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)

Since 01.12.2015
Tallinn University, School of Humanities, Institute of History, Archaeology and Art History, 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.

University of Hamburg, Department of Philosophy, History Division, Extraordinary Lecturer

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, Head of Division

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

University of Hamburg, Department of Philosophy, History Division, Extraordinary Lecturer

Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk, Archive, Lüneburg (Germany), Researcher

University of Hamburg, Department of Philology, Finnougric Division, Extraordinary Lecturer

University of Gießen, Giessen Center for Eastern European Studies, habilitation (venia legendi: modern and Eastern European history)

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

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 2015
Estonian Maritime Museum: Member of the Scientific Council

Since 2011
Baltische Historische Kommission: Vice-President

Since 2011
Association for the Study of Nationalities: member

Since 2008
Association for the Adcancement of Baltic Studies: member

Since 2006
J.G.-Herder Forschungsrat: member

Since 2003
Baltische Historische Kommission: member of the board

Since 1995
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde: member

Since 1994
Baltische Historische Kommission: member

Additional career information
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

[with Norbert Angermann] Geschichte der baltischen Länder, Stuttgart: Reclam, 2018.

Five Letters on a Roof: National Narratives and the Soviet Past in Estonia. The New Heroes – The Old Victims. Politics of Memory in Russia and the Baltics, ed. by Igors Gubenko, Deniss Hanovs, Vladislavs Malahovskis, Riga: Zinatne, 2016, 50 - 59.

“One Day We Will Win Anyway”. The “Singing Revolution” in the Soviet Baltic Republics. Handbook of the Revolutions of 1989, hrsg. v. Arnold Suppan, Michael Gehler, Wolfgang Mueller, Wien: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2015, 221 - 246.

[with Andres Kasekamp] ‘Singing oneself into a nation’? Estonian Song Festivals as Rituals of Political Mobilization. Nations and Nationalism 20 (2014), Nr. 2, 259 - 276.

Kultuuriline külm sõda Moskva tagalas: kultuurse puhkeaja muutuvad mustrid stalinismijärgses NSV Liidus / The Cold War on Moscow’s cultural home front: shifting patterns of cultured leisure in post-Stalinist USSR. Eesti Kunstimuuseumi toimetised / Proceedings of the Art Museum of Estonia 8 (2013): Kunst ja reaalpoliitika / Art and Political Reality, ed. by Sirje Helme & Merike Kurisoo, Tallinn: Eesti Kunstimuuseum / Art Museum of Estonia, 2013, 77 - 103.

[with Maarja Merivoo-Parro] Chormusik, patriotischer Rock und ein bisschen Punk. Estlands „Singende Revolution“. Sound des Jahrhunderts. Geräusche, Töne, Stimmen 1889 bis heute, hrsg. von Gerhard Paul, Paul Schock, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2013, 512 - 517.

Estland und das Ende der Sowjetunion: Der Hitler-Stalin-Pakt als baltischer Erinnerungsort für die Singende Revolution? Der Hitler-Stalin-Pakt 1939 in den Erinnerungskulturen der Europäer, hrsg. v. Anna Kaminsky, Dietmar Müller und Stefan Troebst, Göttingen: Wallstein, 2011 (Moderne europäische Geschichte, 1), 291 - 308.

Gefangen in sowjetischen Denkmustern? Anmerkungen zum Umgang mit der sowje­tischen Vergangenheit in Estland und Lettland. Geschichtspolitik im erweiterten Ost­see­raum und ihre aktuellen Symptome – Historical Memory Culture in the Enlarged Baltic Sea Region and its Symptoms Today, hrsg. v. Oliver Rathkolb, Imbi Sooman, Göttingen: V&R Unipress, Vienna University Press, 2011 (Zeit­geschichte im Kontext, 4), 121 - 139.

Geteilte Geschichte als transnationales Schlachtfeld: Der estnische Denkmalstreit und das sowjetische Erbe in der Geschichtspolitik Russlands und der baltischen Staaten. Diktaturüberwindung in Europa: Neue nationale und transnationale Perspektiven, hrsg. von Birgit Hofmann, Katja Wezel, Katrin Hammerstein u.a., Heidelberg: Winter, 2010, 210 - 225.

Denkmäler des Grolls: Estland und die Kriege des 20. Jahrhunderts. Osteuropa 58 (2008), Nr. 6, 129 - 146.

[with Andres Kasekamp] The Politics of History and the War of Monuments in Estonia. Nationalities Papers 36 (2008), No. 3, 425 - 448.

Estonia and her Escape from the East: The Relevance of the Past in Russian-Estonian Relations. Representations on the Margins of Europe. Cultural and Historical Identities in the Baltic and South Caucasian States, ed. by Tsypylma Darieva, Wolfgang Kaschuba, Frankfurt/M., New York: Campus Verlag, Chicago University Press, 2007 (Das Fremde und das Eigene, 3), 139 - 165.

Leaving the “Baltic” States and “Welcome to Estonia”: Re-Regionalizing Estonian Identity. European Review of History 10 (2003), No. 2 (Topical issue: “Geschichtsregionen: Concept and Critique”, ed. by Stefan Troebst, 343 - 360.