, minority, and national identities). At the same time this corresponding “we”-identity is the core of any individual who is a member of some kind of socio-cultural community. This “we”-identity is also very dynamic and sensitive of outside impulses. All the shiftiness of this collective-level ”we”-identity has reflections on the individual level which emerge as facts in personal biographies. Respondents do not tell us about the changes in aggregated identity or collective integration into the new society. Their stories are full of tragic, ridiculous or serious episodes in their lives during the times they felt the people of their country of new residency (or occupational power) did not accept them. Political turning-points do not realise for the individuals by the same time-schedule as they do for the powerful decision-makers. At the same moment the rulers sign a historically important document the simple man is milking his cow, baking bread, thinking about his or her wedding etc. Only through several everyday details and behaviour-shifting, misunderstandings and strange conflicts do ordinary people finally recognise the changes in the identity. One of my respondents told me how his mother refused to buy an iron for a year after their arrival to Sweden as boat-refugees. Declining was logical for her since they were to return to Estonia in the near future and the iron was too heavy an object to take along when they do go back. During this year that woman did not realise what had really happened in her fatherland when it was occupied by the Soviets. The turning point in her conscious was when she finally bought the iron as an artefact needed to organise the everyday life of her family under new conditions.

Base data, method and definitions

A large-scale migration for either military, economic or political reasons exists in contemporary Europe as a complicated socio-cultural reality. This new multicultural situation is both the result of WWII and the collapse of the colonial system. But every kind of migration leads to a sharp shift in the structure of not only the geographical re-settlers’ self-consciousness, but also in that of the local, indigenous people’s self-consciousness. We can’t say that peaceful multiculturalism flourishes everywhere in Europe. There are a lot of smaller and larger ethnic conflicts around us that clearly show a defective dialogue between divergent cultural matrices of the old and the new settlers is taking place. That means the study of the real mechanisms of integration of minority groups who integrate into societies of their new homelands is still very actual.

My idea is to compare two opposite types of cases of Estonians as representatives of a small nation integrating into larger socio-cultural context. On of these types may be taken as a halfway voluntary and the other as totally compulsory way of integrating an ethnic self-consciousness into another socio-cultural configuration. The first one is the case of a modest community of Estonian boat-refugees integrating into the Swedish society during the post-war period. The other is about the Russian chauvinist ideology’s attempts to integrate the whole occupied Estonian community into a world of a fundamentally alien Soviet life constructs and worldview. A few decades after the war had ended the first case became a genuine emergence of a dual Estonian-Swedish identity which was the result of truly excellent integration. The other, compulsory case which progressed under the slogan “United Soviet nation as a new historical reality” failed in many aspects. People of occupied Estonia could not recognise themselves as Soviet people, on the contrary, beginning with the years of Khrushchev’s “thaw” mechanisms of cultural resistant grew step by step.

In my research I used two basic sets of data. One of them was created by myself and an American researcher Hank Johnston during the years 1996-1998. It consists of 73 tape recorded in-depth interviews with outstanding intellectual and political key figures from the period of Soviet occupation. The results of this fieldwork were two: a book called “Soviets or Europeans” (Aarelaid, A., 1998) which is written in Estonian and a co-authored article in the United States’ journal “Sociological Perspectives” (Johnston & Aarelaid-Tart, 2000). The other fieldwork is still going on and right now I have had 15 Swedish Estonians tell me their life stories, with a lot of tragic moments depicting their arrival and descriptions of the crucial points of the later years.

In my fieldwork I use an approach which R. Miller calls a neo-positivist one (Miller, 2000, 12). This approach assumes that ‘pre-existing network of concepts are used to make theoretically based predictions concerning people’s experienced lives “ (Miller. 2000, 12). The neo-positivist approach also assumes the existence of an objective reality and says that the story of a respondent mostly represents this reality. But at the same time a researcher must be very careful when interpreting these records because there is a big difference between the lives lived and the lives remembered. In the 1990s respondents did not tell us their real biographies, they told us but a renewed version of the myth about the “real lives” lived more than forty years ago. After the restoration of the Republic of Estonia our homeland respondents mostly showed themselves either as the heroes of a long-perspective struggle against the Soviet reality or as the victims of inhuman historical circumstances. When talking about Estonians in Sweden I mentioned two versions of defection which occur when they recall their own past. The first was that they overestimated the hardships they must face when they arrive in Sweden or that they mystified the reasons why they left their homeland. The other one relates to various “white lies” developed to show their lives a lot worse off in the new country of residence than it really was. Thus, the hermeneutic interplay between the subjective perception of reality by respondent and an existing objective social structure should be emphasised. In order to check the congruency between the subjective and objective sides of the reconstruction of the past I used two ways of examination. One criteria of objectivity consisted of the similar motives, events, names, dates etc repeatedly showing up in the interviews. But in the case of the Estonian boat-refugees I asked a Swedish social scientist to comment and evaluate the main master narratives I gathered from my respondents’ interviews. For example, when most Estonians told how friendly and well-organised their personal arrival to Sweden in September 1944 was, then I asked Swedish researchers whether it really was so and what was the reason why the Kingdom of Sweden was interested in aiding our refugees.. I got a positive and satisfactory answer.

After transcripts these interviews my aim was to find the main changes in of some life constructions like kinship relations, rites of passage and calendar traditions and compare those of the exiled and homeland Estonians. My hypothesis is that the long-term process of integration on an everyday level is very well reflected in the shifting of life constructions. Life constructions I would like to define as particular historically developed cultural patterns that organise an individual’s course of life. All life constructions come to existence only through everyday practices that at the same time become the criteria for ethnic or national identity. At the national level, the struggle over control of meaning concerns making individual life constructions coterminous with examples and ideals given by the state, is going. If individuals will find periods and categorise their own biographies in a way congruent with the model life-courses given by the state, then they legalise the state’s claim to represent them (Borneman, 1995, 30). Integration as an process of coming from one socio-cultural system to another can be interpreted as a remaking or correction of private sphere life construction models of individuals in accordance with the public sphere models of the country with superior demands that regulate the everyday life of the new residents (or those of an occupying power).

For me, kinship relations are here a network of family and affinity relations to guarantee the individual a set of norms and behavioural patterns that regulate his or her life course inside the private sphere. Borneman interpreted kinship as the structuring of belonging patterns to bring to life a specific kind of everyday relationships, which follow a particular trajectory over a life-course (Borneman, 1995, 30). Today European national states have a special family codex that regulates kinship relations according the main ideological stream of the state. Besides, the kinship systems are also regulated by the historical traditions of every ethnic group. It is possible that the state’s legitimacy and a common understanding of kinship are controversial, and that may cause serious conflicts, especially amongst migrant communities.

I define the rites of passage as set of ceremonies that accompany an individual’s life course during the moments when his or her official status inside the community changes- birth, social puberty, marriage, mother- and fatherhood, advancement to a higher class, occupational specialisation, death ( Van Gennep, 1960. 3). Well-known rites of passage are giving a name (and later birthday parties), initiation (confirmation, entering or finishing the school etc.), wedding party, inauguration, funerals etc.

Calendar traditions are ceremonies which accompany and assure the changes of the year or seasons. These rites are repeated every year at the same time to give a special organisation to the individual life. Very many calendar traditions are based on the folk culture (several carnival events) or religious dogmas (Christmas, Easter), but every national state adds some kind of national days or days that emphasise politically imported events in the history of the nation to this circle.. Good examples are the days of independence, anniversaries of the republic, birthdays of the King or the Queen etc.

Two types of rethinking identities

Thus, the year 1944 was very tragic for thousand of Estonians who had to decide their future in a very short time, sometimes they had only one night. The question was: what to do, either stay under the Russian, Stalinist brutal rule with an unknown and uncertain future or leave the homeland with most of their relatives and all of their belongings behind and start a new life.

In these dark and stormy nights between September 20-25 about 30 000 Estonian boat-refugees with only minimal luggage arrived in a coastal region of Sweden. They did not have any idea about their future. They were hoping to return as soon as possible. Their identity was purely Estonian and they did not plan to change it. But returning to their homeland was denied for more than 45 years and something had to happen to their identities. The masses of boat-refugees had to become a community of Estonian minority in Sweden at first, and then they’ll have to collectively change their identification patterns.

At the same time a parallel process of integration was taking place across the Baltic Sea. Somewhat less than 900 000 homeland Estonians were compulsorily forced to change their earlier values, patterns of behaviour and life constructs under the supervision of the Red Army and KGB troops. Their everyday life was now shaped by the ideological and bureaucratic rules of Soviet Union. Soon thousands of famine refugees from the neighbouring regions of Russia (Leningrad, Pskov and Novgorod oblasts) flooded into the territory of the native Estonians. The policy of communal flats was implemented and hundreds of Russian families with an unfamiliar style of behaviour occupied one or more rooms in the flats of Estonians. How to use a common kitchen and toilet with people who’s language you don’t know and whose behaviour is unacceptable for you?

Thus, from the mid-forties on Estonians, who had one united national body and a similar mentality experienced different ways of integration. From the crucial events of September 1944 Estonians were divided into small and large parts in and different sorts of integrating methods into new cultural configurations began to express themselves on them. Now, half a century later it is time to assess the results of this historical experiment. After the restoration of the independent republic many people dreamed about reuniting national Estonians – the homeland and exiled parts.  Unfortunately it was not realistic because the mentalities and self-identification of the two communities were essentially different. Both sides mentioned that speaking in a common mother tongue does not prevent them from thinking in different ways. The same happened with Germans who were divided into Western and Eastern sides under the opposing political regimes. Obviously all states and ideologies try to monopolise the rules and terms controlling the reproduction of the main cultural patterns and through them the life constructions of the individuals. Ethnic identities are not something eternal and authentic, on the contrary, under the different historical circumstances and during political events a shift in the signification of the main values and patterns of the same national identity is conceivable.

Let us go on about how these distinctions in the national identity realise on the level of everyday life that is lived by the Estonian communities in alternate social conditions. I set my research task to comparing the three life constructs and changes in them in the life-stories of both homeland Estonians and those exiled to Sweden. Through this comparison of kinship relations, rites of passage and calendar traditions quite objective pictures of both the fluid and the restricted blending into new circumstances appears.

The same type-recorded life-stories are a good source for reconstructing another picture of these processes of integration (or separation). But it will be another way to interpret the same phenomena. For this way the narrative method (see R. Miller, 2000 12-13) is important, as such fact-oriented questions are complementary to understanding an individual’s unique and varied perception of the changes in the national identity. In this case reality is structured by the interplay between the interviewee and me – the interviewer –, who has a willy-nilly impact on any subjective estimations of the respondents.

The comparison of these life constructions that are very important for an individual under a distinct political power is an excellent case that can indicate the dialectical conflict between the continuous and the discrete in history. The formation of cultural patterns is always a permanent and long-term process, whereas the political turns in the social life are short-time and discrete processes. For a better organisation of individuals` everyday life the moment of continuity prevails. Rapid changes on the level of political organisation of the society represent the discrete in the historical development and usually become actual on the level of individual life as tragic moments, unsatisfactory tendencies or misunderstand situations. The life-stories of my respondents are full of descriptions of these conflicts between the continuous and the discrete in their biographies.

The Kinship Relations

In Estonia

The wartime conditions of the two occupations totally changed the women’s role in the family. The ideal of the 1930’s was an efficient and wise housewife whose main task was to maintain the husband’s well-being and help the children in their schoolwork. In reality a more practical type of farmer’s wife was widespread but the model home-fairy was then even more appreciated. But the 1940’s crushed that ideal because men were in war on either the Russian or the German side and women had to manage their home and children all alone. Those families which were lucky to see their father or son return alive from the war soon perceived that involvement in battles had crushed the man’s psyche. In their previous front-line soldiers’ rudeness, a liking of brandy prevailed and they hoped to rely on home a lot more than the poor conditions allowed.

In those social conditions grew up a woman behaving in totally different way than those of previous times. Life’s learning was to rely at first to yourself as children are hungry each day whatever happens around. Because of the lack of men during first after-war years many young women decided to become single mothers. Thus a new family structure was created: (Grandmother) – mother – children, lack of father was an ordinary occasion.

Normal for Soviet ideology was to advocate the equality of men and women. Women were encouraged to choose manly specialities (tractor driver, road builder, in the collective farms both were equal labourers, in towns house builder or manager). The new power favoured the educational ambitions of women and soon universities’ lecture halls were filled with such amounts of females that had not been seen in all the previous history of Estonia. In the course of time the education level of women rose higher than that of men and this indisputably raised the self-consciousness of the female part of the population.

In Sweden

Amongst the boat refugees there were plenty married people. Another important group were young men who had served in different armies and decided to escape from the Russian military.

Very many respondents told that housewives (mothers, more often grandmothers) from Estonia retained their status in Sweden. Past fifty years of age it was more difficult to adjust to new circumstances, plus homes and children needed more care than ordinarily in those complicated times. For the wealthier continuing to be a housewife was not a problem. Poor people (from the coastline villages) had to find a new means of funding the family and women went into the textile industry, or to be junior hospital workers, or to Stockholm into the post sorting centre.

In the 1940s and 1950s an ideal of a full-member family with a man as its head prevailed. Many Swedish women were housewives or worked part-time. Thus boat refugees of middle and older age found that in Sweden there was a family model very similar to their previous experience and in accordance with their systems of value. Those who happened to find themselves in Sweden as young girls felt obliged (like any typical refugee) to advance their life by their own actions and made an effort to get a practical and high paid profession (dentist, dental technical specialist). As most of the refugees’ children and adolescents went to school with their Swedish counterparts then they soon adopted the Swedish view of a family and gender-related division of labour.

As a community of some thousand in a bigger nation the problem of mixed marriages was unavoidable. The ideal of the middle and older age refugees was a “pure Estonian family” which they tried to enforce as a must when their children were concerned. Those who were 15-25 years old upon arrival in Sweden (being about the marriage age) followed it whenever possible. But their children did not do that any more.

Thus the refugees in Sweden kept to their ideals of family and gender relations for quite a long time, mostly because of the contemporary Sweden family model that was quite similar to the Estonian one. In the following decades the Estonians melted into Swedish social networks so deeply that they fully adopted the host country’s family values and mixed them with their own.

Rites of Passage

In Estonia

Before the Soviet period the rites of passage were closely connected to the church and a change in their status in the society awoke feelings of fear and insecurity. Church-connected rituals were partially replaced by secular ones, but people’s attitudes towards them in 1940’s and 1950’s were twofold. Because of the fear of punishment public christening and wedding ceremonies were abandoned, although after the formalities conducted in the family registration office people took the time to go to a clergyman’s vestry in secret and let the infant be christened or the young couple be united in a marriage under the God’s eyes. Among Estonians there were just a few of those who followed the Soviet rituals, such as giving batches decorated with red stars to new-born children or the wedding guests’ custom of visiting the “eternal fireplaces” of the Soviet soldiers who had fallen in the sacred war. Church funerals were not looked upon so harshly by the new regime and soon there appeared public funeral speakers and musicians whose rhetoric were quite similar to the clerics’.

Before WWII, confirmation activities were the most beautiful rites of passage besides weddings. The number of the confirmees declined quickly because of the fear of repression and the ideological pressure. But still people wished to mark their entrance into adulthood and new rituals were invented. Civil servants tried to introduce something memorable into the occasions of receiving passport for the 1st time or first-time participation in elections but specific Soviet traditions didn’t really emerge. The Estonians’ specific were the youth summer days which were invented by Estonian comsomol leaders in order to replace confirmation classes. These were in full motion at the end of 1950s and in 1960s but then faded. The youth summer days were quite grandiose events but their structure imitated the confirmations’. As a part of the ritual there were many courses during winter (cooking, literary studies, the study of good behavioural habits etc.), which, in case of successful completion, gave the right to take part in a week-long summer camp. Such a forest camp reminded of previous scouts’ activities, where new were informal gatherings with musicians, writers and other culture makers, dancing evenings and the culmination points of meeting with old communists. The public knew these events under the nickname bush-confirmation.

In Sweden

In the rites of passage (christening, confirmation, wedding, funeral etc.) during the first decades of exile no deep changes took place. For Estonians the clerical graduating from the gymnasium and the graduates’ right to wear special coloured caps in solemn ceremonial events were new. Today these traditions have been left behind. The funeral attitudes and activities have changed as well – internment is replaced by the burning to ashes, ceremony is short and a rich funeral feast does not follow it, there are sacred groves instead of cemeteries etc. The Swede-Estonians have taken over the new ways. Now they are confused about our long and tearful funerals as well as with our older women’s habits of spending extended hours in the cemeteries.

The Calendar Traditions

In Sweden

For a long time the calendar traditions in Estonia and Sweden were quite similar because they were closely connected to the Lutheran church common in both nations. It is a well-known historical fact that the Lutheran church spread in Estonia during the period of Swedish Hegemony in the XVII century. Of course, there are many nuances that distinguish ceremonies for celebrating church holidays like Christmas or Easters by either the Estonians or the Swedes, but the main patterns have been the same during the last three centuries. Thus, when Estonians arrived to Sweden, they discovered some holidays very similar to those of their earlier lives. There were a lot of small differences that did not bar the recognition of this year-circle as “own”. For example, Swedes celebrate the Christmas Eve around a rich so called Swedish table with several sorts of ham and other meat products, but Estonians’ traditional food is pork, blood pudding and cooked sauerkraut with potatoes. When Estonians make a fire in Midsummer Night, then Swedes do the same at St. Philips Day (the 1st of May). Swedes celebrate Midsummer Night eating fresh potato and local strawberries, Estonians brew beer instead. Today there exists a mix both traditions with an exception of the Christmas Eve when both nations strictly follow their own eating habits.

To the community of boat-refugees it was necessary to recognise the official calendar of the state holidays of the Kingdom of Sweden. But it didn’t stop them from celebrating 24th of February as on anniversary of the Republic of Estonia which was extraordinary important for the exiled community as it helped to keep their own identity while living in a foreign country.

In Estonia

In the homeland under Soviet occupation the whole church calendars as well as state holidays of the independent Estonia were forbidden. One calendar was officially replaced by another one. Instead of the anniversary of republic (February 24th) Estonians were forced to celebrate the birthday of the Red Army (February 23rd). Quite unfortunate was the story about the Midsummer Night (June, 24th) which was directly after the previous state holiday called the Day of Victory (over Red Army troops on the 23-th June 1920). Midsummer Night was connected to the folk traditions recognised by Soviet power, but this unlucky alliance restricted its festivity. A new-fashioned political calendar was implemented: Days of Solidarity (on May 1,2), Anniversary of the Great Socialist October Revolution (October, 7-8th), Day of Soviet Constitution (December, 5th) which were all free days. A well-known fact is the Soviets’ underlining of the importance of working class. According to that ideological mainstream a lot of days of specialists were implemented. I give you some examples: A day of Soviet Fishermen, A Day of Soviet Agricultural Workers, a Day of Soviet Commerce Workers, a Day of Soviet Heavy Industry Workers etc. The homeland Estonians took celebrating these days as fun and used the chance to waste trade union’s money for organising a friendly drinking party. A great loss for the Estonians was the replacement of Christmas Eve with an extremely politicised New Year Eve. The celebration of Christmas was severely punished, during Stalin’s rule even with a prison sentence, later by restrictions in one’s personal career. One respondent told me how he as a three years old boy was astonished in1953 when one day before Christmas an unknown uncle visited their flat and that visit resulted in the removal of the Christmas three. His farther had a good career and couldn’t have any trouble for any secret celebrating of Christmas.

Estonians in homeland did not forget their holidays and traditions prohibited by the new ideology The illegal flag of the republic was often kept hidden by families and recalled during the Anniversary of Republic of Estonia. The secret celebration of Christmas was like a great national game against the Soviets. Resisting the mentality of the official teaching in schools and working places, people maintained a persistent sense of the Estonian nation and culture separate from the Soviet Union in their homes.

This controversy between the public and the private was followed by the emergence of dual thinking. It was one thing to celebrate official holidays and absolutely another thing to have national holidays inside the close circle of relatives and good acquaintances.


The inflexibility of the national mentalities and the diversity of behaviour patterns have formed a complicated circle of problems for the contemporary reuniting Europe. Until 1990s the integration of the minority groups located beyond the borders of Europe was a difficult puzzle to solve. After the collapse of Socialism a new page was opened and both the Western and the Eastern parts of Europe are facing a question of insufficient congruency between their mentalities that were fixed under the altered political and economic orders in the post-war years.

The hundreds thousands of refugees who escaped the brutal Stalinist era at the end of WWII as well as the waves of Poles, Czechs and Hungarians exiled after the quelled anti-Soviet rebellions in their countries in 1950s established large communities of foreign compatriots in every Eastern European country that exists today. In the Baltic there is the acute social problem of a huge resident Russian-speaking community because it is a previous territory of the USSR. In Germany the attempts to reunite two sub-nations – the Wessies and the Ossies, - into a new, monolithic national body is under question. At the level of national parliaments a lot of good laws have been passed to stimulate multicultural loyalty and the integration of minority groups into national states. At the level of everyday life these laws hardly work, on the contrary, a thousand of cultural conflicts blaze in the “Old Good Europe”.

One of the fundamental tasks for social scientists in this unbalanced situation is a more detailed analysis of the different models of integration to advise practical politicians to more efficiently find their way in this complicated situation. The use of the biographical method allows to form closer relationships with everyday practice as well as with the ways of thinking featuring the simple people as main actors on the scene of integration.

Estonia is a small nation in the border region of Europe. This nation is divided into the welfare Scandinavian and the Post-Socialist homeland to model by this way the main situation in reuniting Europe. The small size of this nation makes it a good case for studying the mechanisms of the distinct ways of integration because of a lesser amount of variables compared to larger nations. Thus these phenomena can be studied a lot more clearly. The biographical method is a relatively productive one if we set our research to creating a more adequate reconstruction of these mechanisms that work in real life. The comparative analysis of some main life constructs determined by accepted cultural patterns could be a good source of information for the later generalisations.


Aarelaid, Aili (1998). Ikka kultuurile mõeldes (Still thinking about culture). Tallinn.

Johnston, Hank and Aarelaid-Tart, Aili (2000). "Generations and Collective Action in Authoritarian Regimes: the Estonian National Opposition", 1940-1990 in Sociological Perspectives, 43/4, 671-698.

Borneman, John (1995). Belonging in the two Berlins. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, Robert (2000). Researching Life Stories and Family Histories. Sage Publications.

Raun, Toivo (1998). Estonia and Estonians. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

Van Gennep, Arnold (1960). The Rites of Passage. The Univ. of Chicago press.