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The Number of Estonians that Participated in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)

The Spanish Civil War, which started in 1936, drew the attention of practically the entire world. The war started being compared to the struggle that the working class was waging against fascism. Volunteers hurried from east and west, Canada and the USA, the Soviet Union and China to join International brigades. Even Estonians did not remain untouched, although the Estonian government declared Estonia neutral in this war and participation in the war (on either side) was considered a crime. The greater portion of Estonians went from the Soviet Union, but they also went from the American continent, Western Europe and naturally from Estonia. Several articles and even the book Hispaania tules (In Spain’s Flames, 1965) were published by Communist Party historians in the Soviet era. Unfortunately, the numerical estimates provided in them of the Estonians that participated in the Spanish Civil War are hypothetical, even misleading. Soviet Communist Party historians have estimated that about 200–300 Estonians were in the Spanish Civil War. They did not even attempt to calculate their actual number and there were several reasons for this. Individuals who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War from the French Foreign Legion or who later acquired a French Foreign Legion background did not fit in with Soviet ideology. At the very least, many Estonians who had participated in the Spanish Civil War were later arrested by the NKVD. Some were very fond of alcohol, others did not appear to be interested in communist ideology, etc. At the same time, more realistic numerical estimates could have been established half a century ago already by using Estonian and Russian archives since the Party historians of that time were not subject to any restrictions on the use of those archives. Soviet historiography attempted with amazing persistence to claim that participation in the war was due to ideological convictions. The characterisations of the participants in the Spanish Civil War that were drawn up by the Soviet state security agencies, Spaniards, or Polish commanders of military units do not unambiguously confirm this. According to this study, 93 Estonians or Spanish Civil War participants from Estonia were successfully identified. This is no doubt not a final and fixed figure, yet this number cannot possibly extend to 200–300 persons, as has been endeavoured to insist to us for over 50 years. In working through the data on individuals, the attempt has been made to identify the dates of their birth and death. There are differences in information and in the case of some persons only their name is mentioned because no additional information has been found. Eighty years have passed since the Spanish Civil War. People went to fight in that war for different reasons. They are in many cases not the kinds of people who have been presented to us, not by a long shot, but their memory merits perpetuation, regardless of whether they were representatives of any kind of ideology or not.