Soviet-time travelling experience in biographical narratives

Keywords: oral history, ethnology, Soviet tourism, Estonia, everyday culture

The article provides an insight into the inherent diversities and ambiguities of Soviet tourism during 1960s–1980s as revealed in Estonian biographical sources. Research on Soviet tourism has largely relied on archival sources and the press, which shed light mainly on the organization and ideological basis of tourism. Drawing on biographical sources, the article contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the complex nature of Soviet tourism.

The article focuses on the embodied ways in which Estonian travellers experienced personally significant moments during their trips, treating these moments as meaningful, lived experiences emerging from the flow of the journey. Not only what was seen at the destinations but the journey as a whole was a memorable travel experience for the whole body and every sense.

Biographical narratives highlight various features and everyday life strategies that were characteristic of the Soviet period and demonstrate a wide specter of everyday life practices that showed both conscious and unconscious distancing from the Soviet power as well as conforming to it. During the 1960s–1980s, several Soviet ideo­logical rituals were internalized by the people but, as is revealed in the biographical narratives, were filled with new content and obtained new functions. Biographical narratives reveal a multi-layered criticism of the Soviet system and society, yet generally, travels were recalled in a positive way. Regardless of the difficulties arising from the deficit economy and the need to navigate the maze of bureaucracy and services of the Soviet Union, the opportunity to travel within the Soviet Union was valued highly.

The narratives bring forward personally meaningful moments, the significance of which reveals itself against the background of the authors’ personal biographies. Yet, while also expressing socially shared perceptions, such moments reflect the ­values of the Soviet Estonian society through the 1960s–1980s.


Kristel Rattus (b. 1971), MA, Estonian National Museum, researcher-curator, (Muuseumi tee 2, 60532 Tartu),

Anu Järs (b. 1967), MA, Estonian National Museum, researcher-curator (Muuseumi tee 2, 60532 Tartu),