Back to top

Three congresses: On the history of the Writers’ Union of the Estonian SSR in 1954–1966



One of the manifestations of Soviet cultural policy involved spectacular congresses of the creative unions, held according to a traditional scenario. Such congresses (of composers, artists, writers, as well as, e.g., of collective farmers) were always very ceremonious, with a lot of rhetoric eulogizing the authorities; some, if not all members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were elected to the Honorary Presidium of the congress, a letter was addressed to the congress by the Bureau of the local (Estonian) Communist Party or by some other such organ, a congress resolution was adopted, containing a rhetorical answer to the letter of salutation received from the Communist Party etc. The keynote speech was followed by co-reports on separate genres and by short speeches. The congress usually lasted 2–5 days and ended, invariably, with a banquet. The congresses were extensively covered in the official press. 

The article takes a closer look at three congresses of the Writers’ Union of the Estonian SSR, which took place in 1954 (3rd Congress), 1958 (4th Congress) and 1966 (5th Congress). The Estonian Writers’ Union founded in 1922 was dismissed in 1940. A new union for the writers of the Estonian SSR was established in Moscow in 1943. As that founding event was first called a conference the first Congress of the new union was officially held in Tallinn in 1946. Later, however, Moscow began to count the Estonian writers’ congresses right from the founding gathering, which shifted the number of the 1946 Congress to 2nd, etc. The first congresses were strictly Stalinist parading events, which had little to do with literature. The Congress of 1954, being the first after Stalin’s passing away, was important as the first harbinger of more liberal times to come. The Fourth Congress held five years later was used by the authorities as a counter-attack to defend the so-called Soviet values. The atmosphere of the Fifth Congress was relatively free and its course was extensively covered in the official press. At the same time, no taboos practised by the Soviet censorship had been lifted. An examination of the showtime as well as backstage of the writers’ congresses during that 12-year period gives a fascinating insight into the literary-political struggles of the time as well as into the personalities responsible for the then face of Estonian literature and the Writers’ Union of the ESSR.