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The Unwilling Guide. On the Role of a Wanderlusty Schoolmaster as a Trigger of Estonian Colonisation of Abkhazia

An emigration movement was triggered in Estonia in the latter half of the 19th century, as a consequence of which a large number of Estonians made their way to Siberia, the Volga region, North-western Russia, and Caucasia. National Awakening developed as a new movement in Estonia simultaneously with the emigration movement. Estonian nationalist ideologists formulated the needs and perspectives of the Estonian nationality, in which patriotism played a key role – an attitude that set loyalty to one’s homeland in first place. Estonian patriotic poetry exalted the beautiful, although poor, Estonian homeland and severely criticised those who recklessly left their homeland. Discourse on the Estonian homeland was in conflict with discourse on emigration, and a disapproving attitude towards emigrants took shape among the Estonian public. Individuals who encouraged people to emigrate were subjected to especially sharp criticism. Sometimes these attacks were unjust.

The Estonian secondary school teacher Joosep Robert Rezold (1847–1909), who lived in Tbilisi (which bore the name Tiflis at that time) and who published a series of articles on Caucasia in the Estonian press, is the topic of this article. He inspired emigrants with his texts, although this was initially not his plan. Rezold became a target of opponents of emigration in the Estonian press. He was criticised in various publications. The accusations were exaggerated because Rezold did not actually want to encourage anybody to emigrate. The article traces how Rezold was turned into an apologist on behalf of emigration in the Estonian press. At heart, this man, who worked as a schoolteacher and tried out several other occupations later in his life, was an enlightener of the people. He published diverse writings over the course of several decades in the Estonian press. The need to introduce, mediate, and teach was a running theme in these writings. His letters sent from Caucasia to Estonia and published in the press were first and foremost overviews of a region that was far away from Estonian peasants. When he later started being accused of encouraging emigration, the reasons for this lay elsewhere – primarily in his writings, where he took the courage to assess the overall quality of the Estonian press and openly criticised newspaper editors. The offended newspaper editors did not forgive him for that and started accusing him of encouraging peasants to emigrate. Rezold’s impetuous personality did not benefit him in the process. On quite a few occasions, he chose to launch sharp attacks of his own as his tactic in his attempt to defend himself.