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« Tuna 2 / 2018

“I would like to stay at the university…”: the St. Petersburg Period of Jüri Uluots’ Life

This article describes the years of Jüri Uluots’ (1890–1945) youth. Uluots was the last Prime Minister of independent Estonia before its annexation by the Soviet Union. Based on archival documents, the authors argue that the years Uluots spent in Russia (1910–1917) had a significant influence on the formation of his worldview. Upon enrolling in the Faculty of Law at the University of St. Petersburg, Uluots devoted his life to academic research. He attended lectures given by the best law experts: professors I. A. Pokrovsky, M. I. Tugan-Baranowsky, L. I. Petrazhitsky and I. I. Kaufman. Self-education was very important for him. Uluots read books in several European languages on psychology, logic, sociology, general philosophy, and the philosophy of right. Over a certain period during his studies, he became interested in general writings on state building, the doctrine of sovereignty, forms of government and civil public law. Themes such as self-government and constitutional law methodology also attracted his attention.

Uluots’ excellent academic performance earned him a Russian imperial scholarship for several years (1911–1913). Nevertheless, since his high-school years, he usually had to give lessons regularly in order to earn his own living.

The year 1913 marked a turning point in Uluots’ university life. His future as a young academic was at stake. When he was unable to meet a deadline for his work, he burnt a significant portion of his research paper on 28 August. He was exhausted. He was almost certain that he would not be able to continue his career in St. Petersburg. In these difficult circumstances, Uluots received support from Professor of the Faculty of Law V. A. Udintsev. Uluots read a report entitled The Right to Extract Oil in Closed State Territories in his seminar. The report was very well received. Moreover, Uluots was thereafter recognised as a true researcher. Prospects for continuing his academic career in Russia were dashed by the First World War and the Revolution of 1917.

After receiving his university graduation diploma in October of 1914, Uluots was called up for military service in Russia and enlisted in the militia. However, he was exempted from military service due to his poor eyesight. In the autumn of 1915, he successfully passed his state exams at the university and submitted an interesting research paper entitled The Right to Extract Oil in Russia. A Historical and Dogmatic Essay.

With the support of Professor V. A. Udintsev, who continued to take care of his talented student, Uluots received permission in 1916 to remain at the university in order to become a professor at the Department of Civil Law prior to 1 January 1919. The change in the political regime in Russia, however, as well as the uncertainty regarding the continuation of his academic career forced Uluots to return to Estonia. Regardless of this turning point in his life, there is no doubt that Jüri Uluots matured at the University of St. Petersburg as an academic, a lawyer, and one of the founders of Estonian Law.