Ülo Vooglaid

Ülo Vooglaid


Ülo Vooglaid was born in Tallinn on August 29, 1935.

In 1949-1953, he studied pedagogy at the Haapsalu Pedagogical School (Haapsalu Teachers’ Seminar 1945-1950), from where he was sent to work as a teacher in an orphanage in Tilsi.

In 1954-1960, Ülo Vooglaid studied at Tartu State University (TSU), where he graduated from the Law Department. The future picture of Vooglaid’s world began to be formulated in the university teaching environment, where his views were influenced by Yuri Lotman, head of the Department of Russian Literature; Mikhail Makarov, head of the Department of Philosophy; Professor Rem Blum; Heino Liimets, head of the Department of Pedagogy, journalism lecturer Juhan Peegel; and Mikhail Bronstein, head of the Department of Political Economy. Teaching at TSU in those years differed in many respects from the usual Soviet norm. Thus, political economy at the university was essentially a social science, with the unwritten slogan of “Students should interpret reality in the way that it really is. Ideology should be known, but it should not be a hindrance to interpreting reality.”

A most memorable statement, which Ülo Vooglaid likes to repeat to his students to this day, was once made by Konstantin Ramul, a professor in the TSU Department of Psychology, “The stupidity of a student can be limitless and endless. But this should not irritate the teacher! The teacher should not stoop to the student’s level. The student’s task is to rise to the level of the teacher and get around him!”

In 1963-1965, Ülo Vooglaid was a journalist for the newspaper Edasi (Forward). Thanks to Ülo and his colleagues, Edasi became the largest regional and city newspaper in Estonia (today it is Postimees); the texts it published differed from the norms of that time in their courage, creativity, and way of thinking. For the hard-core Soviet times, this was very bold, and the achievement was outstanding.

In 1970, Ülo Vooglaid defended his dissertation in philosophy (today it corresponds to a Ph.D.). The defense was held before the Council of the Institute of Social Research of the USSR, the dissertation title was “Experience of studying the sociological and socio-psychological structure of readers of city and district newspapers.” The conclusion made from monitoring the readership was original and extremely thorough at that time. After defending his thesis, Vooglaid became one of the leading researchers of mass communications in the USSR.

In 1965-1975, he was a teacher at TSU, as well as the founder and scientific director of the TSU Sociology Laboratory. Under the conditions of the USSR, the laboratory was an exceptional entity that supported itself independently. Ülo Vooglaid was the first in Estonia and one of the first in the USSR to start sociological research in three areas:

  • • Job satisfaction and exploration of the work-supporting environment;
  • • Studying the patterns for disseminating information presented to the readership in newspapers and other mass media;
  • • Studying way of life, lifestyle, and structure of consumption.

Over the past few years, the Sociology Laboratory has become famous for its research and activities, a general attitude and way of thinking shared by many intellectuals, including journalists and economists, as well as some government officials.

In 1975, Ülo Vooglaid was dismissed from TSU and expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Unio (CPSU). The laboratory was closed, and its employees scattered all over Estonia. However, it became clear that it is almost impossible to keep such a multitude of free thinkers under control.

In 1975-1977, under the leadership of Jüri Kraft at the Center for Scientific Organization of Labor and Management of the Ministry of Light Industry of the Estonian SSR, Ülo Vooglaid participated in creating a curriculum aimed at improving the professional skills of light industry managers. The first systematic management training was hidden under this clumsy name, and people came to see it firsthand from all over, including from the United States. Later, this organization was called “Mainor.” The core of the People´s Front (Rahvarinne in Estonian) gathered there – Edgar Savisaar, Jaak Tamm, Hardo Aasmäe, Liina Tõnisson, Jaak Leimann, and others.

In 1977-1986, Ülo Vooglaid taught and conducted research at the Intersectoral Institute for Advanced Training of Managers and Specialists of the National Economy of the Estonian SSR. Almost all senior and mid-level managers of economic enterprises in Estonia at that time passed through this institute as trainees, and a system of professional development in occupational training was created.

The intellectual level achieved by the business leaders was one of the cornerstones in the history of events that culminated in the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991.
In 1986-1989, during the years of the Singing Revolution, Ülo Vooglaid participated in the creation and was the head of the Pirgu Development Center. The institution’s main task was to develop scenarios for improving horizontal and vertical regulation and self-regulation of Estonia. The overarching task was: “Awaken the consciousness of the people.”
In 1989, Ülo Vooglaid was elected a delegate to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR and eventually became a member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. At the same time, he was head of the Research Center of the Central Council of Trade Unions of the Estonian SSR (1989-1991).

Ülo Vooglaid was one of the people who entered into negotiations with the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev over the Estonian SSR’s withdrawal from the Soviet Union. He was among the ones who explained the systemic errors and substantiated the inevitability of the collapse of the USSR in conversations with President Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1991, Ülo Vooglaid was Advisor to the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Republic Arnold Rüütel, then he was the head of the Science Department of the Government of the Estonian SSR, head of the Government Department of AntiPropaganda, as well as a member of the Constitutional Assembly and the Congress of Estonia.

Ülo Vooglaid was a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia (Riigikogu) of the VII, VIII, and X convocations. In 2004, as the oldest member of parliament, he voluntarily renounced the mandate with the words, “The cup of my patience is overflowing, because all my recommendations are broken against the wall of incomprehension.”

Since 1996, Ülo Vooglaid has been a professor at the University of Tartu Law Institute (now the University of Tartu Tallinn Branch of the Department of Law), and since 2000 he is professor emeritus at the University of Tartu. His research topics included social communication; theory of organization and management; social management and self-regulation mechanisms; theory and practice of innovation, scientific methodology, and adult education; and theory and philosophy of education.

He has also served as Chairman of the National Library Board and Chairman of the National Library Scientific Board; member of the Peoples Front organizing committee and political commission. He was co-founder and board member of the ANDRAS Society of Adult Education Teachers and the Arno Tali Foundation for Rural Youth Development Trust; co-founder of the Estonian Open Foundation, the Estonian European Movement, and the Toompea Educational Seminary; co-founder, President, and Vice President of the Estonian Club of Rome; Honorary member of the Estonian Society for Nature Conservation, the Estonian Association of Management Consultants, the Council of Islands, and the Estonian Union of Journalists; founder and Chairman of the Council of the Ülo Vooglaid Inheritage Trust.

Since leaving Parliament, Ülo Vooglaid has focused on science and active social actions in Estonia and abroad. In particular, he prepared a number of articles as a co-author of Think Camp, a chamber of thinkers and leaders founded in Ukraine, and made several speeches to prominent Ukrainian economic, political, and cultural figures. The Ukrainian intelligentsia, concerned about the future of their state, has repeatedly invited him to hold seminars on training generalists, improving the education system, the theory of innovation, etc.

People who are personally acquainted with Ülo know him as having a sharp mind and open to communication; as a bright, unforgettable personality. Ülo likes to spend time on his farm in Raplamaa, near Kohila in Loone. The farm has a blacksmith shop, a carpenter’s shop, a stable, a chicken coop, a sheepfold, an apple and plum orchard, a quince plantation, and an amphitheater-like outdoor auditorium at the Lohu springs. The farm also includes a house for holding seminars, where the author of these lines first met with Ülo in 1997. At the end of June 2018, a 5-day seminar on Vooglaid’s farm marked the beginning of this book.

Those who know Ülo personally note his excellent sense of humor. As examples, participants from the TSU Sociology Laboratory seminars recall various cases from the past. Known as “Meetings in Kääriku”, these seminars in 1966-1969 became legendary among Soviet sociologists who studied the patterns of mass communication. Representatives of different cultures got acquainted with Estonian sauna traditions, among other things. At first, the guests from Georgia did not want to join the others and did not dare to go in the steam room, let alone swim in the ice hole. When they finally completed the full Estonian ritual, they were sure that no one would believe them at home. On the last day of the seminar, Ülo Vooglaid publicly presented the Georgians with certificates sealed with the signatures of several professors (among whom were V.A. Yadov, Y.A. Levada, L.N. Stolovich, R.N. Blum), certifying that the southerners visited the 100-degree heat of an Estonian sauna, ran through the 22-degree frost to an ice hole, and, after bathing in it, they returned back to the 100-degree heat. And so on, with short breaks, for a total of ten times.

Ülo has been interested in sailing since childhood. He won several championship titles in the “Dragon” class and in the “M” class. In addition, he was repeatedly the Tartu Championship winner; participated in sailing team meets between the national teams of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Leningrad; and also represented Estonia at the USSR Championship in Sevastopol.

The first Muhuväin regatta took place in 1958 on the Tallinn-Pärnu route. In those days, it was impossible to dream of going on a yacht in the border zone – it was not even open to discussion. It was Ülo Vooglaid who had the idea of organizing the regatta, and he also managed to get the KGB and border guards to agree to it. The yacht “Brigitta” and its 6-person crew, including Ülo, under the leadership of Captain Arnold Irak, won a memorable victory in that very first regatta.

When we took a picture for the cover of this book on a windless October morning in 2018, Ülo admitted that in his entire adult life, he had not been sailing for only a few years.

Vooglaid is still actively involved in public life. There are few among the political decision-makers in Estonia who do not receive letters from Ülo. Unfortunately, most of these letters remained unanswered, for various reasons. We hope that in the course of reading this book, they will have a desire to reread the messages, as they will undoubtedly become much clearer now.

Citizens can change society for the better, but in order to be able to behave like a citizen and act like a citizen, you need to make an effort.

Student of Ülo Vooglaid

Ülo Vooglaid