Martti Veldi (Estonian University of Life Sciences);
Simon Bell (Estonian University of Life Sciences)

A Landscape of Lies: Soviet Maps in Estonia

Maps have long been used as a means of defining borders, recording land ownership, resources, estimating tax-gathering potential and for defensive purposes. Many national mapping agencies originated as arms of the military. When a new regime takes over a country it may decide to prepare its own set of maps – not least for defensive purposes – and to restrict who has access to these maps. When the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States in 1945 – and these became front-line areas during the Cold War, with large areas devoted to military installations and border zones – a whole new set of maps were created. We took a sample of maps of Estonia from the inter-war years and from the period of political and military occupation from 1945-1991 for study and comparison. The Soviet army maps became freely available in the post-Soviet period and studying them and comparing them with the older maps reveals the way the land was perceived. Military maps were produced using different projections and scales, especially regarding the topography and other features relevant for military operations. The maps included deliberate mistakes and if publicly available they contained many blank spaces to hide sensitive areas and to pretend they did not exist. The use of language – converting names and symbols into Russian, for example, also indicates a takeover of the land since the new masters were from Russia. We also found that maps played a key role in planning future landscapes – kolkhoz maps showed extensive drainage systems, new roads and settlements, which often existed on paper but were never realised. Furthermore, we came across maps with ambitious plans for the future – amalgamations of smaller kolkhozes for example, with time horizons of several decades. The maps reveal an ideological landscape superimposed on the older traditional one.

Full-text available here: DOI: 10.1051/SHSCONF/20196308002