Cultural heritage and home are not natural givens but construed and bounded in spatial, temporal and emotional terms. This similarity suggests that diasporic movements that disrupt the spatial dimension need closer examination. This article examines how geopolitical shifts affect the connection between people and the source of heritage central to their identity, and what role ‘home’ obtains in that process. Drawing on three examples of being displaced or ‘away from home’, this contribution considers the function of home in the process of heritagisation by identifying three degrees of separation: spatial dislocation, temporal disconnection, and the emergence of moral disjuncture. Heritagisation is not a neutral process of creating an unproblematic relationship between people and their past and their native homeland but one that is based on and incites partiality. This study that is ethnographic in approach with focused historical contextualisation observes the significance of ’home within’ under the condition of displacement and loss, of heritage dislocation that is consequently an experience creating an imagined and charged new space.
This article proposes to analyse the process of heritage construction, of heritagisation among extraterritorial populations. Mobility, migrant world and lives shape modern notions of home, being, belonging, displacement, and rooted-ness (see Rapport and Dawson Citation1998). The current study takes the example of the Baltics, particularly cases from Estonia to discuss the heritagisation constraints under the conditions of complicated dislocated relationships with homeland and the designated heritage.Footnote1 We will look at the Estonian diaspora in the USA and in the UK, and the inhabitants of the Seto region, a municipality in the Estonian – Russian border area. This anthropological investigation of ‘diasporic moments’ (Brubaker Citation2005; Clifford Citation1994) explores how experiences of displacement, and of constructing homes away from home are entangled in powerful global histories on the one hand and with the national(istic) attributes of heritage construction on the other.
About conceptualising displacement, heritage and belonging
The current research extends a comparative analysis of cases combining extraterritorial heritagisation that add nuance to previous studies of meaning, process and results of spatial dislocations. Our methodological framework draws upon anthropological studies of displacement (see Malkki Citation1995) when we contest the perception of heritage as ‘sedentary’ (cf. Clifford Citation1994) or contextualise the discursively romanticised notion of homeland. We combine insights into the politics of belonging (Yuval-Davis Citation2011) and the politics of heritage in order to discuss how geopolitical shifts affect the connection between people and the perceived source of heritage central to their identity, and what role ‘home’ obtains in that process.
Diaspora as an analytical concept has been criticised, emphasising its heavy reliance on the model of the nation-state and the ethnic axis of homelands and abroad (cf. Soysal Citation2000). Revisionist writings (Brubaker Citation2005; Dufoix Citation2008) also warn against naturalising ‘diasporas’, suggesting thus to question the self-representational claims for diaspora and to reflect further on such conceptualisation. In their studies of belonging, several authors alert to ‘groupism’ and homogeneity in identity construction, or naturalised, binary and static forms of identity (e.g. Anthias Citation2008, Citation2009; Brubaker Citation2004; Yuval-Davis Citation2003). And yet, the historical circumstances of diaspora-making are often regarded as imposing groupness, while the role of the collective is particularly observable in the process of conceptualising ‘heritage’. With an intention to bridge those tendencies, we focus on heritage conceptualisation that brings to the fore ‘the collective imaginary’, an ethnonational collective identity. This collective imaginary, dependent on the shared cultural propositions and the imagined community of nation-ness (see Taylor Citation2004; Anderson Citation1983) foreground belonging to collectivities that are spatially bound and related to locality/territoriality (see Yuval-Davis Citation2011).
Anthropological studies contend that for the ‘displaced’ and ‘uprooted’ territorialising concepts of identity become salient and instrumental (see Malkki Citation1992). When respective research gives prominence to the processual nature of identity, in this study identity politics is not approached through its categories of gender, race, or class but through the lens of ‘heritage’. Though acknowledging that identities are relational, we address the symbolic powers of the heritagisation process and remain in the politics of belonging on the level of boundary construction of collectivity, of performative ‘collective’ identity narratives and media discourses that relate to the past, and explain the present. Our ethnographic participant observations are complemented with readings of published texts for discursive analysis, and with conducted interviews. Also, we resort to the phenomenological anthropology that interprets our personal lived experience among diasporic communities (cf. Jackson Citation1995). Our data have been collected during ethnographic fieldwork while living among the diaspora Estonians in the USA between 1998–2002 and 2007, in the UK between 2012 and 2015, and in the Seto region between 2003–2007 and since 2012.Footnote2
Cultural heritage and home(land) as perceived substances of national identity, are not natural givens but construed and bounded in spatial, temporal and emotional terms. The formation of such collective sense of self assumes an inculcate knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, and ways of life. The connecting feature of all three studied groups is their detachment from the geographical location of their designated heritage. At the same time, this, along with the socio-political history on the Estonian territory over the twentieth century has conditioned a complicated relation with the perceived conceptualisation of ‘homeland’. The recurring wrenched detachment has been conditioned by the troubled sociopolitical collective experience of the past century. The Estonian diaspora we study was determined by the course and aftermath of the Second World War. The Western diaspora of Estonians grew rapidly when people fled the advancing Soviet forces in 1944, fearing the reoccurrence of the Stalinist persecution and deportation that had taken place in 1941. The relationship between these political refugees and the Estonian homeland was formed during the following Cold War whilst the hope to return to kodu-Eesti ‘home-Estonia’ gradually vanished. The exile identity was strongly impacted by the loss of home, of homeland, and the spatial dislocation: the refugee literature and media radiate clearly the feeling of having been uprooted, of being forced to move abroad – võõrsile ‘to a foreign land’ (in contrast to välismaale ‘abroad’). Henceforth, for exile Estonians and their descendants, heritage construction was dependent on memory.
Setomaa, the Seto territory has changed several times since the early twentieth century, most importantly in 1920 with the Tartu Peace Treaty when Russia relinquished to the newly established Republic of Estonia the land around Petseri (Pechory) town, the centre of Seto country. Most of this area was inhabited by ethnic Seto, a group speaking a dialect of (or a language very close to) Estonian, with complex history on the border between Russia and Estonia both geopolitically as well as culturally. In 1940, the occupying Soviet regime rejected the border set by the Treaty. This had no practical effect on people’s lives until the restoration of independent Estonia in 1991, which turned the Soviet demarcation line into the de facto border between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation (Laur et al. Citation2000, 319). Consequently, the Seto created, similarly to the Estonian diasporic groups, a new relationship with their declared heritage. The symbols for constructing an identity based on loss include metaphors of being torn in half or apart: the emblem of the Seto newspaper Setomaa was for years a broken church bell, representing the slashed region; the new border – referred to also as ‘okastraat’ (the barbed wire) – cut through villages and farmsteads.
By bringing these cases of the Estonian diaspora abroad and the Setos in Estonia together we hope that our comparative analysis contributes to the understanding of the process, meaning and results of disjunctions, and to unravel features that may remain invisible when considering the diasporic groups alone. Being displaced or ‘away from home’ changes the relationship with heritage perception and the base from which it is constructed. Whilst the base is embedded in the lost home and the homeland left behind, the displaced heritage-related cultural expression becomes coloured by the experience of displacement and loss. The perception of the left-behind thus changes, enabling to discern the spatial, temporal, and moral dimension of such heritage-making.
The homeland, conceptualised as the foundational premise and constructive framework for collective heritage, is experienced and presented emically as the ‘cradle of heritage’. This metaphor from our fieldwork material conveys the emotional connotation of birthplace and nurture that invokes the image of a place of origin and protection for heritage. It refers tacitly to a secluded retreat that corresponds to the perception of an ideal home. However, as physical access to that ‘cradle’ has been severed or disrupted, such safe haven continues to be remembered, referred to and imagined in a manner that allows symbolic cultural expressions to recall or recreate the essentialist substance that the dramatic rift endangered. Our data illuminate where and how this spatially and temporally dislodged ‘cradle of heritage’ continues to be imagined, and with what consequences.
The function of home in the process of heritagisation
Besides migration or disruption, this exploration of the complex experience of dislocation draws forth also the theoretical dimensions of home and heritage. To begin with, we are not exploring home-making as practice, or home as a lived experience (cf. Kusenbach and Paulsen Citation2013; Ahmed et al. Citation2003; Ahmed Citation1999), but employ the emotional ideal of belonging and homeland. Such gaze encompasses the creation of space where relations between ‘home’, ‘nostalgia’, ‘authenticity’, ‘performance’ and ‘place’ function to express (albeit polemical) collective boundary-marking (see Rapport and Dawson Citation1998). Sense of belonging related to home is an emotional engagement, safety and attachment, which becomes politicised when threatened (see Yuval-Davis Citation2011, 10). In our discussion ‘home’ is addressed as a metaphor, as a contrastive concept that evokes an imagined affiliation with a distant locale (see Hannerz Citation2002). It depends on a sense of rooted-ness in a socio-geographic site. Experiences and practices of ‘home’ resort to moral traditionalism that employ a nationalist restorative nostalgia and group identity (see Duyvendak Citation2011, 89).
At the centre of the global processes related to the connection between identity construction, place and heritagisation sits the ideology of nation-state and (territorial) boundedness of ethnicity. As Brubaker (Citation2004, 79) points out, its ‘tenacious hold’ on social imagination persists in regions with relatively recent struggles for independence. It is there in particular that identity has become bound to a historically and politico-geographically defined entity of ‘homeland’ and its personal, intimate representation in the home, complemented with the sense of rooted-ness. This imaginary elicits essentialist preconceptions on heritage, which today stand in the focus of the new field of critical heritage studies where the innate existence of heritage is deemed a political construction related to contemporary concerns (see, e.g. Harrison Citation2013; Bendix Citation2009; Smith Citation2006; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Citation2004) rather than something that has naturally evolved with a nation. With historical links to nation-building processes, heritage politics is unavoidably nationally defined and derives its content from selectively celebrating collective cultural expression and historical practices (Winter Citation2015; Kuutma Citation2019).
Theories of heritage [are] concerned with questioning the representation of meaning, especially hegemonic meanings, about a past that effectively validates a national present or re-inscribes it with essentialisms when it might be considered to be under threat from economic restructuring, changing social attitudes or the nation-negating effects of globalisation. (Waterton and Watson Citation2013, 550)
To understand this value-laden notion and to describe how people give meaning to heritage in changing contexts, heritagisation has evolved as a central concept.
Heritage is loaded with connotations embedded within cultural politics, today determined also globally, by the international framework led by global organisations like UNESCO (see, e.g. Logan, Nic Craith, and Kockel Citation2016; Meskell and Brumann Citation2015). Exploring heritagisation in conservation, tourism and museums helps identifying how specific heritage becomes legitimate candidate for institutional support. Researchers have considered both local (e.g. Bortolotto Citation2011; Annist Citation2013) as well as global effects of heritagisation (e.g. Bendix, Eggert, and Peselmann Citation2012; Kuutma Citation2012, Citation2016).
Human relationships are spatially rooted with processual identities of place (cf. Massey Citation1994) and thus, heritage and place have been seen to be tightly connected by several authors: Lowenthal’s discussions of yearning for the past and nostalgia (Citation1985), studies of landscape and home, or discussions of experiences of an actual place, the sense of and attachment to place (see, e.g. Kockel Citation2012; Jürgenson Citation2012) all have an important role in understanding the strong links that societies construct between these phenomena. Thus, heritage, along with its base in the homeland as well as home appear to be considered immobile. However, along with research on globalisation, anthropologists contend that heritage is not tightly bound to or interdependent with place (see Appadurai Citation1991; Olwig Citation1997) whereas the portability of ‘home’ remains questioned (e.g. Malkki Citation1995; Salazar and Smart Citation2011). Transnational lives and homes are becoming a much more prevalent reality, analysed in a multitude of studies (see Olwig Citation1997; Basch, Glick Schiller, and Szanton Blanc Citation2005; Arnold Citation2016).
Indeed, heritage is increasingly considered as something that can be mobile. Diasporic heritage underscores the creative social process in the translocal construction of heritage, the role of diasporic travels to heritage destinations in an ancestral homeland (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Citation1998), experiences of place and mobile identities (Basu Citation2007; Hoelscher Citation1998), of designated heritage centres (Reed Citation2015). Previous studies have looked at intertwined domains of diaspora and heritage tourisms or transnational heritagisation (see Sim and Leith Citation2013; Basu Citation2007), or the functional importance of claiming a particular homeland (Reed Citation2015), as well as the process of institutionalising migratory heritage in the host-country (Gourievidis Citation2014), or individual assimilation and adaptations to host-country realities (Nikielska-Sekula Citation2019). Our ethnographies, in turn, focus on collective representation without particular individual experience of migrant conditions. In these cases, we observe the immigrants’ making of an ‘inward turn’ to group solidarity in the destination country.
We highlight the situation where the perceived source of heritage, its home and homeland have become unreachable, with no option to return, whereas the community formation process becomes based on collective acts of remembering (cf. Ahmed Citation1999). The cases we have studied suggest that in fact, the first shift in space – leaving homeland or losing access to some of its territory – triggers two further shifts: in time and in moral cohesion with the homeland. As these three changes are all shifts away from the original connection to home, homeland and the designated (lost) heritage imagination, they stand out as distinct degrees of separation. These stages could possibly be applicable also in other similar cases of disjunction.
Firstly, as indicated above, the dislocated people will experience a spatial shift: the forced, involuntary and voluntary migrations or border changes cause physical or geographical detachment, leading to a displacement when the self-assigned bearers of heritage are removed from the locus of heritage which is perceived to be the true context for the state of ‘authenticity’.Footnote3 Secondly, this disjunction causes a temporal disconnection. Indeed, heritage is by nature defined by dislocation in time: heritagisation refers to a recourse to the past to substantiate claims of ‘authenticity’. Thirdly, these separations prompt a sort of disengagement in spirit or moral essence: a rupture caused by the historical events has not simply resulted in separation from ‘the home of heritage’ but has in fact ‘debased’ or ‘tainted’ the particular spatial and temporal experience and along with it, the mentality and morality of those still inhabiting such environments, distancing thus the dislocated heritage community from the ‘left behind’ heritage base.
We propose to explain these three degrees of separation one by one in conjunction with the cases introduced, in order to discuss the triple condition of disjunction of the spatially and temporally re-imagined ‘home’ and the ‘cradle of heritage’. The presentation of the cases we study alternates geographically and chronologically due to particular territorial and historical circumstances analysed as we move between the transnational diasporic dispersal and the smaller local ethnic group, both contextualised below.
First degree of separation: spatial disjunction
The diasporic groups of Estonians in the USA and the UK have formed mostly during, and right after, the Second World War when people fled en masse the occupying Soviet or German forces – the number is estimated to have been around 70,000 of the general population of one million (see Kulu Citation1997, 279). Those refugees arrived in their final destinations often after a period of time in the Displaced Persons’ Camps set up for Eastern Europeans, mostly in Germany and Austria, but also in Sweden and in the UK. On the British Isles, the Estonian refugee diaspora experienced a considerable growth in the mid- and the late 1940s. In North America, the influx happened particularly around 1950 when access was granted to Baltic exiles. For example, assisted by the Lutheran World Federation, almost 11,000 Estonians relocated to the USA between 1948 and the end of 1951 (Bronner Citation2006, 339). The second larger wave of migrants started arriving both to the USA and the UK after 1991. When in the USA the most significant recent change has been the rapid diminishing of the post-war émigré cohorts with relatively restrained number of newcomers, in the UK their inflow has soared in connection with Estonia’s entry to the European Union in 2004.
The Seto identity is performed by manifest ancestral descent manifest in the usage of the Seto language, relations to their historical habitat, Russian Orthodox belief, and the maintenance of certain communal and family traditions. Seto habitat, surrounding their regional centre Petseri (the monastery town Pechory) had been governed by various Russian rulers but became fully incorporated in the territory of the interwar-independent Estonia between 1920 and 1940. Seto cultural practices, particularly singing, had attracted keen interest of folklorists starting from the late nineteenth century. Since 1945, the Seto homeland, administratively known as Petserimaa (Petseri country), became divided between the Russian Soviet Federation and the newly occupied Estonian Soviet Republic. In 1991, the previously unrestrictive boundary became the official border between Russia and Estonia who had regained its independence. Thus, two thirds of the territory associated with the Seto became dislocated behind the new border of the European Union. Many Setos moved to Estonia from the Russian side during the 1990s, transplanting their roots. The concomitant difficulties to physically return to their parental homes transformed these locations into the source of nostalgic longing. Further, significant public symbols like Petseri with its monastery and religious celebrations, graveyards and marketplaces, but also ancestral homesteads with their mainly nostalgic value – were suddenly out of reach in Russia. At the same time, the physical dislocation, embodied in the new border, became part of the current Seto condition, having triggered a rapid revival and re-invention of identity, a markedly post-Soviet, post-split Setoness.
The Seto, nominally Estonian citizens, have had to re-evaluate their Seto-ness markers in the context of loss of territory which has redefined the meaning of space where Seto heritage can be imagined. Traditional village feasts are still organised on the sites of one-time family homes, today behind the Russian border, or Seto celebrations occur in the currently Russian town Pechory, evoking expressions of sadness and pain in addition to enjoyment. Over time, the discourse of loss of territory that the Seto have endured through political change has gradually subsided. The spatial separation has been accepted – it has also served its purpose in creating unity amongst as well as with the Setos in the face of Russian rejection of the Tartu Peace Treaty considered central to the whole of Estonian statehood.
Second degree of separation: temporal disconnection
With spatial relocation, the designated home transforms into a ‘home in the head’. However, the home is not simply imagined – it is fixated on a specific period in the past, which means that along with the spatial shift occurs a temporal disjunction. The choice of the period in the past is crucial here because the chosen period is expected to express the ideals seen to characterise the golden age of ‘authenticity’. It appears that rupture between the past and the present becomes instrumental in the process of essentialising heritage: certain periods are more potent for heritagisation purposes and for forming a uniform ideal of national identity.
In a similar vein, the majority of exile Estonians considered the First Estonian Republic an idealised era the symbols of which had to be maintained and cherished. For both, palpable or visually representable heritage items, as well as the language-related, mental perceptions, the process of heritagisation involved an idealisation of the period of the 1920s and 1930s in Estonian history. This included relevant cultural expressions, most importantly choir singing, wearing folk costumes on festive occasions, the practice of group gymnastics particularly for young women, folk dance groups, community festivals bringing together all those elements.
When the post-Second World War Baltic refugee communities formed in the USA, they applied heritage symbols that were already well established and internalised in the national imaginary. The most prominent collective symbolic practices circled around cultural performance of choirs and dance groups as well as seasonal festive celebrations (see Ojamaa Citation2011). It was inherently a continuation of cultural practices disseminated in the 1920s–1930s, presenting an urban performance culture based on the modernised representation of Estonian peasant customs, costumes and entertainment procedures.
The space for heritage construction strongly depends on the national imaginary that instrumentalises and defines designated cultural heritage expression.Footnote4 Institutional aspects of heritagisation have been central to the exile Estonian identity-making, partly as formalised (mainly cultural and edifying) institutions had also a long historic association with Estonian-ness dating back to the nineteenth century (Karu Citation1993). The choirs and dance groups contributed significantly into the socio-political organisation of exile Estonian-ness. In North America, the exile communities relied on public heritage symbols that were clearly established and internalised in the national self-imagery: song festivals were organised already in the DP camps, for example in Geislingen, Germany; Toronto Estonian Male Choir and New York Estonian Male Choir were founded already in 1950 (Ojamaa Citation2011, 129; Tõnso Citation2003, 365).Footnote5
Anthropological studies of symbolic performative practices attribute specific characteristics to the space claimed as ‘home’ (see Dibbits Citation2009; Bendix and Löfgren Citation2007). Similarly, events arranged by Estonian organisations have reinforced the spatial, temporal or moral relocations of Estonian identity perception. Besides the personal, physical home-making where particular domestic or decorative items could symbolise Estonian-ness (see Kalajärv Citation2012), the more numerous exile communities made the effort of constructing the Eesti Maja (Estonian House) to serve as a central communal gathering site. These locations would often contain or be adjacent to facilities for Protestant Lutheran church services, to accommodate also the religious congregations established in the exile situation. These Estonian Houses functioned as a substitute ‘home’ for the émigré communities where the performance of an ‘Estonian’ event and cultural expression created the physical space for imagining home through a manifestation of what is seen as heritage. Some of those houses were indeed called ‘homes’ – like Eesti Kodu (Estonian Home) in Bradford, the UK. The webpage of the New York Estonian House quotes one of its honorary members:
Thank God for the New York Estonian House where we have been able to continue the Estonian traditions freely for 50 years. Estonian House has been like a “second home” to me.Footnote6
In the UK, the Committee of Helping Estonia luncheons, formally organised but yet very much homespun, were part of Estonian diaspora events in London. The visitors recognised their homey feel partly from the 1920–1930s-style handicraft tablecloths and meals in ‘eestiaegne’ (from the period of the First Republic)Footnote7 taste, and partly from the grandmotherly presence of over 90-year-old organiser (Siilak Citation2014).
When Estonian communities were not numerous or successful enough to afford building or maintaining their own facilities, the particular physical space might even be ‘borrowed’ from the geographic neighbours, i.e. Latvians or Finns. This emphasises the particular regional belonging. For example, by the turn of the millennium, Estonian communities in Seattle in the state of Washington and in Portland in the state of Oregon were regularly renting such space for commemoration days, seasonal feasts, birthday parties, church services, organisational meetings, singing or dancing practices, etc. The communal activities and gathering generated thus the imaginary space of ‘the Estonian home’.
The described national institutionalisation and particular expressions of Estonian-ness considered so central (communal singing, dancing, national holidays and material forms of heritage displayed), is a vital part of the heritagisation process of diasporic groups. These prominent organisations and rather rigidly defined heritage symbols have required the more recent, post-1990s arrivals to adapt to the firmly established framework. For example, the second-wave migrants in the US who had never practised folk dancing or choral singing previously in Estonia started gradually playing a vital role in this millennium in Seattle and Portland to keep these group performing activities and festivals ongoing.
The Seto identity-construction builds on ‘authenticity’ that is derived from the period mostly around the end of the nineteenth, early twentieth century. In this case, heritagisation denotes an idealisation of the pre-industrial village tradition and related cultural expressions: particular singing style and repertoire, costume, religious practices, agricultural practices, architecture, and village scene in general. However, such identity-construction is inherently dependent on folkloristic and ethnographic research, originally initiated by Estonian scholars, which today determines the Seto heritage imaginary and categorises the roots of ‘authenticity’. As in the Russian side of Seto country, the Estonian-language school has been closed and Seto traditions have faded, the whole region has become a symbol of the history of Seto cultural heritage. It is primarily in the Estonian side where Seto-ness is displayed, but being revitalised also in Russia during joint cultural events. The unity is alluded to in songs and memories. While locals benefit from special visa regimes, visits to Russia are important moments of remembrance but limited to parental homesteads and the Petseri monastery.
Third degree of separation: moral disjuncture
While changes have unfolded over the decades of dislocation, a third degree of separation has become apparent. Although in 1991 the borders opened for the post-war exile Estonians to return, the spatial and temporal separation has been further complicated and expanded by a moral dimension. The temporal separation has meant tapping into the perceived source of heritage that actually represents a particular era in the past. But not only: this era is also defined as the morally impeccable period standing in contrast with the subsequent era of moral degradation. In our cases, the condemned period from which the moral separation was vitally important was the Soviet period. This moral dimension started to emerge already in the 1940s but did not stop even in 1991 when Estonian independence was regained in the fall of the Soviet Union.
The post-Second World War displaced Estonians had developed a very specific relationship with their Estonian homeland that had been left behind, not only out of reach but also perceived to be experiencing a severe cultural, political, economic and social deterioration under the Soviet rule. The unblemished refugee Estonians were those who had fled to the West in the cusp of war. Their anti-communist commitments were clearly upheld: Estonians amongst the other Baltic exiles in the USA were particularly active politically with anti-Soviet sentiments and succeeded in the non-recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states by the US administration (see Misiunas and Taagepera Citation1993; Kelam Citation2002). Exile Baltic communities in other Western countries were often contributing to the same efforts (see also Ojamaa Citation2017).
In a similar way that the nodal point of physical separation is homeland, and the nodal point of temporal separation is the designated heritage, the nodal point of the third separation, where drawing the moral lines was to take place – was people’s private homes and their minds. The main unifying force and the aim of the exile community was to keep alive the image of heritage and the national identity for which ‘home’ is at the centre:
As refugees abroad, we have all brought along this national yeast which should also turn our homes into the heart of our nation. But torn apart from our land and our people, in entirely alien environment and circumstances, we need particularly potent yeast which would become a powerful component in our homes, particularly for our young generation. (…) The home must do its part in nationalist education. This is the obligation of every Estonian parent. (Raag Citation1954)
The main unifying force and the aim of the exile community was both to keep alive the celebrated heritage, but also to raise the new generation of Estonians in the free world, and this freedom contained also freedom from mental subjugation to communist propaganda. The homes and children in particular were expected to carry on that mission. One accomplishment for children was the experience of Estonian-ness in a summer camp – these children’s summer camps were called ‘(summer) homes’ and praised as the ‘cradles of Estonian-ness’ (“Eestluse häll” kasvab Citation1962).
The spirit of continuing protest against the Soviet occupation and the lasting flame to fight for independence had to occur outside the Soviet borders – open dissidence was rare in Soviet Estonia. Having been born outside meant protection against the ‘Soviet contaminant’, as one reader’s letter to Free Estonian World put it (Kiive Citation1999). This was a moral choice that nevertheless drew lines within the exile community, whereas avoidance of assimilation into the host-country settings appeared commendable.
Overall, during the Cold War, the ‘morally intact’ Estonians were born abroad into homes where the true, ‘undebased Estonian-ness’ had been nurtured (cf. Kelam Citation2002). Ironically, the Soviet propaganda insisted in the 1960s on using the term väliseestlane ‘foreign Estonian’ to designate Estonians living abroad in the West, which later generated its counterpart kodueestlane ‘home Estonian’ that signified those residing in the territory of Estonia. In contrast, Estonians in the West manifested their preference of pagulaseestlane (refugee Estonian, or an Estonian in exile).
After 1991, in the course of the second wave of exodus to the West, the ‘new migrants’ starting to join the exile communities were vetted in their interactions with the older generation migrants and often were found to be lacking. Whilst émigrés managing to escape to the West during the Soviet period and the earliest arrivals around 1990 almost always confronted such vetting, some such elements were still observable in the twenty-first century. For example, during the Estonian Independence Day celebrations in the UK, wearing any red was judged by older generations as an indication of demonstrative rejection of ‘Estonian values’, being an evidence of lack of patriotism, of the demoralised, debased mindset of the recent migrants. The second-wave newcomers, though having been born in Estonia, were required to follow the example of the ‘national moral purity’ seemingly maintained by the post-war refugees.
The issue of ‘demoralisation’ was often reported by exile Estonians who revisited or re-settled in Estonia after 1991. For example, a former US general expressed his shock: ‘Soviet mentality is in their blood [of some Estonians at home]’Footnote8 (Oja Citation1996). This ‘debased’ quality was observed both in the mental as well as spatial realm: not only were the ‘Soviet Estonians’ different in their attitudes and outlook, the country had altered spatially and physically. The ‘Soviet homes’ – the sprawling districts of Soviet-style housing blocks in towns, the Soviet-period large-scale, state or collective farms with their huge concrete barns and outbuildings, but also two- to three-storied housing blocks in the countryside fundamentally altering the physical landscape of Estonia the exiles had left behind – had no resemblance to the idealised period of the pre-Second World War independent Estonia. These physical signs of the Soviet rule were the lasting testimony to the period of loss, of the temporal separation from what was perceived as the original, ideal source of Estonian-ness.
Then again, the Seto case offers an even more complicated landscape of temporal, spatial and moral juxtapositions. When the Seto started to fully grasp the extent and irrevocable effect of the border change, their reinvented collective identity built on the moral judgement of the Soviet injustices, but contained also the gradual disillusionment in their hope to restore Setomaa in its earlier territorial borders. In the early 1990s, the perceived Seto-ness appeared severely eroded due to previous deriding marginalisation by their neighbours, the Soviet era indifference in local identities, and efforts to outroot the Seto language in schools. At the same time, the Seto moral space suffered severely by losing free access to the religious and ancestral ritual space and signifiers located behind the Russian border. While the Seto majority had resettled in Estonia, the moral frontiers needed to be redrawn, based on memory and public symbolism.
Over the years, unblemished, perfected signs and symbols of Seto-ness have acquired increasing value. The image of Seto-ness is honed by the ‘guardians of authenticity’ who are picking out specific features to be celebrated (see Annist Citation2009). Performed identities and practices are defined and channelled by a certain discourse of purity that correlates with a tendency to reject direct reference to the Soviet period. Thus, homes in the Soviet-period apartment blocks were seen to have generated hybridity and demoralisation of Seto-ness. Those having lost their commitment to being Seto are supposed to be the inhabitants of such housing blocks, seen as the victims of a hybrid, confused, unrooted ex-Soviet condition. Furthermore, they are also perceived to resist the goals and ideals of the current Seto cultural elite, thus causing difficulties in the advancement of the local heritage-based self-representation that is considered conducive and meaningful in distinguishing them from the rest of Estonia. In contrast, the idealised public image of Seto attributes is upheld and performed in the farmsteads where often the younger, sometimes non-Seto enthusiasts have made their homes, promoting traditional farmstead architecture and way of life. In these homes, the Seto heritage is claimed to be maintained, similarly to the post-war exile Estonian homes which were considered the quintessence of ethnic identity conservation and moral commitment. The symbolic home in a reminisced or imaginary traditional farmstead is also prominently featured in the performing repertoire of celebrated Seto choirs, who represent the model Seto cultural expression.Footnote9
Conclusion: heritage dislocation and home within
The phenomena of home, diaspora, belonging are multi-faceted and multi-scalar where we have proposed to highlight the heritage connection. This anthropological study of public expressions of diasporic belonging has taken a reflexive stance towards essentialist heritage assertions (cf. Macdonald Citation2013), and the perception of ‘home’ as ‘singular and bounded’ (cf. Massey Citation1994).
With the underlining acknowledgement of the need for a pluralising understanding of cultural and political discourses at play in heritage configurations, we have drawn attention in this article particularly to the interplay of spatial, temporal and moral dimensions of the construction of identity. The investigation of diasporic belonging enables noticing the internal construct of groupness which attributes certain defining characteristics, functions, collective identities (see Brubaker Citation2005).
Our analysis has explored the triple condition of separation from homeland propelled by dramatic historic changes in particular that have led to emigration or border alterations. We have considered the consequences of the primary enforced dislocation, and have further discerned associated forms of disjuncture: in time, and in the moral realm. Each of these three separations is related to a discrete domain that the studied cases tried to explicate. First, the spatial disjuncture is experienced through changing relationship with the ancestral homeland. Second, the disjunction in time is experienced and expressed particularly in relation to heritage perception. Finally, the moral disjunction will reflect the imagined degrading of the place (and its inhabitants) one was compelled to leave behind, in contrast to the remembered ideal.
The initial separation in space sets the process in motion, and defines the relationship of the dislocated, in our case the diaspora Estonians and the Seto, with their roots. These roots, although seemingly spatially attached, are in fact removable in the mind. This happens through the second degree of separation, the temporal disconnection, where people dislocated from their homeland fixate their perception of cultural heritage in a particular period in the past. Heritage designation is a construct caught in time which obscures the complexities of history when the politics of inclusion and exclusion involved in these determinations neglect other periods actually experienced. When what is perceived as the original source or the ‘cradle of heritage’ is left behind or dislocated behind a new border, the initially bounded (national) space and time of ‘authenticity’ become redefined in memory and in the imaginary under the condition of the new physical location of residence. Hence, the third degree of separation where the space–time of the essentialist heritage perception subsides and transforms. By default, the heritagisation process incites thus partiality towards the ‘home in the head’.
Claiming and constituting heritage in the condition of diaspora is fundamentally a process wrought with contradiction. Traumatic motivations behind population dispersal have retained an emotional axis in identity construction both evoking and rejecting the dream of ‘return’ (cf. Yuval-Davis Citation2003, 23) to an imaginary ‘home’ that no longer exists. In this act of heritage construction, caught between the inevitability of spatial and temporal change, the diasporic subject seems uncompromisingly held responsible for maintaining a moral permanence in the imagined ‘home’ for the dislocated people, the lost era, and the displaced identity. Through the process of heritagisation identity can be relocated and transplanted in the imaginary, by generating a new heritage space where the salutary period of time and moral (imaginary) realm are merged into one. This imaginary becomes manifested in the organised collective activities of the diaspora and by those participating in them, through expressive cultural performance, acts of ‘reminiscing’ the lost home, attachment to place and locality.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Kristin Kuutma is Professor of Cultural Research and UNESCO Chair on the Applied Studies of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the University of Tartu. She leads the UT Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts, chairs the UNESCO national commission and has represented Estonia on the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. She is the principal investigator of the Institutional Research Grant team. Her research and publications in cultural anthropology focus on disciplinary histories, ethnographic knowledge production, representation, and critical heritage studies.
Aet Annist is Senior Research Fellow in Ethnology at the University of Tartu, studying transnational migration, developmental ideologies, institutionalisation of heritage culture, and the effect of climate change. She has also taught social anthropology at Tallinn University, University of Bristol and University College London. She is the principal coordinator of the Baltic Anthropology Graduate School, and has served as an expert in regional economy for the Chancellery of the Estonian Parliament.
1. Our analysis focuses on Estonia in particular, but we acknowledge similar (and often intertwining) experience of Latvian and Lithuanian diasporas.
2. Aet Annist carried out fieldwork in the Seto region, while Kristin Kuutma observed their local developments since the late 1980s; Kuutma conducted fieldwork in the USA and Annist in the UK. Annist focused in the UK on the Estonian choir, school and the more general London Estonian Society, participating in their activities and events and interviewing various generations of resident and pendulum migrants. In the USA, Kuutma participated in, observed and interviewed similar communities in Seattle and Portland, and their respective Estonian Societies, with visits also to the Vancouver and Toronto Estonians. In the Seto region, Annist lived in three villages and participated in various events and activities of local choirs and societies, discussion groups, committees, exhibition planning, etc. Kuutma participated repeatedly in Seto singing and religious events on both sides of the border.
3. We do not regard authenticity to be an analytic category but employ it as an emic perception instrumental in heritage discourse.
4. These are cultural expressions that are designated Estonian national heritage. Compare with the significance of the Baltic song and dance celebrations, inscribed jointly to the UNESCO representative list of intangible cultural heritage.
5. We include empirical data also from Canada, a host-country with most numerous long-term Estonian population and an exemplary complex setting for identity constructions (see Manning Citation2003; Taylor Citation2004).
6. See the webpage at http://www.estonianhousenewyork.com/(accessed 12.01.2019).
7. This idiomatic adjectival designation refers to the independent Republic of Estonia between 1920 and 1940, and originates from the Soviet period. Its distinct connotation is widely comprehensible and still in use today.
8. Interview with General Aleksander Einseln, a refugee Estonian who returned to Estonia in 1993 and moved up the army ranks to become the head of Estonian Defence Forces. He was asked to step down in 1995 due to disagreements with the then Minister of Defence.
9. Seto singing tradition has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage to represent Estonia, ensuring thus their national importance and presence in public life.
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