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EANC co-hosts Congress at LEP-Whistler

By Mai-Liis Bartling

The Estonian American National Council (EANC) and Estonian Central Council in Canada (EKN) co-hosted the August 5th Congress.   It was particularly ambitious in its scope, framed by such questions as: What is Estonia to me, to us, to the world? How do Estonians in North America cooperate with those in Estonia to advance a common and unified cultural sphere?  What new opportunities, technology, and resources are available?  Dr. Maarja Lõhmus of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies and Media Studies moderated the session and provided a foundation for the discussion, suggesting that we need a new integration model, and perhaps could find inspiration from the 19th century transformation that occurred when the “maa rahvas” (people of the land) became “Estonians” – an identified people.  EANC and EKN were asked to address the essential role and contributions of exiled Estonians – both political and cultural -- during the period between 1940 and 1990, and to express their priorities for preserving this heritage and taking it forward to build a global Estonian culture.  EANC’s  response to these themes, presented by Mai-Liis Bartling, are:

8 küsimust ERKÜle 
1. millised on pagulaseesti kujunemise etapid/perioodid ja kuidas jõudis eestlaskond oma ülemaailmste organisatsioonideni ja Eesti ühise kultuuriväljani paguluses?   (What were the stages or periods of formation for exiled Estonians and how did the Estonian community achieve its international organizations and unified culture in exile?)
Answer:  This is a complicated question that needs a layered answer, as well as more formal study of the history of Estonians in the U.S.    If we only look to the post-war period, we will miss the critical antecedents to the development of Estonian culture and organization here. We know that Estonians have been in the U.S. since early colonial times, as the book “Estonians in America 1627-1975,” published 40 years ago, lays out.  The foundations of organized Estonian-American activity might be set at the turn of the 20th century, with individuals like Rev. Hans Rebane who – before his death in 1911 -- was organizing Estonian congregations and putting out Estonian language publications.  This critical pre-DP period had its own interesting history.  By 1940, New York was already an activity hub, upon which the later explosive growth in organizations (including ERKU) was built. 
Post war Estonian refugees began to organize themselves as soon as they fled into exile, by 1944/45. Already in Sweden and Germany there was religious life, Estonian schools, Seltsid, choirs, dance groups, scouting, etc. It was a way of continuing life with purpose and meaning when the future was so uncertain.  This time spent in refugee camps was very important, and the strong bonds formed between DP camp residents have persisted to this day.  By 1948/49, it became evident there would be no quick return to a free Estonia, and as Estonian immigrants came to the US and Canada they looked to their Estonian organizations for a sense of belonging and positive social engagement for their families.  They also wanted to do their part to preserve the Estonian language and culture and – not to be overlooked – to organize to effect political outcomes.   The 1950’s through 70’s were years of great development. 

2. pikal perioodil Eesti riigikaotuse perioodil 1940 - 1990ndate alguseni esindas eesti pagulaskond Eesti riiki rahvusvahelistes organisatsioonides (ÜRO, UNESCO jt ), milline on olnud põhiline töö ja panus selles vallas Eesti riigikaotuse perioodil rahvusvaheliselt?   (During the long period of the loss of the Estonian state (1940 until beginning of 1990) Estonians in exile represented the Estonian nation in international organizations (e.g...….) -- what was the essential work and contribution in this field during this period, internationally?) 
Answer:  In the pre-DP period, there were remaining Consuls, such as Kuusik, Kaiv and Johnson, who provided service.   (There were also fascinating conflicts within the Estonian-American community between those loyal to the Estonian government, and those more red-leaning who tried to take over representation of Estonia.) New York -- the hub of Estonian activity -- was also the location of the Estonian legation(diplomatic mission), which had an unbroken period of service throughout these years.  The political torch was carried by these official diplomatic representatives of Estonia until there was a critical mass of refugees to activate organizations.
Already in the summer of 1940, Estonian diplomats in America and leaders in the Estonian-American community formed the U’lemaailne Eesti U’hing (World Association of Estonians), to work for Estonian interests. Both the legation and non-governmental organizations played an important role in promoting the non-recognition policy of the U.S. vis-à-vis the Soviet Occupation (the Welles Declaration).  It is believed that this declaration helped avoid forced repatriation of DP’s to occupied countries.  
The non-governmental organizations evolved along two paths 1) formal entities representing local, regional, or national groups of Estonians (Seltsid, EOLL, ERKU, Ulemaailmne Eesti Kesknougogu (UEKN), eventually the Pan-Baltic JBANC), and 2) ad hoc volunteer organizations (BATUN, BAFL, ACA).    They jousted to an extent, but all had a role with pushing the Baltic cause in Congress and the UN.  Thanks to them, the Baltics remained a topic of discussion, even when no specific, positive action could be taken.  (Arne Kalm’s new book covers these topics well.) UEKN coordinated political activity and facilitated communication among the central organizations of the countries where Estonian DP’s went to live.  Their activity was significant enough to cause the KGB and Soviety authorities anxiety and countermeasures.

3.  Tänu kellele on Eestlaskond suutnud organiseeruda ja luua poliitilise-kultuurilise struktuuri Eesti riigikaotuse/ENSV perioodil? Kellele tuleb teha kummardused ja kelle mälestuse juurde ei tohi rohtuda teerajad? ( Thanks to whom did Estonians manage to organize themselves and create a political-cultural structure during the period when the nation was lost?  Whom should we recognize and whose memory should not be buried in overgrown paths?)  
Answer:  To answer who deserves credit for the organizational work -- there is an enormous list of individuals from many different periods.  What is really being asked for is a more complete history of a long period of Estonian-American society, spanning from the 1890’s through the 1990’s.  This is what EANC is supporting with the Estonians in America project, which will produce a book covering the period 1945-1995.   There is a need to also do histories of ERKU, UEKN, and other organizations to better understand their many facets.   If we are enumerating heroes, we can’t forget those – who in addition to the lead organizers – helped with all the preparations, cooked food, taught in Estonian schools, established summer camps and childrens’ activities, raised funds to buy property, and made “being Estonian” part of everyday life.

4.  mida peate Eesti ühiskonna ja kultuuri elujõu ja kestmise põhialusteks (Eestlaste Elujõud - vt Oskar Loorits 1951) ?  (What do you hold as the basis for Estonian community and culture vitality and survival?
Answer:  What kept the Estonian community together over such a long period?  This is also complicated.  In the pre-war period up to 1940, there was free movement of people between the US and Estonia.  Estonian organizations helped people “connect” as an Estonian community.  In the post-war period, the focus became working for the restoration of independence, and at the same time “preserving” culture that was under threat in the homeland.  Post 1991, these post-war purposes have come to wane and emphasis has been on offering cultural community, with the exception of the important work of reminding the world and motivating actions that support security in the region.   
Just why Estonians abroad, members of such a tiny community, continue to find value in their heritage -- why Estonia should continue to touch our hearts - is a deeper question.

5. Kuidas koguda, säilitada ning tutvustada pagulaseestlaste elulugusid ja kultuurisaavutusi? (How should we collect, preserve, and introduce the exiled Estonian life stories and cultural accomplishments?)
Answer:   It is so important to collect the life stories.  There can be more efforts like “Kogu Me Lugu.”   Other ideas: Appeal for archival materials before they are lost forever.  Create films and other media.  Create a special center in Tartu perhaps to collect and coordinate the collection of diaspora materials, and make them available digitally.   Define new study topics that encourage use of the collected materials.  Partner with others who have ideas for interesting projects.
There are many Archives in many of the countries where Estonians settled, and the archival work has been done mainly with volunteers.  It is time to devote professional attention to this area.  While the Estonian government has provided some help here, permanent attention and funding is needed.  It can’t be expected that the 3rd and 4th generations of the refugees, or the influx of Estonians here, will provide the financial support.

6. mida saavad kodueesti ja maailmaEesti koos teha - milliseid uusi koostöövorme peaksime arendama?  (What can the homeland and globalEstonia together do -- what new collaborative forms should we develop?)  
Answer:   We need to work together on collecting, coordinating, centralizing Estonian diaspora materials and information.  We also need to work together on collecting, organizing Estonian heritage materials and support their teaching to new generations outside Estonia.   These kinds of projects can be done in ways that create new collaborations, new connections between people.   How about getting students from Estonia together with members of the diaspora, specifically to collect and record oral histories, as a practical part of their curriculum? Skype could be used if travel is not possible.

7. ajal, kui virtuaalne ruum hakkab hõlmama ja kohati lausa asendama reaalset ruumi, tekib olukord, kus 'lokaalne' võib olla ka Eesti kultuur - Eesti jõuab kõikjale üle maailma, Eesti jõuab igasse eesti kodusse.  Kuidas seda uut maailmastruktuuri -- virtuaalse ruumi peatset domineerimist -- kultuuriliselt ja hariduslikult paremini ära kasutada globaalse eestlaskonna kultuurivälja loomisel ja hoidmisel?   (In this time when we start to embrace virtual space, in some places standing in for real space …. Estonian culture can reach worldwide, reach every Estonian home.  How can we use this new global structure – the imminent domination of virtual space  -- to create and keep global Estonian culture?) 
Answer:  Build on existing websites and Facebook pages, but also look to new models, for example the wealth of online learning systems and tools.   All of us involved with Estonian organizations here are challenged to use new media to continue to engage the next generation. This is something that the EANC, too, is putting focus on going forward.   Can Estonia can contribute its high tech and e-government expertise to this endeavor?
But even with the emphasis on virtual space, it will always be important to connect people to real life experiences with the Estonian homeland and people.

8. Loome ülemaailmse Eesti kultuuri-teaduse-hariduse portaali ESTICA, kus säilitame ja saame kasutada Eesti kultuuri ülemaailmselt. ESTICA eesmärk on, et Eesti kultuur muutuks ülemaailmselt kommunikatiivseks ja eesmärk saada Eesti tundmine, eesti keele õpetus kaasaegsele ülemaailmsele järjele, mis oleks sisuliseks edulooks maailma teistele kultuuridele. Kuidas peaksime selle tegema?  (We're creating a worldwide Estonian cultural-knowledge-education portal ESTICA, to preserve and where we can use Estonian culture around the world. The objective is for Estonian culture to become communicable worldwide.  The objective to get to know Estonia, study the language using contemporary worldwide standards, which would be a success story to the world's other cultures.   How do we do this?) 
Answer:   A short answer here—make this new portal interesting and fun, and not too academic.  Have an English version, too, to reach the largest number of people and connect them with their Estonian heritage.