Helen Saask

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Robert E Blobaum

Committee Co-Chair

Joshua Arthurs

Committee Member

Mark B Tauger


This thesis examines how the political leadership of the Soviet Union tried to cultivate its desired values and principles among the people of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. It illuminates one aspect of all the ideologically charged activities, and looks at Soviet Estonian schools through the lens of compulsory reading --- how were socialist realist cultural goods used to promote Sovietization in Estonian secondary schools? Moreover, the study tries to evaluate to what degree the propagandistic intention was realized in literature lessons. Emphasis lies on exploring traces of the so-called 'double-thinking,' the notion that Estonians had the tendency to separate their lives into private and public spheres, adapting only the latter to official ideology. This master's thesis begins with a section discussing themes surrounding the issue of totalitarian state propaganda in secondary education. A second wave in post-Soviet Estonian culture allows for new ways of analysing the past. The thesis then focuses on primary source research, analyzing secondary school literature programs and textbooks from Soviet Estonia, also taking a brief look at the fiction books that were on compulsory reading lists. Included is a brief look at former students' own descriptions of their reactions to required reading, making for a component of bottom-up response to the imposed propaganda. Evidently, students mastered Soviet rhetoric by the time they left school. The youth became proficient in the genre of Soviet speak just as was expected of them. However, using the 'correct' genre does not necessarily mean reflection on the substantive meaning of the message being carried. Despite setting heroic role models such as fiction characters and the writers who created them, Soviet values did not successfully override previous Estonian culture. Age-old family values and `capitalist' mentalities were difficult to purge. On the other hand, socialist realist works can be gripping. What they present in subject matter may be alien, characters of books can seem absurd in their amplified New Soviet Man traits; however, socialist realism was capable of serving its goals by presenting the utopia that it depicted in exciting and acceptable ways.