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Tibla (plural: tiblad) is an ethnic slur in the Estonian language, which refers to a Russian or a Soviet.[1][2]


There are several hypotheses about the origin of the word.

Estonian journalist Voldemar Kures in the 1962 Väliseestlase kalender ("Calendar for Estonians Abroad" / lit. "An Expat Estonian's Calendar") suggests, that the word comes from the name of the Vitebsk Governorate, in reference to Russian builders during World War I, who mostly came to Estonia from Vitebsk and were considered rather dumb. They were called "tipski" (a corruption of Vitebski - "one of Vitebsk"; tipskid in plural), which later became "tibla".[3]

Another version is the corruption of Viteblyane/Vitiblyane (Витебляне) — "people of Vitebsk" or "people from Vitebsk". The 1937 Eesti Entsüklopeedia (Estonian Encyclopedia) is also believed to have such a reference.[4]

"Tibla" was already in widespread use during the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), as documented by then-current war correspondence between officers and higher-ups. At the time, the word was used to denote Russians (more specifically males and soldiers), independent of their affiliation during the concurrent Russian Civil War.[5]

The 1936–1937 war memories journal Vabadussõja lood ("Stories of the War of Independence") featured the word more widely both in soldiers' recollections,[6] war songs and anecdotes.[7] Of the soldier's songs, two used the titular word in their lyrics: "Wabariigi pealinnas" (eng. "In the Capital City of the Republic", alternately titled "Linda"; the former title was used in print, and the latter appeared in folklore[8]), which indicated the worry of Estonian soldiers that young women would choose to bide their time with men of other nationalities during the absence of Estonian men themselves; and "Tibla seltsimees" (eng. lit. "The Comrade of a Tibla").[9]

Another hypothesis is that the word comes from the Russian profane addressing "ty, blyad", "ты, блядь" ("you bitch", and the like[10]) or, truncated, "ty, blya", "ты, бля".[11]

Modern definition[edit]

The Estonian Press Council offers an opinion that the term tibla is mostly applied to a Homo Sovieticus kind of person: lacking culture, uneducated, with imperialist worldview; one who does not respect the host country's language, culture, and its native inhabitants.[12]

"Tibla" was a censored word during the period of Soviet occupation of Estonia.[8]

The word began to be actively used in Estonian media since the 1990s by "Ivan Orav", a fictional character created by Andrus Kivirähk. According to "Orav", the word "tibla" has nothing to do with Russians, but that "tiblas" are instead small pink creatures that first appeared in Estonia in June 1940.[13]

The 2006 European Network Against Racism report mentions the recent use of the word tibla in Estonian-language media as an example of inappropriate language.[14]


In 2002, the Estonian Press Council settled the case when the newspaper Eesti Päevaleht printed an advertisement: "Don’t you read the Päevaleht? You must be a tibla then. Be a true Estonian and become the reader."[12]

In 2008 the usage of the word in media caused a controversy, when Estonian TV aired the film Airheads, in which the slur "retards" was translated as "tibla" (a completely different meaning). When confronted, the translator, a well-known linguist, apologised, saying that she was careless.[15]


  1. ^ Roos, Aarand (1994). Words for understanding ethnic Estonians. Kommunaalprojekt. p. 49. 
  2. ^ "Tibla", Estonian Vocabulary (Eesti õigekeelsussõnaraamat ÕS 2006), Institute of the Estonian Language
  3. ^ Estam, Jüri (2003-02-13). "Jüri Estam: Tibla, neeger ja juut". Eesti Päevaleht (in Estonian). Eesti Päevalehe AS. Retrieved 14 December 2010. 
  4. ^ Tobi, Uku-Ralf (2000-08-25). "Minu päevik 2000: 19. august" [My Diary 2000: 19. August] (Encoding ISO-8859-1). varamu (in Estonian). Sirp. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  5. ^ Kröönström, Mati (2008-02-20), "Kuperjanovi partisanide väeosa ja selle juhid Vabadussõjas" [The Kuperjanov Partisans Troop and its Leaders in the Estonian War of Independence] (PDF, 3.79 MiB), Tuna (in Estonian), Eesti Arhivaaride Ühing, 1/2008, p. 68, retrieved 2012-12-09 
  6. ^ Oskar Mänd, ed. (April 1937). "Vabadussõja lood" [Stories of the War of Independence] (PDF, 28.78 MiB) (in Estonian). 1937-7. Oskar Mänd, B. Ingel (PDF via Digar): 205, 212 (p. 15, 22 in PDF). Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  7. ^ Oskar Mänd, ed. (June 1937). "Lõbusaid lugusid: Piinlik lugu" [Funny Stories: Embarrassing Story] (PDF, 25 MiB). Vabadussõja lood (in Estonian). Oskar Mänd, B. Ingel (PDF via Digar). 1937-09: 279 (p. 29 in PDF). Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  8. ^ a b Kulasalu, Kaisa (2013), "Ropp ja riigivastane: rahvaluulekogude tsenseerimisest Eestis hilisstalinismi perioodil" [Profane and anti-state: On censoring of folklore collections during the period of late stalinism] (PDF, 6.4 Mb), Master's Degree thesis (in Estonian), University of Tartu, pp. 59, 61, retrieved 2015-12-08 
  9. ^ Oskar Mänd, ed. (March 1937). "Vabadussõjaaegseid laule" [Songs from the time of the War of Independence] (PDF, 27.5 Mb). Vabadussõja lood (in Estonian). Oskar Mänd, B. Ingel (PDF via Digar). 1937-03: 185 (p. 27 in PDF). Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  10. ^ Note: While the word blyad literally means "slut", "bitch", and "whore", then in this context it's used as a non-personal interjection; especially its truncated form 'blya', which is never used in its literal meaning of "whore".
  11. ^ Laineste, Liisi Dysphemisms on the Estonian Internet (+[1]). — Mäetagused. Hüperajakiri ("hyperjournal"), No. 38, 2008. — pp. 7-32. (Estonian)
  12. ^ a b "Sixth Periodic Report" on the Implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Submitted by the Republic of Estonia under Article 9 of the Convention", 2004
  13. ^ Tiblad are small and pink, epl
  14. ^ "Racism in Estonia", ENAR Shadow Report
  15. ^ Shmelev, M. Strange accent of the local translation." Daily Vesti, 16.09.2008; the reference taken from "Racism in Estonia", ENAR Shadow Report 2008