Eesti Elu
Community Summit 2011: Quo vadis Estonians in Canada?
Arvamus 06 May 2011  Eesti Elu
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The Community Summit 2011 slated for May 31 is expected to help formulate a comprehensive strategy of responses to changing community priorities and shifting demographics which influence the allocation of limited financial resources. Other issues germane to nurturing a still vibrant community tied to Estonian heritage will undoubtedly arise.

The Estonian National Foundation in Canada, the community’s primary funding source has a responsibility to support activities and eligible organizations as defined in Canadian legislation. At the same time it has a self-imposed duty to invest in those sectors that are key in providing growth for our community (youth), that provide significant cultural identification and that must be part of our growth but are financially languishing.

To outside observers, the Foundation’s decision making process obviously must cope with dilemmas in being able to focus on priorities especially within the parameters imposed by law and the needs of the community. Their choices also have to appear fair and free of vested interests or biases as reflected amongst the decision makers – sometimes a delicate balancing act.

Community forums are not new in the Estonian Community. In conjunction with the first Estonian World Festival (later known as ESTO), some 700 participants – delegates from organizations around the world – gathered in the large auditorium of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto for two full days of discussion and the adoption of numerous resolutions. At that National Congress (Rahvuskongress) the prime focus was the strategy and tactics to be pursued in advancing the cause of freedom for the homeland. Whether one was an ‘optimistic idealist’ or a ‘skeptical realist’, all had a fire in the belly – a goal that spurred the community to endure and culturally withstand gnawing outside pressures of whole scale assimilation and abandonment. All ESTOs since then have had these Congresses though the issues have drastically changed.

The Estonian Central Council in Canada has also organized similar summits called Organizational Congresses (Organisatsioonide Kongressid, OK) over the years, that have basically raised the question of the community’s future and the accommodations necessary to maintain its vibrancy. The current initiative, which the Foundation has grabbed, has been long overdue.

Depending on the tone given to the discussion by the chairperson or a set agenda, one would expect the issues of motivating youth and promoting inclusiveness (especially for those who feel excluded) to be part of the discourse. One must bear in mind that youth of Estonian heritage currently are as motivated by achievement and self-realization as their parents and grandparents who had to `make it`, after arriving in Canada as war refugees. With their primary goal being personal success, they will consciously have to make time and expend energy for Esto pursuits. In addition, perceptive youth will acknowledge that the presence of seniors within an ethnic community enriches its sense of identity and provides a record of its cultural history and traditions.

The language issue is key when discussing the inclusiveness that our community must portray in order to grow and develop. The ethnic commitment of many who lack the Estonian language is undeniably firm. Still it has been difficult to gain unanimity on the issue in the past. While language should not play the major role in setting group boundaries, it nevertheless retains powerful symbolic meaning for group identification, especially abroad. Some academics insist that language is really the glue that holds a community together. In fact they emphasize that language IS culture. The language question itself could be sufficient for another community summit.

It’s unrealistic to expect that the summit will produce total agreement or viable solutions to problems that have been nagging us for a few generations. The future for us may lie in those efforts that strive to make new connections, that instill in us a sense of personal and cultural relevance among the youth as well as as others. That is worth discussing.
 
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