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Aleksanteri Conference
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Individual Biographies in the Cold War

The panel discusses the significance of the political atmosphere of the Cold War and the WWII in the oral remembrance cultures and in biographical novels. The panel applies perspectives of cultural research and oral history research.
Dr. Tiiu Jaago and Dr. Ene Kõresaar, University of Tartu: Mapping the Cold War effects in Estonian remembrance cultures.

In their joint paper Jaago and Kõresaar are discussing the effects of the WWII on the contemporary narrative remembrance cultures in Estonia. Ene Kõresaar discusses the effects of the Cold War in conception of the self among the war veterans of the WWII. Tiiu Jaago discusses the effects of the WWII on the contemporary autobiographical narration in Estonia.
Dr. Mari Ristolainen, Karelian Institute, University of Joensuu: Toivo Vähä - Ivan Petrov: "The last man standing on the far side of the world"

This paper examines the memoirs of an indisputable Cold War figure Toivo Vähä (aka Ivan Mikhailovich Petrov). Toivo Vähä (1901-1984) was a so-called 'Red Finn' who escaped to Russia after the Finnish Civil War in 1918. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Military Academy and made a career as a KGB officer. Even in today’s Russia Toivo Vähä is celebrated for his heroic actions in the Operation 'Trust' that lead to the caption of the 'Ace of Spies' Sidney Reilly in 1925. However, after the successful KGB operations Toivo Vähä was imprisoned for his 'foreign origins' and was freed only when he agreed to go to the front to fight against his former homeland. After the WWII, Toivo Vähä worked as a border guard all over the cold and warm borders of the Soviet Union. His final post was in the Karelian Republic, where he yet again guarded the border of his former homeland. After his retirement Toivo Vähä became a writer. In 1981 the last collection of his writings called "Moi granitsy" was published, where Vähä sums up his intriguing life and takes the reader to a journey through the Cold War era from the perspective of a border guard. This paper focuses on the rhetoric of the 'other side' in Vähä's writings. How does he place himself on the borders of the Cold War? What made him consider himself as "the last man standing on the far side of the world"?

Dr. Tuulikki Kurki, Karelian Institute, University of Joensuu: One life and two perspectives separated by the border: the case of Taisto Huuskonen
Finnish steel worker Taisto Huuskonen (1920–1990) and his wife Enni crossed illegally the national border between Finland and Soviet Union in 1949. The couple wanted to start a new life in Soviet Union. They were caught by the border guards, accused of being spies and put in Soviet working camps for two years. Later the couple settled in Soviet Karelia and Huuskonen started his career as a writer. His biographical war novel "Teräsmyrsky Kannaksella" (1970) received positive attention and Huuskonen was accepted in the Soviet Writers’ Union in 1975. However, already in 1976 he and Enni decided to move back to Finland. Four years later Huuskonen published an autobiography "Laps’ Suomen" which discussed very critically life in Soviet Union. The book received attention in Finnish newspapers and critical commentary in Soviet Karelia.

The paper discusses the two biographical books of Huuskonen and asks what significance the crossing of the national border had in Huuskonen’s life and how it changed his perspective as a writer. How the novels were publically discussed in Soviet Karelia and in Finland? In the Huuskonen’s case the national border seemed nearly impossible to cross, and crossing it meant dramatic changes in the writers’ perspective, position as well as in the public reception of the novels.

Thursday 29 October 14.15-16.15 Session 2