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Temira Pachmuss to receive medal of honor from Republic of Estonia

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
(217) 333-2177;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Illinois has won a medal of honor from the Republic of Estonia for her meritorious contributions to that nation.

Temira Pachmuss will receive the Medal of the Order of the White Star on March 30 in ceremonies at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Three others have been selected to receive the medal, which will be presented by the Estonian ambassador on behalf of Lennart Meri, the president of Estonia.

The medal recognizes outstanding accomplishments in civil service or local government work in Estonia, as well as outstanding services by foreigners to Estonia. The order was instituted in 1936 to commemorate the Estonian people’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union.

Pachmuss, who was born in Vask-Narva, Estonia, and educated in Germany, Australia and the United States, has written or edited 28 books, most of them devoted to the work of Russian writers who fled the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and took up residency all over the world, including in Estonia. She is widely recognized for her pioneering work on Zinaida Hippius, an influential Russian female poet of pre-World War I Russia. In addition to translating a selection of short stories by Hippius, Pachmuss also wrote a biography of the poet and edited a collection of her letters.

Pachmuss’ work on Estonian literature includes a book titled "Russian Literature in the Baltic Between the World Wars" and 16 book chapters and essays. She has done research in Estonian archives and libraries with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Fulbright Program.

Pachmuss is included in the "Estonian Encyclopedia of Scholars" and the "Dictionary of Estonian Scholars," and is a member of the Estonian Learned Society in the United States.

"I have been very very happy to do this work for Estonia, because it is a great country and because it fought courageously against the Soviet Union," Pachmuss said.

Pachmuss is writing a biography of Hippius in Russian and editing another volume, also in Russian, of Hippius’ correspondence. She also is writing a book in English on the Baroness Varvara von Ykskühl, "one of the most influential figures in the cultural life of St. Petersburg at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries."

Pachmuss joined the UI in the summer of 1960. She has taught at the universities of Washington, Michigan and Colorado.

She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and her doctorate degree in Slavic languages and literatures from the University of Washington.

Pachmuss said she was "very much surprised" to learn she had been selected to receive the medal. A colleague discovered her name on an Estonian Web site that announced the medal winners. Pachmuss then received a phone call of congratulations from the Estonian Embassy and a letter from Meri.

"It is a great honor for me to receive the medal," Pachmuss said. "I left Estonia as a child, but they still remember me and value my work. I am very grateful for their recognition of my accomplishments."