Estonian photographer Birgit Püve: “We are a part of both worlds”

Birgit Püve of Beyond 91’s Team Belarus

Photographer and photo artist Birgit Püve (38) hails from Elva, a little town in Southern Estonia, but lives in Tallin. She studied social sciences and worked as a photo editor for an Estonian newspaper before starting as a freelance photographer. Together with Belarusian journalist Katerina Barushka she forms Beyond 91’s Team Belarus. The two are reporting on being transgender in a country where standards of democracy are consistently degraded by an authoritarian regime.

Read more about Birgit’s memories of Perestroika and why she wanted to become part of Beyond 91.

Which subjects and issues are you the most interested in?

In my previous personal projects I have dealt a lot with subjects like memory and past. So being part of Beyond 91 is kind of an expansion of these topics.

Do you have any precise memories of Perestroïka? What was it like?

I went to first grade at school when Perestroika started in Estonia. There were limited coupons that were distributed for the people to buy food, washing powder, even soap… It’s hard to think of these times like they really existed, as they have completely vanished into the deepest drawers in our heads and the world around us differs so drastically now.

Later, when I was doing sports, I remember the overflowing feeling of happiness when I got my first Adidas shoes. There was a summer fair in my little home town in Southern Estonia and that fair was like a breath of Western air.

What makes the “Perestroïka generation” so special?

I do hope that we can perhaps appreciate good things more — in society and in life generally. Because we hold memories of the time when nothing was taken for granted. We are somewhere in between, but being part of both worlds, the past and the future, gives us the opportunity to have the advantages of both.

Do you ever have nostalgic feelings towards the communist period in Eastern Europe?

I certainly don’t have nostalgic feelings towards the communist period. I have really nice memories of my childhood, all these tales and games we made up — but that seems to have no connection to the political conditions of that time.

What do you think the Western media get wrong when reporting about the former communist East?

Western media is sometimes idealizing and simplifying the communist past of the region. The relicts of that time are not romantic or beautiful. The lives of the people were affected by the political system constantly and every day. My father was born in Siberia because his family was deported to Russia, where he spent his first three years. He has a Russian name, although he is an Estonian. One of my friends hadn’t seen her father until she was 27, when she went to look for him in Armenia. Her father was an Armenian who was sent to serve in the Estonian army during the Soviet times.

Why did you want to become part of Beyond 91?

The subjects I have been interested in in my art work before are directly connected to the topics Beyond 91 is dealing with. It’s a beautiful continuation. And I hope to learn more about the region.

If you would have to describe Eastern Europe today in three words — what would they be?

It’s hard to pick up three words that would describe the whole region of seven different countries. That’s quite an impossible task, but I try: special, mystic, multilayer.

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