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« Tuna 1 / 2019

Veera Saar, Writer of the Wilderness. Veera Saar’s Biographical and Creative History Connections to the Estonian Settlement in Tikapesa

This article provides an overview of genealogical materials in manuscript form deposited in the personal collection of the Estonian novelist Veera Saar (1912–2004) at the Estonian Cultural History Archives. These sources are unique and valuable in terms of cultural history because they are among the few surviving memoirs describing Estonian settlements in the St. Petersburg guberniya in Russia. It is precisely there in the St. Petersburg guberniya that Veera Saar spent her childhood. This is where Estonians who had emigrated from Estonia at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in search of their own plot of land established their farms. One of the largest Estonian settlements took shape in Jamburg (currently Kingissepp) County amidst the primeval forests of Tikapesa, where Veera Saar’s ancestors settled down in 1907. By 1918, the life of the Estonians in Jamburg County was flourishing and the number of settlements had grown to 31. With the outbreak of civil war in Russia and the declaration of the independent Republic of Estonia, Veera Saar’s family opted to return to Estonia in the summer of 1919. Although Veera Saar wrote down her memories and various materials on her family history mainly for her own use, the article points out how these archival sources are important for historical writing in the broader sense as well. Compared to Estonian settlements in Siberia, Estonian historians have studied Estonian settlements east of the Narva River little. One of the reasons for this is that researching the history of Estonian settlements was taboo during the Soviet occupation, and knowledge of those settlements circulated only by way of oral recollections or private letters. For this reason, written sources on the fate of the Estonians of Tikapesa and elsewhere in St. Petersburg guberniya in the Soviet period are practically non-existent. It only became possible to treat these themes in an approach that is free of ideological dogmas in the Republic of Estonia after it regained its independence at the start of the 1990s. The article indicates that the same circumstances also affected Veera Saar’s work as a writer. Although her stories in manuscript form about the place where she was born and her family history in the settlement of Tikapesa were written during the Soviet occupation, she did not start writing the 4-part series of novels based on that material until the independence of Estonia was restored. Additionally, Veera Saar’s memoirs in manuscript form and materials on her family history are important historical evidence of the repressions committed by the Soviet regime in the Estonian settlements. Excerpts of the memoirs of Veera Saar and other people who lived in her settlement are added to the article, describing Russification and the expropriation of land and property that accompanied collectivisation in the settlement of Tikapesa. Veera Saar’s, grandparents, who had stayed behind in Tikapesa, were sent to Siberia in the massive wave of arrests and deportation in 1937–1938.