Festivalide funktsioon kodu- ja eksiileesti kultuurisuhtluse kujunemisloos / Role of cultural festivals in the development of cultural relations between the Estonian homeland and diaspora

Triinu Ojamaa

Abstract


Seose säilitamine päritolumaa ja -kultuuriga on diasporaaühiskondadele üldomane tunnusjoon, kuid eri etnilise ja poliitilise taustaga diasporaad realiseerivad seda erinevalt. Võõrsil elavate eestlaste kokkukuuluvustunnet on aidanud süvendada kultuurifestivalid. Artikkel analüüsib festivaliformaati, mida nimetatakse eesti päevadeks. Fookuses on 1983. aastal Göteborgis Estivali nimemärgi all toimunud eesti päevade idee ja selle teostamisega seotud probleemid. Sündmus oli eriline, kuna esmakordselt pärast Teise maailmasõda püüti festivali raames kokku tuua kodu- ja eksiileestlasi. Uurimus põhineb Hain Rebase poolt Eesti Kultuuriloolisele Arhiivile annetatud dokumentidel ning ajakirjandusel.

 

Maintaining of relations with the country of origin is generally characteristic to diaspora societies. However, diasporas of different ethnic and political backgrounds may carry these relations out in different ways.

Estonians who live outside Estonia have a long-standing tradition of organising cultural festivals—this ensures the cultural continuity for different diaspora generations and unites new immigrants with the exiles from WWII. My article gives a short overview of such festivals, which are called Estonian Days, focussing on the idea and organisational problems of the Estonian Days held in Gothenburg in 1983 under the title of Estival. This was a special event as the organisers attempted, for the first time after WWII, to bring together the Estonians from the homeland and from the diaspora. My research is based on the collection of Hain Rebas’ materials held at the Estonian Cultural History Archive and on the materials published in the press.

The Estonian Days have a long history. They were first held on the West Coast of the USA in 1953, then in Australia in 1954. In Canada, the tradition was launched in 1957 and in Sweden, in 1968. Modelled on the regional festivals, the global format was soon created in North America—the Worldwide Estonian Days were held in Toronto in 1972; later, the global festival was called Esto. The traditions of both the regional Estonian Days and the Estos are still alive and now, they draw together the diaspora and resident Estonians.

Prior to Estonia’s regaining of independence, the Estonian Days were a cultural and political event of the Estonian diaspora society and both of these aspects were of equal importance. The program of Estonian Days contains micro song festivals, sports competitions, art exhibitions, literary events as well as discussion evenings and conferences on political themes. A manifestation was held in the public city space where well-known politicians gave speeches demanding the recognition of the Estonians’ right for self-determination and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Estonia.

At the Estonian Days in Sweden in 1968, the discussion about communicating on the institutional level with the Estonians in the homeland became heated, opinions fell to both pro and contra. Organisers of Estival ‘83 decided to take a step forward from the discussions and to invite the Mixed Choir of the Estonian Radio Broadcasting to participate in the festival. Estonian choral singing tradition was a highly appreciated component of national culture both at home and in exile. The organisers of Estival saw choral singing as a potential for uniting all the Estonians. At a meeting of exile Estonian organisations, the chairman of the Estival board Hain Rebas explained that the Estonians in Sweden should manifest national solidarity with the Estonians in the home country, who make up 90% of all the Estonians. Inviting of an Estonian choir to the Estival should have a positive effect on the identity of all Estonians.

The organisers wished to have the former president of the USA, Jimmy Carter, as the keynote speaker at the political manifestation, and in case if he refused to come, there should be some other spokesman of democratic values (e.g., the member of the European Parliament Otto von Habsburg, the Chief Secretary of the Amnesty International Thomas Hammerberg or the Prime Minister of Sweden Olaf Palme).

The organisers of the Estival planned to have at one and the same event a singing choir from Soviet Estonia and a top politician representing some democratic state. If this plan had been realised, it would have meant the public opposition of two different ideologies. In archival documents and print media, it emerged that this idea caused criticism and controversy in the exile society. Some exile politicians were sure that the festival would cause a scandal. Despite criticism, the organisers sent invitations to both the politicians and the mixed choir of Estonian Radio. None of the politicians was able to come to the Estival for different reasons. However, several of them recognised the cultural achievements and political aspirations of the exile Estonians and wished them success for the future. The mixed choir of Estonian Radio also did not arrive at the festival, but they did not clarify the reasons that had made them turn down the invitation.

The Estonian State Academic Male Choir (RAM) was, in 1967, the first Estonian choir to visit Sweden after WWII. The exile society was not engaged in organising the RAM’s concerts but according to newspapers, they made up a large part of the audience. The concerts took place under the supervision of the Union for Developing Cultural Relations with Estonians Abroad (VEKSA, active from 1960–1991) in the framework of the Swedish and Soviet Union’s joint project. Cultural communication of the Soviet Estonia with the Estonians abroad was allowed only through this organisation. Performance of the mixed choir of Estonian Radio in the way as the organisers of the Estival ‘83 had planned would have created an entirely new situation in the cultural communication. It would have meant the establishing of direct contacts between the exile society and the Soviet Estonian choir (the organisers did not contact VEKSA). The real-life political situation actually ruled the plan out already at the very beginning. If we look at it from the side of Soviet Estonia, it was clear that no musician could tour abroad without the support of VEKSA. If we look at it from the viewpoint of the exile society, it was known that a number of influential exile figures did not favour the development of relations on the institutional level with the occupied homeland because it could indicate the political recognition of the occupation. The mixed choir of Estonian Radio, which belonged to the state broadcasting company and was financed by the state, could be treated as an institution. Thus, the plans of the organisers of the Estival faced all at once a number of problems which could not be solved in the political context of the early 1980s.

A breakthrough in the direct cultural communication between the resident and exile Estonians occurred at the Worldwide Estonian Days in Melbourne in 1988 where 150 people from Estonia participated in the festival. The RAM Boys’ Choir was among the participants. The Australian Estonian newspapers wrote about the lessening of the gulf between the two halves and stressed the task of the Estonians of the Free World of supporting cultural communication and the striving for freedom of the Estonians in the homeland.

The importance of the Estival ‘83 in the long process of uniting the Estonians of the diaspora and the homeland has been overshadowed by Esto ‘88. Despite the attempts at achieving a more global dimension through the political manifestation and at strengthening the Estonians’ feeling of unity through choir music, Estival still remained a regional event of the Estonians in Sweden. However, both of these festivals clearly demonstrate that, first, culture and politics are closely intertwined and second, the exile society purposefully applied the symbiosis of culture and politics in the restoration of such kind of Estonia with which the Estonians all over the world would be able to identify without any conflicts.


Keywords


Eesti, diasporaa, kultuurisuhted, festivalid; Estonia, diaspora, cultural relations, festivals

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v15i19.13434

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