Merle Karusoo

Merle Karusoo

Who am I

"Who Am I” is an integration project developed for the integration of the minority youth (mostly Russian-speaking) into the Estonian society. The national composition of the populations of the former republics of the Soviet Union is a result of a process differing significantly from the European immigration phenomena. The objective of the Soviet integration policy was to develop a Soviet nation, an aim achieved via forced relocations of people, heavy concentration of labour force on huge building sites (the so-called Socialist shock sites), forced appointment of specialists with higher education to posts outside their home republic, etc. By today, this population policy has resulted in separatist minority groups whose normal integration into society they live in is quite difficult and costly. Different communities have minimum contact. Similarities on this level can be found within the European Union: various national groups live, isolated from the native inhabitants, in closed communities with no need to speak or even know the state language or take part in the local culture. Drug abuse, HIV and juvenile delinquency are wide-spread in youth gangs of mixed nationalities, and these result sooner or later in conflicts between national groups. Different cultural backgrounds lead to illegal conduct, which, in turn, causes the immigration policy to become more severe.


We see the problem in the fact that newcomers have never been offered a proper possibility  to introduce themselves. They have been and are required to integrate, not to confirm their identity. And identity crisis is one of the significant factors in risk behaviour. My thesis is that self-knowledge and interest taken in newcomers by native population would help to integrate. The aim is to base integration process on natural grounds. On the same basis we have helped young European theatre directors of different experience of history (father and grandfathers on different sides in WW II) in their integration with each other (Vienna, 2002). On the same basis we have cooperated with people from different European countries working with children's risk groups (Estonia, 2003). On the same basis we have worked with the teachers and instructors of Estonian schools in advanced training courses.


On the same basis we have created several theatre productions: Autumn 1944, Moero (both 1997), Waggoners (1999), Save Our Souls (2000) about prisoners doing time for murder; Born in Estonia (2003) about orphanage children with their own participation; Orphanage Nr 6, a commission of the Vienna festival (2004) – about children from Vienna who ended up in a Russian orphanage after the Austrian Civil War in 1934 and Missionaries  about Estonian soldiers with Soviet Union troops in Afghanistan 1979–1989.


Merle Karusoo is Estonian playwright and stage director, the founder and main practitioner of biographical or memory theatre or, as she herself referres to her work – sociological theatre. Over a period of more than 30 years, Karusoo’s productions have theatrically mapped an extensive share of Estonia’s life narrative and historical memory-scapes. Based on various life narratives, her productions emerged within the framework of the more general process of restoration of historical heritage and the rehabilitation of collective memory at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Currently a stage director at the Estonian Drama Theatre, Karusoo has also worked as a stage director of Estonian Youth Theatre and taught at Estonian Music and Theatre Academy, Tallinn University and Viljandi Culture Academy. In 1987 Karusoo founded a memory unit at Pirgu Development Center, one of the first initiatives in collecting life stories.

In late 1980s, productions based on life stories of the generations born in 1950s and 1960s, Our Biographies (Meie elulood) and Full Rooms (Kui ruumid on täis ...) both in 1982, focused on the processes of self-conception and - reflection of young persons struck an especially poweful cord in the context of the Soviet regime that exerted firm ideological control over the private lives of its citizens. Productions of late 1980’s, based on the diaries and/or letters of women--The Report (Aruanne, 1987) and The Parents of Sick Children (Haigete laste vanemad, 1988) reflected upon the loss of the voice and the theme of historical conformism and fear brought about by the violent and hypocritical nature of the Soviet society. Work on the “destiny years” of the Estonian nation includes life stories focusing on failed emigration to the West and the life experience of those executing the orders of the Soviet authorities during the 1949 deportations: Snows of Sorrow (Kured läinud, kurjad ilmad), Autumn 1944 (Sügis 1944), both in 1997 and Waggoners (Küüdipoisid, 1999). The year 2000, (bilingual Save Our Souls) marks the emergence of the theme of ethnic minorities in Estonia in Karusoo’s work. In 2006 she staged generation monologues Today We Will Not Play (Täna me ei mängi) and Essay 2005 (Küpsuskirjand 2005) that make visible how the semantic space of “us” and the phenomenon of “returning” the life stories to the people.

We, the life Writers

We. the Life Wrtiers