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Aksel Mark and Randar Hiir on Cultural Contacts in Helsinki in 1962

This article presents the notes of the ex-politician Aksel Mark that he wrote down at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, as well as the report written by Randar Hiir, the secretary of the Committee for Developing Ties with Estonians Abroad (VEKSA), on the same festival, which he submitted to the Estonian Communist Party Central Committee. These documents supplement each other and together, they form a source that indicates why and how Estonians participated in Cold War era ideological festivals, and illuminates an important episode in the complicated history of the evolution of cultural relations between Estonians in exile and Estonians in the Estonian homeland behind the Iron Curtain.

Estonians from Estonia participated in the festival as part of the delegation from the Soviet Union. A group of Estonians from Sweden were also in Helsinki at the time of the festival, though they did not participate in the festival’s official programme. Both groups had their own ideological mission in the context of the festival.

Mark’s concise notes allow us to assume that the Estonians from Sweden did not form a homogeneous group. Unlike the VEKSA group, the Estonians from Sweden did not have a uniform action plan: they had different interests and assignments, and as a result, their choice of tactics also differed. Some of them sought face to face contact with Estonians from the Estonian homeland, while others operated more covertly. Mark was among the latter group. He went to Helsinki to participate in a covert operation aimed at disseminating propaganda literature. According to the memoirs of his daughter Tiina Mark-Berglund, a book about the occupation of the Baltic States was distributed (most likely The Baltic States and the Soviet Union, Stockholm, 1962).

There were politicians, musicians and writers in both groups. There are some references in Mark’s notes to contacts on a professional level with people involved with the arts. Hiir’s report, on the other hand, mostly describes contacts with Estonian journalists, writers and musicians from Sweden. He analyses their attitudes towards visiting Soviet Estonia and how prepared they were for possible future cooperation.