Estonian Communities in Canadian and Swedish Exile: The Formation of Collective Memories

Li Bennich Bjorkman (Uppsala University)

In this paper it is a point of departure that an exile group relating to a lost homeland under foreign occupation takes on a specific role of remembering in order for themselves and the homeland to survive. That would make Estonians (or for that matter any of the Baltic communities in exile) very likely candidates for qualifying as communities of memory, a concept once coined by the sociologist Robert Bellah, and furthermore strong communities in the sense of a powerful common memory.  So more than inquiring the “if” question here, the focus is on “how” the collective memories that hold this community together are constituted and held together as a consistent story of Estonia and Estonianness. A life in exile is a particular challenge because it means living a life marked by two essential cultural contexts: that of the host society and that of the country left behind. Departing from the notion that memories of the homeland are also created in relation to present surroundings, I relate that story and its different elements to these refugees immediate context of Sweden and Canada, discussing how distinctions, emphases and defining events and features are formed in a constantly ongoing tacit dialogue wth the Swedish and Canadian societies. Implicitely but forcefully, remembering Estonia and defining Estonianness in Swedish and Canadian exile also indirectly tells a story of these societies.

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