Some of us here with the Ottawa Action Estonia group were recently discussing this year’s upcoming Estonian Independence Day Aktus that is scheduled for March 1.
Ottawa attendance has quietly gone down over the last 15 or so years that I have been going to the event although it has been holding more or less steady for the last few years. While we have had a small influx of people moving here from places such as Toronto and Estonia itself, many of those of our first generation Diaspora have simply disappeared. This is not unique to Ottawa and it was most noticeable in Toronto when Aktus was forced to move, first from Massey Hall to Convocation Hall and then a few years ago to Vana-Andrese Church.
One of our recent (since Estonia regained its independence) Ottawa Estonian Society members wondered why so many people with Estonian backgrounds simply chose not to participate and what could be done about this. Was this a deliberate choice or had people simply drifted away and couldn’t be bothered fighting their way through an Ottawa snowstorm. She mentioned that she was aware of many people that were never seen at events.
This person is one of those energetic early middle age women that voluntarily perform a lot of work for the community. We are fortunate in that almost every expatriate Esto community is blessed with this type of Estonian woman. Many are married to men with non-Estonian backgrounds yet their children invariably speak fluent Estonian.
Anyway, I started thinking about what could be done to entice the “lost sheep of the almost lost generation” back into the fold. One way might be to do what was done successfully in Kingston, Ontario and that is to simply advertise in the English language media.
The problem is what do we say? Come rediscover your Estonian roots and have fun? Many of us have heard people complain that it should be fun to be Estonian and this has all too often been missing. Well, I don’t recall any of my childhood Aktused in southern Ontario being fun — most were downright boring and we took every opportunity to go somewhere and hide when we weren’t otherwise occupied holding (guarding) the flag or selling “lucky dollars” as Scouts and Guides. I suspect it was much the same everywhere else. With the years has come the understanding that the organizers meant well and donated a lot of their time.
I must admit that while the Ottawa Aktused have not necessarily been fun as such, they have been interesting. The speeches have been well balanced between Estonian and English so that spouses and children lacking Esto language skill have not felt left out. Strong political statements and unrealistic exhortations in the speeches have disappeared. Most speeches have dealt with Estonia’s emergence and re-emergence as a sovereign nation and the remarkable positive strides that have been made in the fatherland outside of the half century of foreign occupations. The tone has been upbeat and not as dark as I remember from my childhood.
We seem to have almost no intergenerational conflict and relations are generally excellent between those recently (within the last couple of decades) arrived from the fatherland and people of the “refugee” generation and their offspring. Lately I have found it somewhat strange that people younger than me speak better Estonian and it seems that I hear more spoken Estonian here than at Seedrioru.
So, I suppose the “come have fun enticement” is better left for an informal announcement of a summer picnic at Seedrioru and we could say something to the effect that “come and rediscover your roots, meet some nice people with similar backgrounds and don’t worry if your language skills are rusty or non existent”.
I think it is good to have an Estonian background and quite often it is fun.
Wish you all a good Vabariigi Aastapäev.
Aktus time is almost here (3)