In Charlie Chaplin’s film, A King in New York (1957), King Shahdov arrives as a refugee to the US. After living luxuriously, the king decides to return to his home country, Estrovia.1
The name of this fictional country undoubtedly has some similarity to the actual country of Estonia. Chaplin may have heard about Johan Holberg, who was working as a janitor in Toronto when he succeeded as the Estonian president-in-exile in October 1954; his sudden promotion became news, at least in Canada.2 This news possibly travelled to Hollywood, with Chaplin taking the idea and adapting it for his film.
However, despite superficial similarities, the king had very little in common with Estonian refugees of World War II. They had to leave all of their belongings behind and start from scratch in a foreign environment and usually, like Holberg, rely on odd jobs far from their education and profession. Most of them went through camps, either in Sweden or in Germany, before settling in Sweden (30,000); in North America (14,000 in Canada, 13,000 in the US); in Australia (6,000) and in Germany (4,000). The majority of US Estonians arrived after the Displaced Persons Act of June 1948. Including previous emigration, the subsequent Estonian diaspora in the US was approximately 20,000 in the early 1950s.3 For emigrant Estonians, returning to their home country – which was still occupied by Soviet forces at that time – was out of the question.
Moving to the modern day: the Cold War is increasingly becoming a mere memory. A growing number of people in the world who were born since 1991, and even those who lived during the era, do not remember all the details. Research on the Cold War has recently focused either on infiltration through the Iron Curtain which, at the time, was described as impenetrable or, thanks to newly opened archives, on the final years of the USSR.
While new research is always welcome, other aspects of the Cold War era have been ignored. This book concentrates chronologically on the first half of the Cold War; from its beginning to the early 1970s, when the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) transformed the Cold War (although very few foresaw the direction of that change). Secondly, it focuses on those emigrants who personally experienced the Iron Curtain as a major element in their lives, and on their usually fruitless attempts to restore liberal democracy in their home countries.
While emigration is a prominent phenomenon in the contemporary world and has been studied from many perspectives, this book has the modest purpose of reminding people of the forgotten history of Estonian refugees and emigrants during the quarter of a century in the Cold War. Changes were inevitable during that period, and this book will focus on their emerging international cooperation and solidarity among emigrant groups from Eastern Central Europe within the Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN). The ACEN is a convenient point of departure for the research but it is necessary to first explore the role of national organizations and secondly to investigate alternative international groups.
During its heyday in the late 1950s, the ACEN had an extensive publication activity; mainly in English but also in other languages, as well as a network of foreign representatives around the world and a functional lobbying organization directed towards the US government. Nowadays, it has been almost completely forgotten. Time has naturally passed but that is not the only reason for this neglect. The ACEN pretended at the time to be funded by private American donors but, in fact, the money for the ACEN and its parent organization – the Free Europe Committee (FEC) – came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This was eventually revealed in 1971, and both organizations were subsequently dissolved at the beginning of the following year. Now it reminded Americans of Watergate, of general distrust of the government, of spying on private citizens etc. To provide an example of this act of forgetting: the Estonian diaspora compiled the book Estonians in the US in 1976, and it included every detail of Estonian involvement in their new country. It even referred to a terrorist attack during the US presidential campaign by an Estonian. But it does not mention the FEC, the ACEN, or even the Estonian intermediate organization, the Committee for a Free Estonia (CFE).4
In short: the book combines historical research on the Estonian political diaspora, the ACEN as an international organization, and the FEC as an extension of the American intelligence network. The overlap of these spheres represents the essence of the book, although there is much left to study in each of these areas.
The book begins by framing the key aspects of the Estonian diaspora. This is the first time that the Estonian diplomatic corps in exile and political exile organizations have been examined in one volume. Those diplomats who remained in their foreign postings were crucially important immediately after World War II before formal exile organizations started to emerge.
The third chapter introduces American Cold War organizations and how Estonian emigrants became a part of these organizations. The chapter concentrates on the difficulties between the political centres of the exile community in New York and in Stockholm, and how they were reflected in the ACEN and the CFE.
The following chapter adopts a global focus on ACEN Delegations. For clarity, I use capital letters for representations abroad and small letters for national delegations to the sessions. There were, in sum, 22 Delegations and Estonians were involved in eight of them. The Delegation in Stockholm was the most important, on account of the significant Estonian emigrant population there. There were also setbacks, and Baltic cooperation emerged from Delegations just as it did in the US.
The fifth chapter looks at Estonians within the ACEN. The ACEN was founded to mirror the structure of the United Nations and, consequently, had six committees to monitor developments in Eastern Europe. The chapter charts the Estonian contribution to the topics of these committees but also to the development of the organization in general. Many emigrants identified national liberation with European unification and the ACEN tried to create contacts with the Council of Europe by arranging special sessions in Strasbourg.
Chapter six takes a step further, chronologically, and looks at alternatives to the ACEN when its functions decreased following budget cuts. Baltic cooperation was the most significant action but there were also other collaborations. The chapter follows the ACEN to its eventual dissolution in 1972, although the organization subsequently re-emerged as a private enterprise.
The book primarily relies on primary sources and seeks to remind readers of a forgotten past. However, it also has enough of a theoretical basis to take an objective perspective regarding sources. There is a wide range of literature focused upon contemporary issues of migration and dislocation. However, there are shortcomings in using them for historical phenomena. For example: this research in the social sciences primarily focuses on explaining current events, where borders are increasingly crossed, both physically and virtually. In this sense it could be said that fixed borders have lost their meaning, though, at the same time, surveillance across borders has increased. During the Cold War, moving from another country and particularly from another political system was considered a long-term, possibly even irreversible, decision.
Theoretical approaches to emigration research, both current and historical, frequently start by highlighting the divisions within a national emigrant group. For example: Yossi Shain talks about a decision between loyalty and independence. In other words: choosing between maintaining contacts with their home country or adapting to a new environment.5 Danièle Joly refers to a similar dilemma, alluding to Ulysses, who was condemned to wander without finding a permanent settlement in any society. On the other hand, there is the ‘Rubicon type’: namely, those who leave home for good and actively seek assimilation elsewhere.6 Concerning political activism, Piotr Wandycz noticed a divide between the supporters of isolation and of infiltration: the latter want to advance the fall of unlawful rule by small steps, while the former prefer to cut all contacts with the regime they left behind. This dichotomy resonates with Cold War discussions of containment or coexistence.7
But theory is grey, and life is green. These polarities are seldom traceable in the past. For example: visits by exiles to the occupied home country were publicly condemned. However, after witnessing many such visits without consequences, even hard-core opponents dared to pay a visit to their relatives on the other side of the Iron Curtain, but without declaring it publicly. This also illustrates that while these concepts might be useful to explain the current situation facing emigrant communities, historical research focuses on changes over time. Protagonists, in fact, often moved from one category to another. Hence, I am not so interested in the categories as such as more in how popular these categories were and how they changed.
Furthermore, these concepts were developed while observing individual national groups. Even the concept of a transnational diaspora refers to a national identity developing differently in alternate host countries. What, then, justifies the notion of, say, a common Estonian diaspora if they are divergent in Sweden, Australia and the US? The exception of a transnational identity actually emerging in diaspora is the Afro-American identity which is relatively similar on the Western shores of the Atlantic from Canada to Brazil.8 This research primarily focuses on international cooperation in exile, although different types of approach do not necessarily contradict each other. Theoretically, exile is emphasized either as a place of transformation or as a clinging on to old beliefs. As far as this specific topic goes, this leads to the question of why did the ACEN fall so quickly and why did Baltic cooperation emerge to replace it?
In general, the whole of the 20th century was an era of nation-states. But at the same time it was a period of enormous migrations as well as terrible genocides. Both phenomena demonstrate that the notion of congruent ethnic and political territories – to use Ernest Gellner’s definition – was impossible to manifest. Emigration groups challenge both the historiography that focuses on nation-states and perpetual territories of certain communities. Looking at the Cold War from this marginal perspective, new aspects of the global confrontation become apparent. Within the ACEN, Estonians were closer to world events: not necessarily contributing to them but, at least, being in the position to provide commentary.
On the other hand, it would be highly erroneous to present emigrant groups as pioneers of diluted national feelings. Besides the individuals who assimilated into their resident countries, Cold War emigrations were characteristically nationalistic. This entailed a strong focus on cultural issues. Thus, Soviet occupation was not only an economic disaster, but it also threatened the very cultural core of the nation itself by cutting previous ‘natural’ contact with the West and imposing foreign ways and manners. In addition, emigrants took on the nearly impossible duty of maintaining that national culture within their new environment. Consequently, disputes around nationality were amplified, compromises were rarely accepted and, at worst, opponents were denounced as traitors to the national liberation cause.
This double-edged stipulation of emigration to the traditional historiography of nation-states justifies the study of Estonian political emigration. The current paradox of the decreasing significance of nation-states and increasing nationalism reflects a similar confusion concerning cultural allegiances and entanglements. In this confusion emigrants – in this case Estonians in the US and Sweden – are easily ignored, both in the old and the new nation’s history, although undeniably national narratives are far less dominant than they were a few decades ago.
In Estonian historical research there is a steady interest in Cold War emigration, and it is easy to find further information on the individuals and organizations discussed in this book, either in publications or in online databases. However, although the ACEN is mentioned in such works, its development, content or context are not particularly elaborated on. The lack of details about the ACEN becomes apparent when looking at any Estonian emigrant publication from the late 1950s.
The initial reason for studying the ACEN was to fill this gap. The ACEN – and the notion of a ‘captive’ due to the organization – was a generally acknowledged issue in the postwar period, and this in turn raised the question why Estonian emigrants were so involved in that organization. It soon became obvious that discussions about the ACEN reflected fundamental divisions within the Estonian diaspora. The ACEN also demonstrated the deeper concerns about cultural survival among the international diaspora.
The central hypothesis of this book is that the ACEN provides an area of investigation to study the dilemma of preserving cultural peculiarity and strengthening international anti-communist cooperation. The reasons for supporting the ACEN varied, and cooperation concerning national goals was easier to rationalize among similar groups who faced similar challenges. Furthermore, the eventual downfall of the ACEN was not driven by the rejection by exiles but, instead, from changed American attitudes. Estonians preferred closer cooperation with the Balts, and felt the dilemma remained valid, but that it was better tackled by a smaller group.
To sum up the theoretical framework applied within this book: firstly, the Estonian emigrant community/communities were not homogenous entities but were divided on many issues. This research respects both sides and seeks to understand their individual reasoning. These divergent groups made it easier to find counterparts in other ethnic groups. Secondly, they engaged in international cooperation with other exile groups who shared the same fate and goal of restoring their national sovereignty. The transformative nature of exile explains this paradox, as well as the fact that the shared national goals and international cooperation among those groups did not contradict each other.
This book primarily uses the word ‘emigrant’ or ‘émigré’ to describe the persons and politics of the book. Occasionally, exile and diaspora are used as synonyms. Additionally; although these emigrants were not in a position to be able to return to their home countries, they were no longer refugees but integrated into their local societies. As Estonian emigrants are the primary focus of this book, they are referred to in short as ‘Estonians’; their compatriots back home are referred to as ‘Soviet Estonians’ when a distinction is needed. The same applies to other nationalities as well (for example, Czechs mentioned in the book do not live in Prague but are also part of their respective emigrant community).
In a happy coincidence, during the period of research Arvo Horm, secretary of the Estonian National Council, gave a presentation at the Second Conference on Baltic Studies in Scandinavia in Stockholm in June 1973 on ‘Baltic Foreign-political activities in exile.’ There he summed up the current situation regarding research, archives, and the challenges of the future for emigrants.9 Unfortunately, his following observation on existing research is valid, even today: ‘The surveys published to date are mostly typical “jubilee reports” published on the occasion of an anniversary of the organization concerned.’ Many of these surveys were published in newspapers, but even a bibliography for these surveys was missing. In 1973 there were more than 600 organizations, of which nearly 50 worked internationally. Furthermore, emerging research on Baltic issues since the restoration of Estonian independence chose to focus on other questions, such as Estonian adaptation to Swedish society and not to Baltic foreign activities.10
Among existing literature, Estonians in America 1945–1995. Exiles in a land of promise is an excellent compilation on the history of an ethnic group in the US since World War II. But it also demonstrates the difficulties of writing a history of exiles. The original deadline for submissions was in 1995, but the editing changed hands from Mati Kõiva to Enn Kõiva, to Marju Rink-Abel and finally to Priit Vesilind. Consequently, the book was not published until May 2016. As the foreword emphasizes, it is not a complete representation of Estonians in America but hopefully a starting point for further studies. About 60 pages are dedicated to ‘the political struggle’, but the kaleidoscopic presentation reveals a lack of detailed research. The emphasis is on the late Cold War, and disagreements are not denied. The schism between the political centres in the US and in Sweden (government-in-exile), for example, is specifically mentioned: ‘True co-operation never evolved. It was more of an uneasy truce.’11
Another valuable compilation on the Estonian government-in-exile is Tõotan ustavaks jääda …, edited by Mart Orav and Enn Nõu. It contains plenty of information on individuals, but the sheer size of the book also illustrates the need for a concise presentation of Estonian political organizations in exile. Arti Hilpus’s article on diplomatic activity during the first years in exile has been most useful, but unfortunately it was published in an anthology on the first Soviet occupation and consequently ends quite artificially at the year 1941 (even though Estonia was, by then, occupied by Nazi Germany, diplomacy continued as before). Anne Valmas has compiled two books on publishing in exile, which have significantly assisted this research. Quite a few exile politicians (Warma, Raamot, Pusta, Lattik, Laretei) have written memoirs, but they largely focus on the interwar period and, like historical reviews, ignore political disagreements during the period of exile.
Research on American intelligence organizations and private/public networks has been of considerable help in terms of providing context to the Cold War setting. Research by Frances Stonor Saunders, Richard Aldrich, Walter Hixson, and Hugh Wilford is nowadays considered key literature on American soft power aspirations. On the other hand, they reveal that emigrants were only a fraction of American Cold War information projects. Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes reveals the role of FEC in relation to the intelligence network, and a former officer in Radio Free Europe, A. Ross Johnson, has written a history of his former employer and how US foreign policy decisions were executed in the radio programs. Toby Rider’s Cold War Games is currently the most comprehensive effort to combine research on emigrants (Hungarian National Sports Federation), American front organizations (FEC), and on a general level (United States Olympic Committee). These three aspects were quite detached from each other as early as the late 1950s.12 While nowadays we know more details of American Cold War organizations, this research deals with their outlying parts, how their plans were executed and materialized, and what kind of feedback was sent.
There is also an emerging area of research on exile politics in other East Central European countries. The anthology Inauguration of Political Warfare edited by Katalin Kadar Lynn is the most definitive companion to date, containing information on the developments within parallel groups.13 However, less has been written on international cooperation among exiles. In 1995, the last Secretary General of the ACEN, Feliks Gadomski, wrote ‘a short outline’ of the organization’s history.14 Within scholarly works, Anna Mazurkiewicz has extensively studied various aspects of the ACEN.15
On the subject of the availability of archival sources, the situation has improved since 1973. Horm could most certainly refer to the archives at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, where notable exile politicians such as Kaarel Robert Pusta had donated material. During Horm’s presentations, other exile archives (particularly Estonian) were just about to be established in all of the major Estonian centres: Australia, New Jersey, Toronto and Stockholm.16 The political drift in the Estonian diaspora in Sweden is still represented within the archives, as the activists in the Estonian National Council established the Baltic Archives in 1968 (currently in the Swedish National Archives in Marieberg, Stockholm) and the Estonian National Congress founded the Estonian Cultural Archives in 1970. Since Estonian re-independence in 1991, some of these archives have been donated to Estonia. Most significantly for this research, the material of the organization of the Estonian National Council is now at the Estonian National Library in Tallinn. However, the personal archives of main characters of this book (August Rei, Aleksander Warma, August Koern) are still in Stockholm.
Estonians in the US established an archive in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1975. They successfully collected archives from Estonian parishes, societies and organizations including the important Estonian American National Council and Estonian World Council. The earliest material is not entirely complete: several protocols of meetings are missing and correspondence is virtually non-existent. Information from newspapers fills some gaps but this information is clearly from second-hand sources. Gradually, the facilities in Lakewood became too small and currently most of the material resides in the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The collection of 162 boxes of the ACEN in Minneapolis are the core of this research. Each national delegation has their own section of material which for the Estonians comprises of six folders. The collection is beautifully organized into general activities such as plenary meetings, committee documents, correspondence with foreign Delegations. The collection of the Estonian delegation is hardly enough, although it is a starting point for investigating national involvement in the organization.
Although the collection at the IHRC is fairly complete, there is evidence of the omission of some archive materials. This becomes apparent while studying the correspondence between the ACEN secretary in New York and the Delegation in Stockholm or the representation in Copenhagen: the letters in Minneapolis and in Stockholm are not exactly the same. The chairman of Stockholm Delegation, Aleksander Warma, asked about the archives of the Delegation in spring 1963 and the Deputy Secretary General Edmund Gaspar had: ‘no objections whatsoever to you destroying all the old financial accounts.’ They would still be available in New York.17 But not all the letters are at the IHRC either. Additionally, Warma and his colleague in Copenhagen, August Koern, kept their correspondence among Estonians, which give information about their other local activities.
Most of these documents are in English, which was used in official records for the sake of the American secretariat, and was sometimes even preferred by non-English-speaking nationalities.18 For example, Koern sent press clippings of his achievements in the Danish press. Only after a few years, Secretary General Brutus Coste – a Romanian – finally dared to ask him to include an English summary for them.19 Every effort has been made to keep the correct original spelling for the names. It was one thing to find the actual name, another was the fact that some émigrés had officially westernized their names. Nonetheless, I apologize for any possible misspellings.
The FEC material is located within the RFE/RL Corporate Records at the Hoover Institution Archives. It has some relevant material on Estonians, especially from the early years before the ACEN and, later, as the subsidies to the ACEN ceased. Additionally, the research has relied more on publications about complementary activities in the later period after 1965, such as the Baltic cooperation within the Joint Baltic American National Committees and the Baltic Appeal to the United Nations, instead of their archives. The archives of the Estonian Consulate General in New York, held within the Estonian National Archives, could provide more information about the early years of the CFE, but that research should be combined with studies on Johannes Kaiv’s Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues. Additionally, there is a lot of material for any diligent researcher relating to the practical work and internal relations of the government-in-exile in the Baltic Archives.
Newspapers fill in some gaps from original sources, but their information is filtered. Newspapers were tools used in the political struggle to show their readers the activities of a section of the political elite. Other emigrant groups were ridiculed and the news was written from a subjective perspective. However, this occasionally provided an alternative view of the same event. The most important newspapers were Teataja20 in Sweden and Vaba Eesti Sõna21 in New York and both were working closely with the biggest political organizations: respectively the Estonian National Council and the Estonian National Committee in the United States. Nevertheless, these were independent publications, and not officially affiliated.
Additionally, the monthly illustrated magazine, Meie Tee of the World Association of Estonians (Ülemaailmne Eesti Ühing)22 forms part of the sources for this research – especially for its illustrations. The research also involved browsing through several volumes of other Estonian newspapers such as Välis-Eesti, Eesti Post, Stockholms Tidning Eestlastele, Eesti Päevaleht in Sweden, and Eesti Postimees23 in the US. These have not been used in the research as they did not provide much additional information, although they do offer plenty of differing opinions, which are not uncommon in exile politics.
Thanks to the DEA (Digiteeritud eesti ajalehed)24 the above newspaper material was available remotely, but a few newspapers were not available via the service. Where this was the case, the originals were sourced from the Estonian Literature Museum in Tartu. Rechecking keywords via the digital archives Digar25 was quite useful for studying the annual frequency of keyword hits (see the chapter: Estonians in the Assembly) and finding people, who are mentioned in archival documents only by surname. Although digital tools help research, this research has required going through entire volumes. For example, the ACEN is mentioned in nearly every issue of Vaba Eesti Sõna in the late 1950s and relying on digital sources surpasses the alternatives.
The ACEN produced numerous publications, of which the ACEN News was the most significant (more on these in the chapter: Committee works). The Baltic Free Committees published their own journal, Võitlev Eesti (Fighting Estonia) in the 1950s, but the joint publication Baltic Review lived longer and had also French and Spanish versions. In addition to delivering news on activities, these journals show the emphasis on the Estonian/Baltic issue in the ACEN.
Besides Sweden and the US, emigration after World War II created a considerable Estonian community in Canada. However, Canada was somewhat troublesome for the ACEN, as Canadians did not take kindly to American infiltration on their soil. Consequently, Estonian organizations and discussions in Canada were excluded from this study. This is not due to Canada’s lack of importance in this respect. In fact quite the contrary. It became apparent that Estonians in Canada had their own ideas and actions on international cooperation that were quite separate from those of Estonians in the US. So did Estonians in Sweden, but whereas they contacted the FEC directly and Stockholm had an ACEN Foreign Delegation, Toronto/Montreal/Ottawa did not. Thus, this research holds the position that Estonian and Baltic groups in Canada deserve separate research of their own and the same also applies to Australia.
Horm’s last justification for his presentation in 1973 was to review the path taken in the wake of a change in Baltic foreign policy. He saw a break in the general confrontation of the Cold War and the world seemed to become multipolar. New policies were also needed due to the departure of veterans and their replacement by a younger generation.
Obviously new exile policies, at least for the Baltic peoples, are not needed today. However, international politics has changed dramatically, particularly due to the diminishing role of the nation-state. Political exile was quite common in ancient and medieval times. The religious diasporas in post-reformation Europe experienced the same drifts and radicalization as the political refugees of the 20th century. Exile became more problematic during the era of the nation-state, when ethnic and political units were considered congruent.26 It would be far-fetched to declare a return to the old ways; whilst the present shares certain similarities with the past, the big picture is totally new. Politics has become transnational and it transverses the borders of nation-states. It is not called exile politics any longer, but the phenomenon is the same. International cooperation is vital in the current global environment.
Horm also emphasized the increasing role of China and Western Europe but he was too early predicting the end of the bipolar world. For him, the Cold War was, until the end, a struggle of conflicting world views – and naturally a struggle to liberate his home country. He reasoned that: ‘an analysis of the past activities is an essential prerequisite for the formulation of new policies,’ and this book relies on the same concept of continuity during ruptures. The ultimate aim of this book is to shed light on two aspects: Baltic exile activities in the past and the forgotten nuances of the Cold War. Although the Baltic region had few explicit conflicts during the Cold War, it was an exceptional sphere of infiltration through the Iron Curtain and particularly towards the end, of non-violent protest.27 Bringing forth this forgotten past can hopefully result in a better understanding of the current, complex world.
A King in New York [
‘Kojamees presidendiks.’ Teataja 24.10.1954, 2. Holberg’s fate was reported earlier in The New York Times. ‘Building a New Life.’ The New York Times 10.4.1952, 17.
Raag 2018; 115–184; Heikkilä 2019.
Pennar et al. 1976, 69.
Shain 2005; Shain 2007.
For example, Faist 2010.
Horm 1973. Unfortunately, Horm’s own representation Paguluse kolm aastakümmnet – Tagasi- ja edasivaates (ERN informatsiooni-konverents 14.12.1974) makes same mistakes, as it looks at the Estonian diaspora exclusively from the perspective of the ENC.
For example, Karu – Valk 2000; Karu-Kletter – Valk 2005; Kõll 2016; Raag 1999/2018.
Estonians in America 2016, 64–123, especially 67.
Hixson 1997; Stonor Saunders 1999; Aldrich 2002, Scott-Smith 2003; Richmond 2008; Wilford 2008; Johnson 2010; Rider 2016.
Zaķe 2009; Kadar Lynn 2013; van Dongen et al. 2014; Stöcker 2018.
For example, Mazurkiewicz 2009; Mazurkiewicz 2012; Mazurkiewicz 2021.
Noorhani 2006; Heikkilä 2019.
IHRCA 246.57.2. Warma to Gaspar 7.3.1963; Gaspar to Warma 15.3.1963.
For example, IHRCA 246.57.1. Korbonski to Patek 4.12.1958.
IHRCA 246.93.1. Coste to Koern 11.10.1961. Also, IHRCA 246.27.1. Coste to Lapadatu 4.4.1958.
Valmas 2003, 32–35.
Valmas 2003, 111–112; Estonians in America 2016, 472–473.
Valmas 2003, 110.
Valmas 2003, 35–38, 113.
Digiteeritud Eesti ajalehed [
Digital Archives [
For example, Shaw 2000; Janssen 2012.
Hiden et al. 2008; Mertelsmann – Piirimäe 2012.