Estonia regained its independence on August 20, 1991 and it was not until August 31 of 1994, when the last Russian troops left Estonia. This massive structure in Lahemaa National Park is a reminder of this dark era, when we were under the Soviet rule. It is also part of my roots as my grandmother was born in a village just a few hundred meters from that base.
Sit back (turn on full HD) and take a closer look at this old Soviet era military structure and the village right next to it:
Video transcript (followed with more pictures):
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by the Soviet Union under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on June 14, 1940, followed by their incorporation into the USSR as constituent republics, unrecognized internationally by most countries.
After decades of Soviet rule, the three Baltic states regained independence in August 1991.
Shortly after the beginning of the occupation, Soviet troops started building military bases in various locations.
This is one of these military bases: The old Soviet-era submarine demagnetizing base in the middle of Lahemaa National Park in Estonia.
Built between 1956 and 1958 by Soviet forces, it was – at the time – one of only three submarine demagnetizing bases in the world with cables reaching 18 km from the mainland to the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea.
To build this base, Soviet soldiers tore down tens of kilometers of old stone fences in the nearby villages.
This massive structure is much more than a remnant of the past or a tourist attraction.
All this concrete is in some way also part of my roots.
Just a few hundred meters from the base is a small village by the name of Virve.
1940 Before the Soviet regime took over Estonia, Virve was home to my great-grandparents and their children. They were simple people; fisherman and small-scale farmers.
Life was not easy, especially during the cold winters, but people were free and did not live in fear.
Today, my son is playing on an empty beach, building dams, picking driftwood and at times finding buoys all the way from Finland. A country right next to us that seemed a mysterious place to me when I was his age. For him, it is a close neighbor, just a short ferry ride away.
He also has a hard time understanding, that when I was his age, the entire area was a closed zone and every time we visited our relatives, it was like going to a different country. Special permits were required for entry, which were usually followed by thorough controls…
The Soviet troops were not protecting us from an outside world with these bases. They were keeping us prisoners, afraid that people would try to escape to Sweden or other nearby Western countries.
I never met my great-grandma who lived in Virve all her life until her death in 1966. She lived in a world full of fear and uncertainty. Every time someone knocked on the door, she was scared that it was her turn, that the Soviets would put her on a cattle car and send her to Siberia. She also had faith that her two sons who never made it back because of the war, would one day return home.
Tens of thousands of Estonians were deported to Siberia in the 1940s, without prior notice, given few night hours at best to pack their belongings and to part from their families, usually also sent to the east. Most of them died and only few made it back to an occupied Estonia, mostly after Stalin’s death.
In the aftermath of World War 2, Estonia lost approximately 17.5% of its population.
Today we live in a different world. I believe, in a much better world. We are in a constant state of transformation and so is the world around us, through our actions.
The cottage here behind us is our place for the night when staying in Virve, built in the late 1800s by my great-great grandfather Jüri. Peaceful sleep always, with birds singing, waves crashing on the shore and fresh air coming in through all the cracks in this old building.
Pictures of the submarine base, Virve village and my ancestors:
Here’s an older post of the Hara submarine base I published six years ago.