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Parade! Parade? Photographs of the first post-war May 1 and October Revolution parades in the Estonian SSR

The source publication presents photographs of the first post-war May 1 and October Revolution parades in the Estonian SSR, which are preserved in the personal archive of Johannes Vares-Barbarus (12.01.1890–29.11.1946), Estonian medical doctor, poet, and politician, in the Cultural History Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum. After Estonia had been occupied in June 1940, Barbarus became Prime Minister. On August 24, 1940, he was appointed Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR, and he held the post until his death. On November 29, 1946, he was found dead in his apartment. His wife Emilie Vares (née Roode, 1897–1947) also died under mysterious circumstances.

Johannes Vares-Barbarus’ materials in the Estonian Cultural History Archives include two photo albums once given as a gift to him. These albums were submitted to the archives by Emilie Vares-Barbarus in 1947. One of them contains photographs taken of the military parade and demonstration dedicated to the 28th anniversary of the October Revolution, held in Vabaduse Square in Tallinn, Estonia, in 1945, and the other photographs taken of the May 1 military parade and demonstration held in the same square in 1946. The photographs depict military technology and servicemen, ordinary working people walking briskly, women wearing Estonian national costumes, various fantasy-laden imitations, such as vehicles designed as ships, trains, wooden fairy-tale huts, etc. Both of the albums present also photographs depicting Johannes Vares-Barbarus in the grandstand and among the marchers.

The album dating from 1945 includes 95 photographs of relatively poor quality; the quality of the 75 ones in the album from 1946 is somewhat better. The photographs are not furnished with names of photographers or any other information. These photographs are of crucial importance as source material as they come in great numbers and therefore provide quite a good overview of the two parades. The majority of them have probably not been published so far. Only a few of them, taken of the same events by different photographers, have appeared in the press, and usually the most ordinary ones have been selected for publication, such as pictures of the grandstand, military technology, or the marching crowds, interlarded with snapshots of some more vivid decorations. The selection made by the author presents, alongside ordinary shots, the ones depicting the most vivid and fantasy-laden moments of the parades.

The photographs highlight the parade as a means of propaganda, meant to create the required image of reality and depict the Soviet regime in a positive light. On the other hand, the Stalinist parade could be viewed even as a kind of carnival characterised by the use of fantasy-laden, yet ideologically relevant paraphernalia. In their essence, however, the first post-war parades in Estonia still focused on demonstrating the establishment of the Soviet regime.