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The Vaher question

Soviet subjectivity in Luise Vaher’s diary of 1941. Part 2

Keywords: World War II, diaries, gender history, ideology, Communism, subjectivity

This is the second part of an article that explores the 1941 diary of young provincial female Estonian Communist Luise Vaher (née Kapstas). The article focuses on the ideological and gender discourses in the diary and highlights its source value for the study of Soviet everyday life in general. Vaher evacuates to the Volga region with a mindset of a militant, true-believing Bolshevik, who labels everyday adversaries as “enemies of the people” and threatens them with the full potential of Soviet repressive power. Upon arriving in towns and cities on the banks of Volga river she is, however, struck by the wretched state of Soviet everyday life, its abject poverty, its technological backwardness, and cultural underdevelopment. Though these encounters challenge her belief in Communism (to the point of wishing to abandon politics altogether and begin a “new life as a young woman”), Vaher continues to embrace revolutionary dreams of social justice, a high-industrial future, and political purge. But the encounters with the Soviet reality also awaken her sense of Estonianness, as she considers herself culturally and politically (even racially) superior to the local population. Here, the article explores the socio-cultural baggage Vaher brings from her previous life in a capitalist and rather liberal Estonia, and how her life habits and cultural dispositions collide with the radical otherness of the Soviet civilization. In her observations, Vaher is particularly shocked by the brutal treatment of Soviet women, whom she describes as everyday victims of verbal and sexual abuse and draconian work-discipline laws. Nevertheless, these conscious grievances do not attain a level that would rattle Vaher’s support for Communism. In the concluding remarks, I encourage further research on the ideological dimension of Estonian ­everyday thinking in 20th-century history.

Kristo Nurmis (b. 1984) MA, PhD Candidate, Stanford University, Department of History, (450 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305, USA), kristo@stanford.edu

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