European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Spontaneous Finnish Humanitarian Aid as Catalyst for Independent Estonia: From a Personal Touch to the Success of a Nation

Project description

Finnish humanitarian aid during the Estonian re-independence period

During the last years of the Soviet occupation, when the economic situation was especially grim, Estonians began to benefit from an informal grassroot-level humanitarian effort organised by the Finnish people. Food, clothes, medicine, toys, and technology penetrated the Iron Curtain. Not only did this provide relief, but it also gave Estonians a taste of freedom, helped kindle pro-independence movements, and gave the soon to be re-independent nation a great starting position. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the Fin-Est Connection project aims to combine oral history, anthropological fieldwork, archival research, and quantitative analysis to uncover this untold story. Moreover, it will explore how mutual aid shaped the historical relationship between these two neighbouring countries.


The last five years of Soviet rule marked by perestroika and glasnost enabled Estonians not only to communicate their dissent but also to build relationships with people on the other side of the Iron curtain. One of the first types of contacts to start popping up were those with neighboring Finns. Spontaneous unofficial person-to-person networks sprung into action delivering clothes, medicine, technology, toys and food to Estonia. This gave Estonians a “taste of freedom”: It not only helped to kindle the fire of pro-independence movements but also provided a great starting position for the budding country and might account for some of the surprising success it has had during subsequent decades, especially when compared with other post-Soviet states.

Finnish humanitarian aid to Estonians during the re-independence era is among some of the most basic narratives in Estonia, but there is hardly anything researched or written about it. More than thirty years have passed since the first contact was made and some of the women and men in the front lines of this “diplomacy of the people” have begun to fade away, leaving this gap in historiography in a very perilous position, which requires urgent attention.

My mixed-methods research will encompass oral history, anthropological fieldwork, archival research and quantitative analysis to unearth this untold story in order to understand the role of spontaneous humanitarian aid from Finns to Estonians had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The results of this international and multidisciplinary project will have the discursive power to create a reinterpretation of European Cold War history by bringing out hidden, silenced or under-researched networks and relationships between citizens on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The results may have a wider societal impact by providing good practices and learned lessons relevant for meeting the EU goals of cohesive development within the EU and its neighbouring regions in peace and war.


Net EU contribution
€ 215 534,40
40100 Jyvaskyla

See on map

Manner-Suomi Länsi-Suomi Keski-Suomi
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
No data

Partners (1)