Supervisor: emer. prof Jaak Kangilaski
Opponent: dots. Pertti Grönholm (Turu Ülikool)
Like the whole history of Estonia, the national art history was also rewritten after the Second World War according to Marxist principles. The Estonian art historians faced the question: how to write history using the Marxist paradigm?
From 1918 to 1940, the Estonian art history writing had been shaped by Estonian art historians under the guidance of Scandinavian historians. Historical research was based on German history writing, archive sources and listing of architectural monuments for heritage protection purposes. When writing general art history, German, Russian, later also French and other materials were used, which caused translation and presentation problems. Attempts were made to treat the stylistic history of Estonian art in the context of European art.
After the annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940, the development of national culture was interrupted by the Sovietisation process. In the Soviet cultural model, history writing had to serve a political aim. The Marxist image of history had to comply with the entrenched positions of Soviet historiography. The new historical narrative meant reappraisal of the past of the national culture, the background to which was supposed to be social history with political revolutions. The process of reappraisal and rewriting of Estonian history, prescribed by the policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, depended on the shifts in cultural policy, opportunist relations, censorship, etc.
Following of Marxist truths also became mandatory for Voldemar Vaga, Art History Professor at Tartu State University, who, before the war, had worked at the art history library at the University of Tartu. Being known as a researcher rather than an interpreter of history in previous years, V. Vaga had followed the style-historical treatment in writing the national art history.
Continuation of research after the war, in the conditions of compulsory adaptation to Marxist history writing, presumed solving the conflict between the two opposing treatments of history. The question about methodological shortcomings in V. Vaga's academic research reflects the problems of Estonian art history writing when forced to become adapted to Marxism-Leninism.
In the years of Stalin's personality cult, Professor V. Vaga was included in the team led by Professor H. Kruus to write the history Estonia as part of the research activities of the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR. He also continued writing on art history, working until the late 1980s for two centres of historical research - the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR and the Department of History of the USSR at Tartu State University. Based on his research papers written in the Soviet period, it is possible to follow the entrenchment of the Marxist approach in Estonian art history writing. Under ideological pressure, Professor V. Vaga had to make compromises in different political periods in both his administrative duties and art history writing.
After the repressions in the years of Stalin's personality cult and experiencing the far-reaching consequences of Sovietisation, Voldemar Vaga continued conservative art history writing with a national undertone, considering his most important task to fill the gaps in the history of Estonian art. In his writings from the 1960s-1980s the history writer's (art) historical truth remained style-historical truth, which was isolated into his speciality, although formally related to Marxist ideology.
Overcoming the conflict between the Marxist and style-historical approaches in Professor V. Vaga's academic research lasted for a several decades. Along with becoming accustomed to the dictate of the Marxist historical narrative, the researcher was also forced to become socially adjusted to the Soviet environment.
History writing is the result of social processes. Resolution of the conflict between style-historical and Marxist approaches in art history writing in the Soviet period exemplifies a case of actualisation of the Estonian national-conservative art awareness in the second half of the 20th century.