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Primary research areas and priorities

The activity of the Kistler-Ritso Foundation is essentially one major research project, aimed at gathering, exhibiting, documenting and studying documents and monuments from Estonia’s recent past. The broader goal of the project is to promote study of Estonia’s recent history in general and to unite researchers. For this reason, the Foundation itself initiates and carries out detailed projects devoted to the study of the recent past.

The objective of research is inquiry into issues at the heart of Estonia’s recent history: Who are our heroes? Who are our friends? Who are our enemies? The aim is to help determine identity, to define and consolidate the national consciousness, and to teach others to assess the importance of statehood for a small nation. Research activity began in 1999. The research priorities were initially placed in the following order:

1 – Source-critical and methodological inquiries into the recent past

2 – Role of the Estonian Communist Party in Estonia’s recent past

3 – Repressive policies of the occupation forces

4 – Agrarian policies of the occupation forces

5 – Cultural policies of the occupation forces

Selgitamaks, milline oli seos Kommunistliku Partei ja repressiivstruktuuride vahel ja millisel määral nende kahe võimustruktuuri volitused ja vastutus kattuvad, algas 1999 uurimistegevus EKP osast Eesti lähiajaloos. Uurimistööd finantseerib KRES pikaajaliste stipendiumidega. Uurimistöö tulemused publitseeritakse monograafiate ja artiklite vormis. Väljapoole suunatud väljundite (võõrkeelsed publikatsioonid jms) eesmärk on anda üldinimlikult arusaadavalt ettekujutus meie rahvuslikust katastroofist ning nõukogude rahvus- ning majanduspoliitika inimsusevastasest iseloomust (mis ei piirdunud kaugeltki ameerikalike sulatuspoti tingimuste loomisega). Uurimistöö baseerub publitseeritud ajalooallikatel, publitseerimata arhiivimaterjalidel, suulisel traditsioonil. Töötulemused avaldatakse tõsiteaduslike uurimuste vormis, kuid samal ajal võimalikult elavalt ja loetavalt kirjutatuna. Andes tõest ajalooteavet, peaks kavandatud uurimistegevusel olema teaduslikku, hariduslikku, rahvuslikku, poliitilist tähtsust, sealhulgas meie ajalookirjutuse maine tõstjana.

Research activity to date


The goal of the Kistler-Ritso Foundation is to establish a Museum of Occupations of the Recent Past. This objective requires preparatory work on several different levels. The recent past (1940-1991 in this context) has not yet been researched scientifically and therefore we need to objectively and scientifically examine fundamental questions of methodology. We need to divide the recent past into periods, which would stand up in the face of sociological criticism. It is essential that research into our immediate past, which in the first decade of our newly gained independence often was limited to introducing source material and offering emotional suspense for readers, also have a rigorous, source-critical methodological footing corresponding to the modern discipline of history. This will help attain an internationally accepted calibre of research.

Events and activities


The first steps to realize these goals were taken in late 1998. The Foundation began by documenting the status quo of research into Estonia’s recent past, and then developed (in cooperation with other institutions dealing with history to avoid overlap) the primary areas of research in its field and began carrying organized activities on a consistent basis. A brainstorming session held at the National Archives on December 16, 1998, was the first public event. It was a meeting convened on the subject of how to divide Estonian history into conceptual periods, and in the course of the event, representatives of various humanities and social sciences (see list of participants) expressed positions related to “periodizing” Estonia’s recent past based on their own field of research. The meetings resulted in a comprehensive periodization scheme written by Professor Enn Tarvel.

A conference concerning the source-critical problems of Estonia's recent history was organized by the Kistler-Ritso Foundation and it took place on January 20, 1999. The presentations from the conference were published in November 1999 the volume "Quest for the Historical Truth".

On May 19, 1999, the Kistler-Ritso Foundation homepage was introduced at a seminar at the Writers' House, which was devoted to the possibilities of using IT in the study of history. As of September 1999, the materials on the website are also available in English.

On August 19, 1999, a conference was held to discuss how we could use information about our recent past to aid our future. The conference, called The Inheritance of the Past, was organised by the Kistler-Ritso Foundation in co-operation with the Goethe Institute, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Information Bureau and the Estonian State Archives. The guests included Estonian President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar and Education Minister Tõnis Lukas, and as a guest speaker, Joachim Gauck, chairman of the body overseeing East German Stasi archives.

On December 7, 1999 , a scientific conference on methodological problems encountered in research into Estonia’s recent history was held in the Estonian Academy of Sciences History Institute building.

The presentations:
Enn Tarvel “A historian’s arguments”
Kalervo Hovi “Methodology for studying the history of international relations”
Anu-Mai Kõll “Methodology for research into economic history”
Kalev Katus “Methodology for studying demographic development”
Priit Pirsko “Essential methodological issues in archival”

The materials from the conference were published in the 2000 volume "Quest for the Historical Truth II".

March 7, 2000, marked the official release of "Luuramisi", a collection of articles on covert intelligence activities in Estonia in the 20th century, and the documentary "The First Red Year".

The Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation’s exhibition, “Occupations of Estonia in the Recent Past” was open to the public from March to December 2000 at the Estonian Pedagogic Archive Museum in Tallinn. The exhibition gave an overview of exhibits donated to the museum during its first year of activity. The authentic items on display characterized the many different aspects of life during the occupations: political pressure applied by the authorities, cajolement through praise, and active popular resistance.

The Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation and the former East German secret police archives’ German trustees jointly the exhibition “The KGB’s and STASI’s Tools of Totalitarian Power” at the Estonian National Library, which ran from April 3 to 30, 2001. The exhibition was opened by Estonian President Lennart Meri and German representative Marianne Birthler. The exhibition was organized in co-operation with the Tallinn German Cultural Institute and the Goethe Institute.

A series of lectures was presented in conjunction with the exhibition:

April 4, 5:30pm (with a simultaneous translation)
- Marianne Birthler: "Erfahrungen in der geschlossenen Gesellschaft,
Widerspruch und Gegenwehr"/“Experiences Obtained in a Closed Society –
Contradictions and Resistance”
- Andrei Hvostov: “Totalitarianism in Estonia”

April 10, 5.30pm
Society’s Losses under Soviet Hegemony
- Enn Sarv: “Human Losses”
- Eerik-Niiles Kross: “Methods, Places for Incarceration and Execution”
- Anto Raukas: “Damage to the Environment”

17 April, 5:30pm
Human Losses under German Hegemony
- Indrek Paavle: “Losses among Estonia’s Population during the German
- Riho Västrik: “European Civilians Brought from Elsewhere to German
Prison Camps Located in Estonia”
- Meelis Maripuu: “Prisoners of War in Estonia”

April 24, 5:30pm (with simultaneous translation)
Will the Truth Prevail? –
Prosecution for Crimes against Humanity in Germany and Estonia
- Allan Jaarma/Estonian Security Police: “Prosecution in Estonia for Crimes
against Humanity”
- Klaus Richter: "Erfahrungen im Umgang mit den Stasi/
“Experiences with Processing STASI Documents”

August 28, 2002, marked the opening in the Berlin Information and Documentation Centre (
on Maurerstrasse of the Museum of Occupations exhibition “Kunst und Gebrauchgegenstände aus sowjetischen Lagern”. The exhibition ran until October 30, 2002.



Although the Kistler-Ritso Foundation’s objective is not publishing, the Foundation does compile and release materials from its own conferences, and several other relevant publications have appeared in print.
April 4, 2003, marked the official release, held in the museum building then being established, of the full set of The Organizational Structure of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia, 1940-1991, which includes a index of names of individuals and German, English and Russian-language summaries

Search for the path


By the time of the “Source-critical problems in the recent history of Estonia” conference held on January 20, 1999, materials from seminars for mapping the recent history sources, organized in 1996-97 by S-KESKUS, were published and compiled in the anthology “Rajaotsingud” (Search For The Path).

The title is a reference to the fact that the remarks made in the discussion part of the seminar were treated as a search for new and emergent opportunities in research into Estonia’s recent history. The remarks from the seminars concerned the activities of repressive structures (Aigi Rahi, Indrek Jürjo, Leo Õispuu), resistance (Viktor Niitsoo, Tiit Noormets), Soviet institutions (Toomas Anepaio), research problems in recent history and establishing of databases (Paul Kenkmann, David Vseviov, Erich Kaup) and local history (Anton Weiss-Wendt).

Quest for the historical truth I


This collection includes the materials from the “Source-critical problems in the recent history of Estonia” conference held on January 20, 1999. The volume was published in November 1999. The contents of the collection can be found in the menu. Besides the seven presentations delivered at the conference, the anthology has been supplemented with four articles by O. Neidre and A. Bergmanis; T. Noormets; T. Tannberg and E. Tarvel.





November 1999 also marked the release of "Luuramisi. Salateenistuste tegevusest Eestis XX sajandil" (Covert Intelligence Activity in Estonia in the 20th Century), a collection of articles and documents.

The Centre for the Study of the Soviet Era in Estonia (S-KESKUS) carried out an extensive project devoted to bring new sources into wider scholarly currency. The table of contents can be found in the menu. Kistler-Ritso Foundation was responsible for the editing and publishing of this volume.


Higher intermediaries of power in the Estonian SSR


The Higher Intermediaries of Power in the ESSR. Secretaries of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party 1940–1990 is a brochure published in August 2000. It was an interim report related to “The History of Soviet Institutions in Estonia 1940–1991”, the Foundation’s ongoing research project into Estonia’s recent history. The project’s first sub-topic is “The Estonian Communist Party’s Organizational Structure 1940–1991”. The Estonian Communist Party’s Central Committee was the primary intermediary of political power, and the Central Committee’s secretaries were the most powerful officials in the Estonian SSR. Therefore, the publication introduces the secretaries (and their deputies) of the Central Committee on the basis of material obtained from their personnel files.


Quest for the historical truth II


This collection published in December 2000 contains presentations from the conference held on December 7, 1999, entitled "Methodological problems in Estonia’s recent history". Besides the five presentations delivered at the conference, the volume includes an article by Pertti Grönholmt.



Overviews of the occupation period

In 2004, a publication appeared, including 22 short articles on the fate of the Estonian nation and people, with the main emphasis on the 1940s. The collection was conceptually divided into three chapters: the destruction of the Estonian state, genocide and resistance. In 2005, this same publication appeared in Russian and English.





Three volumes of research on the structure and activities on the Communist Party of Estonia have been published as a result of the research activities of the Museum of Occupations.

The first volume, The Organizational Structure of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia (Tallinn, 2002), covers the functioning of the Party Central Committee and its mechanism for the centralized management of all walks of life. Editor: Enn Tarvel. Contributors: Argo Kuusik, Olev Liivik, Meelis Maripuu, Külli Niidassoo, Valdur Ohmann and Jüri Saar.



The second volume, The Local Organizations of the Communist Party of Estonia (Tallinn, 2005), deals with the activities of the city, county and regional committees, i.e. the functioning and structure of governance at the second level. Editor: Enn Tarvel. Contributors: Olev Liivik and Raili Nugin.




The third volume, The Primary Party Organization (Tallinn, 2009), deals with the functioning of the Communist Party at the grass-roots level – in collective farms, factories and educational institutions. This is the level that the members of the society perceived most directly; the effects of the decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia, which functioned as a department of the Communist Party of the USSR, reached the ordinary citizens through the party organizer or secretary. Editor; Enn Tarvel. Contributors: Martin Klesment, Raili Nugin, and Indrek Paavle


Films (watch)


Dynamic content for the Museum of Occupations exhibition will be provided by the use of audiovisual materials, making use of as many photos and films as possible. The general exposition’s eight chronological sections will be introduced by and centred upon an eight part series of short documentaries: Occupations of Estonia in the Recent Past. The film will be digitized and furnished with subtitles in foreign languages. This film project is supported by a grant from the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. Besides screenings in the Occupation Museum exposition, online distribution is planned.

In December 1999, the first part of the documentary was completed: The First Red Year 1940 – 1941
Production: Aya
Directors: Karl Kello, Arvo Vilu
Script: Enn Tarvel
In February 2000, the second part of the documentary was completed: The War and the German Occupation 1941–1944
Production: Aya
Directors: Karl Kello, Arvo Vilu
Script: Enn Tarvel
In August 2000, the third part of the documentary was completed: Stalin’s Era
Production: Aya
Directors: Mart Taevere, Enn Tarvel, Arvo Vilu, and others
In December 2000, the fourth part of the documentary was completed: Stalinism
Production: Aya
Directors: Karl Kello, Arvo Vilu
Script: Enn Tarvel
In December 2001, the fifth part of the documentary was completed: The Sixties
Production: Aya
Directors: Heikki Aasaru, Arvo Vilu
Script: Enn Tarvel

In 2002, the sixth and seventh parts were released:

"Stagnation 1968-1987" (Producer Aya, directors Heikki Aasaru, Arvo Vilu, text Enn Tarvel.)

“Road to freedom 1987-1991" (directors Heikki Aasaru, Arvo Vilu, text Enn Tarvel

Research projects

Every operating museum is at once a centre for scientific research. Kistler-Ritso Foundation is also involved in studying Estonia’s recent past in an attempt to focus researcher efforts on coordinated, purposeful activity. In this manner, the Foundation implements research projects related to the recent past, financing them through short-term grants. The central topic under study is the “History of Soviet institutions in Estonia 1940-1991”, which was commenced in 1999.

Soviet institutions in Estonia 1940-1991


Research activities are based on the materials housed at the National Archive in Tallinn (the former State Archive and the so-called Party Archive). Whenever possible, consideration is lent to materials from central pan-Soviet bodies found in Russian archives – documents that do not exist in Estonia – as well as central decisions and directives and correspondence pertaining to Estonia, which can provide a valuable supplement to existing information. Where possible, organizing research trips to Russia.

The objective is to study the structure and operating mechanism of state and social bodies, which is necessary for forming an idea of the government and public administration framework in treating Estonia’s more recent history. The broader theoretical historiographic goal is to describe totalitarian society using the example of the Estonian SSR, which along with the Latvian and Lithuanian SSR represents one of the most intriguing models for general analysis of the genesis and development of totalitarianism.

The institutions under investigation may be divided into four conceptual groups:
1) party structures,
2) administrative structures (Soviet bodies),
3) repressive structures,
4) economic structures. In the beginning,
it will be more within our means to treat party and administrative structures (it can also be said in consolation that repressive structures have been researched to a greater extent than other structures).

It will be necessary to
1) document each object under investigation statically, i.e. studying and describing the object formally, legally, and based on this to determine its formal position in the system, structural hierarchy and accordingly, its position in relation to superior and subordinate levels.
2) to impart dynamics to this model, i.e. studying the structure at work, elucidate the nature of its relationship in the chain of command in practice, including on the centre-province continuum (Tallinn-Moscow, Tallinn-raion (county), and elucidate the relationship between central diktat and local initiative

The dynamic, functioning model will have to be studied on two levels:
1) the central (state) level,
2) the local level (county, raion, municipality, village Soviet, oblast, machinery and tractor depot, enterprise, cooperative).
Considering the amount of material, efforts must be focused on the first level in this stage of work, using examples from the second level that allow generalizations to be made as well as the examples that are more characteristic or interesting. The role of the individual must not be neglected, as an attempt should be made to form an aggregate prosopographic portraits of functionaries at various levels.

The top-priority sub-topic in the research product entitled “Soviet Institutions in Estonia 1940-1991” is the “Organizational Structure of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party 1940-1991”. The selection was made on understandable reasons. Power was not vested in the ECP – it was actually concentrated in Moscow – but the ECP was a central intermediary of power. The Party ran and controlled everything – administrative, economic and repressive aspects. The Central Committee of the ECP was the central power structure and it would thus be wise to begin the research into institutions from this point.

The “Soviet Institutions in Estonia 1940-1991” project has a second subtopic, entitled “Law Enforcement Institutions in Estonia 1940-1991”. The goal in this case is to study the legislation that regulated the activity of the militia, judicial and correctional bodies, the role of these bodies in mass repressions and persecution of political adversaries of the Soviet system.