The Suffocating Loyalty

Helga Merits (Independent Researcher, Filmmaker)

When the people of the Baltic Countries had to flee in the autumn of 1944, there was little they could take with them, only a few items to remind them of the homeland they had left. But there were the songs, the traditions, the stories and most of all—the language.

The building up of a new life in countries unknown to them was in almost all cases very hard. Parents tried to give their children the best possibilities, tried to make life easy for them, but there was one important thing the parents wanted in return: the children had to participate in Estonian (or Latvian or Lithuanian) activities.

Puberty was only possible within restrictions: remaining loyal to the homeland. Even this was not simple, there was a split between those who were sending parcels to the homeland and those who were not; those who decided to travel at an early stage and those who thought one had to be a communist to do that.

The second generation is getting older. According to my experiences, they still carry a lot of stories with them, which are not yet being told, simply because they do not fit within the bigger narrative of the communities, whether it is Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian, which is about how well everyone has done. Especially because these communities have done so well, I think it is now time to open up some of the hidden boxes of untold stories and see what is there, besides the scouts and Sunday school, the singing and dancing.

In my presentation, I share some examples of the pain of the second generation. It is going to be part of a larger research into the second generation. It is about the missing data, it is about the silence and the feelings of not being understood and the fear of being weak, while the parents had been so strong.

The research into the pain of the second generation in no way diminishes the astonishing results the refugees and their children have been able to achieve. It does not take away all the resilience of these generations. In my view, it would underline how well most people did, despite the pain of the first generation, which was more often than not handed over to the second generation.