Karsten Brüggemann


Senior Fellow

Tallinn University

School of Humanities

kbruegge [at] tlu.ee

Institution and occupation
Since 01.12.2015
Tallinn University, School of Humanities, Professor (0,85) and Senior Researcher (0,15)

University of Bremen, University of Bremen, Research Centre for East European Studies, visiting professor (1,00)

Tallinn University, Institute of History, Professor (1,00)

Visiting Scholar, Herder-Institut, Marburg/Germany (Oct.-Nov.)

Visiting scholar, Södertörn University, Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (Nov.-Dec.)

Tallinn University, Institute of History, Professor (1,00)

Helmut Schmidt University, Department of History, Hamburg (Germany), Extraordinary ass. prof.

Nordost-Institut, Lüneburg (Germany), Senior researcher (German Research Foundation),

University of Tartu, Narva College, University of Tartu, Associate Professor (1,00)

University of Tartu, Narva College, University of Tartu, Division of Civic Studies, Extraordinary Lecturer (1,00)

Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, Archive, Lüneburg (Germany), Researcher


University of Gießen, Gießen Center for Eastern European Studies, habilitation (Venia legendi: Modern and Eastern European History)

University of Hamburg, Department of Philosophy, History Division, PhD (summa cum laude)

February – July 1990
Leningrad State University, Visiting student (Russian language, Russian history)

University of Hamburg, Department of Philosophy, MA in History and Slavic literature


R&D related managerial and administrative work

Since 2020

Head of the Centre for History, Archaeology and Art History, Tallinn University

Since 2011
Baltische Historische Kommission: Vice-President


Cooperation with editorial boards
Since 2008
Co-editor of "Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung" (Herder-Institut, Marburg)

Since 2006
Co-editor of "Forschungen zur baltischen Geschichte" (with M. Laur, Akadeemiline ajalooselts)

Research Project

Estonia: a Soviet Republic that Made it? The Interplay of Communist and Pre-Communist Legacies in the Transition of a Singing Little Nerd from the Soviet West to the European East

In comparison to other post-Soviet states, Estonia so far has proceeded steadily on her political course of fostering democratic institutions, establishing political stability and integration into "Western" organisations. However, recent developments, the entry of right-wing extremists into the government, seems to threaten this course. Interestingly enough, it was the moment of adopting a legislation on same-sex partnership in 2015 that was crucial for stirring up popular resistance to the “westernizing” agenda, which might seem at least partly motivated by typical post-Communist mentalities. Historically, this success story has a precedent since Estonia already after 1917 belonged to the few countries that realised the democratic promises of the February revolution. During a turbulent interwar period, however, radical parliamentary democracy was substituted with an authoritarian regime in 1934 before Estonia became a Soviet republic until 1991, interrupted by three years of Nazi-occupation from 1941 to 1944. The dominant narrative is still one of resistance and dissent to “foreign rule” (or of adaptation for the sake of the nation), which apparently made the transition to a national state since the late 1980s a seemingly “natural” process that mobilized a large majority (not only) of the ethnic Estonian population for peaceful protest.

It is this moment in history that I shall use as a starting point for a first article. Soviet nationalities policy and the support given to the cultural development of those nations who lived in a separate republic pawed the way to the national solution of the “Baltic question”. But the way how this Soviet nationalities policy was popularly perceived in Estonia – namely, as “Russification” – ethnicized the frontline even further. In consequence, the leeway for political bargaining became increasingly small for those who had to negotiate the process of dissolution from the USSR. To a large extent, these conflicts can be illustrated with the deep antagonism between the leader of the Peoples’ Front Edgar Savisaar and the non-communist activist Mart Laar, a young historian and – as Savisaar – future Prime Minister of Estonia. These conflicts that were taken well into the 1990s and 2000s do not fit into the popular story of a united nation singing the Soviets out of the country. Thus far, the story of the “Singing Revolution” finds its emotional peak in the year 1989. The almost two years separating this period from the stillborn coup in Moscow in August 1991 are conveniently overlooked. A closer investigation of these 19 months between January 1990 and August 1991 might offer a clearer view to what extent the diffuse vision of autonomy (Savisaar) vs. independence (Laar) had become more pronounced in the mind of leading politicians and activists. Lukewarm solidarity with Lithuania that declared full restoration of independence in spring 1990 and the rejection of any kind of negotiations about a new Union treaty with the Kremlin can be seen as test balloons in order to create some leeway for the own agenda.

Interestingly enough, the personal legacy of politicians was rarely used in anti-elite campaigns such as the infamous “Communists into fire” (kommarid ahju) action in 2005 that was directed most prominently against then Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (who had a Komsomol-past) and President Arnold Rüütel (who had been the last Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR). This criminalization of certain personalities has been, as far as I can see, an exception. The elites, “old” and “new” alike, largely shared the western oriented vision of independence as leading ideal for the future after 1991, a consensus that led the country eventually into EU and NATO in 2004. How does this legacy play into current affairs? Does anti-Communism still unify the population?

Today, the discourse on Communism in Estonia is shaped first and foremost by the "Memory Institute" (Mälu instituut), a state-founded organisation that deals primarily with the remembrance of the communist regime. Thus it is mostly regarded to be a part of the state's policy of history. The institute played a leading role in the construction of a monument in Tallinn devoted to the victims of the communist regime that was opened on 23 August 2018, an initiative that owes quite a lot to active participants of the nationalist wing of the perestroika era. In May 2019 the Institute opened a new exhibition in a former prison in Tallinn under the (provocative?) headline “Communism is prison”. I intend to write another article on recent examples of Estonian politics of history that seem to be completely absorbed with largely fostering the anti-communist legacy of the country’s post-1991 agenda. As a contrast (?), I intend to discuss also the renewed exhibitions of the Historical Museum of Estonia and the (private) Museum of Occupations. However, concerning the current front-line between "liberals" and right-wing "populists", it may quite well be that, as Makarychev & Sazonov have shown, it is not “Russia” or "Communism" anymore, but “Europe” as an identity marker that is “perceived as an ‘other’ for most populist narratives”. In this light, the Memory Institute’s exhibition does not address the right topic if it wanted to re-establish some kind of unity among the population with an anti-communist narrative in the nation’s politics of history. In light of current challenges, the anti-communist mainstream increasingly has nothing to say about the present state of affairs anymore.

Selected Publications

Recent project related publications

"Sowjetisch werden unter dem Vorzeichen der Nation? Sowjetestland und das »Sowjetische Baltikum« zwischen internationalistischem und bürgerlichem Nationalismus", forthcoming in Jahrbuch für Kommunismusforschung (2022).

'Geist, Ehre und Gewissen der Epoche': Die Partei, ihre Ersten Sekretäre und der KGB in der estnischen SSR im Rückblick. Ein Literaturbericht", forthcoming in Forschungen zur baltischen Geschichte 17 (2021).

Wie postkolonial ist der Poststalinismus Oder „Let the Hegemon Speak“. Anmerkungen zu zwei Neuerscheinungen, in Forschungen zur baltischen Geschichte 14 (2019), 213−223.

The Lithuanian Cultural Elite and the End of the Soviet Union, in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 16 (2015), No. 1, 219−226.

“One Day We Will Win Anyway”. The “Singing Revolution” in the Soviet Baltic Republics, in The Revolutions of 1989. A Handbook, ed. by Wolfgang Mueller, Michael Gehler, Arnold Suppan, Vienna 2015 (Internationale Geschichte / International History; 2), 221−246.

With Andres Kasekamp: ‘Singing oneself into a nation’? Estonian song festivals as rituals of political mobilisation, in Nations and Nationalism 20 (2014), No. 2, 259−276. 10.1111/nana.12059.


Other recent publications

Das Baltikum. Geschichte einer europäischen Region. Bd. I-III, ed. by Karsten Brüggemann/Konrad Maier (†)/Ralph Tuchtenhagen, Stuttgart 2018-2021.

With Katja Wezel: Nationally Indifferent or Ardent Nationalists? On the Options for Being German in Russia’s Baltic Provinces, 1905-17, in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 20 (1), 39−62. doi.org/10.1353/kri.2019.0002.

Migranten aus dem Baltikum als Katalysatoren des Antibolschewismus? Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter und die Idee der ›Weißen Internationale‹, in Verheißung und Bedrohung. Die Oktoberrevolution als globales Ereignis, ed. by Jörg Ganzenmüller, Köln etc. 2019 (Europäische Diktaturen und ihre Überwindung; 25), 101−128.

Learning from Estonia Means Learning to Be Victorious? Estonia between the Legacy of the February Revolution and Nikolai Iudenich’s Northwestern Army, in The Global Impacts of Russia’s Great War and Revolution, Book 1: The Arc of Revolution, 1917–24, ed. by Alexander Marshall, John W. Steinberg, Steven Sabol, Bloomington 2019, 99−129.

With Norbert Angermann: Geschichte der baltischen Länder, Stuttgart 2018.

Licht und Luft des Imperiums: Legitimations- und Repräsentationsstrategien russischer Herrschaft in den Ostseeprovinzen im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert, Wiesbaden 2018.

Yearning for Social Change: The Russian Revolution in the Baltic Provinces. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 17 (2017), No. 3, 358−368. doi.org/10.1111/sena.12254.

Der Russische Bürgerkrieg 1917–1922, in: Geschichte ohne Grenzen? Europäische Dimensionen der Militärgeschichte vom 19. Jahrhundert bis heute, ed. by Jörg Echternkamp/Hans-Hubertus Mack, Berlin etc. 2017, 125−134.

Города имперских и национальных утопий: транснациональный взгляд на Ригу и Таллин, 1914–1924, in Города империи в годы Великой войны и революции, ed. by Alexei Miller/Dmitrii Chernyi, St Petersburg 2017, 100−139. 

Celebrating Final Victory in Estonia’s ‘Great Battle for Freedom’: The Short Afterlife of 23 June 1919 as National Holiday, 1934–1939, in Afterlife of Events: Perspectives of Mnemohistory, ed. by Marek Tamm, Basingstoke 2015, 154−177.

National and Social Revolution in the Empire’s West: Estonian Independence and the Russian Civil War, 1917–1920, in Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution 1914–22, Book 1: Russia’s Revolution in Regional Perspective, ed. by Sarah Badcock, Liudmila Novikova, Aaron B. Retish, Bloomington 143−174.

Erinnerungen von Frauen an Krieg und Revolution. Autobiografische Darstellungen von Umbruch und Aufbruch aus Estland 1914-1920, in Nordost-Archiv: Zeitschrift für Regionalgeschichte 23 (2014), 168−191.

Imperiale und lokale Loyalitäten im Konflikt. Der Einzug Russlands in die Ostseeprovinzen in den 1840er Jahren, in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 62 (2014), No. 3, 321−344.

Representing Empire, Performing Nation? Russian Officials in the Baltic Provinces (late 19th/early 20th Centuries), in Ab Imperio: Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space 15 (2014), No. 3, 231−266. 10.1353/imp.2014.0079.

Ein Fall von „Verschmelzung“ mit Russland? Zur nationalen Frage in der Orthodoxen Kirche der Ostseeprovinzen im späten Zarenreich, in Nordost-Archiv: Zeitschrift für Regionalgeschichte 22 (2013), 89−111.