The Estonian Central Council met at Tartu College October 2 to review EKN’s achievements and challenges over the past six months and updated committee work with the participation of leaders from Estonian-Canadian organizations.
The Council adopted an intense agenda for the next year which will include continued advocacy for community issues at all three levels of government and in the media, as well as ongoing facilitation of community collaboration and communication.
The council meeting was chaired by EKN executive member and Youth Council leader Mihkel Kütti and included an overview of EKN’s current and planned activities by EKN President Marcus Kolga and a review of the organization’s financial status by Treasurer, Kairi Taul.
EKN members from across Canada participated via a new Google based internet meeting system. The meeting was the third council meeting held since the new Council was elected in 2016. The Council’s new executive holds regular meetings at the start of each month.
In addition to discussing ongoing political issues and EKN achievements, Kolga also warned that Kremlin propaganda is being used to chip away confidence in our democratic institutions and sow conflict inside our communities.
“We must recognize and resist any attempts to turn our community against itself” warned Kolga. “Maintaining unity, respect and cooperation are essential in these challenging times, for both our community and Estonia. To do that, we’ll continue along the successful path that members of EKN, our community and organization leaders are developing.”
The Council session was immediately followed by kick-off meetings for EKN committees that include: Political Outreach; Language, Education and Culture; Communication and Liaison; Community Collaboration and Co-Operation; Constitutional and By-Law Renewal; and Youth Council, amongst others.
“We believe that it’s critical to include organization leaders and all elected members of EKN in our discussions and work,” said EKN executive member and committee meeting coordinator Reet Marten-Sehr.
EKN Youth Council Chair Mihkel Kütti commented that “it was great to see our Spring community visioning session, followed up by a set of very productive committee meetings”.
Some of the achievements of the new Estonian Central Council that were highlighted at the meeting:
Political: Soviet Red Army Memorial Montreal.EKN contacted the City of Montreal and various Members of Parliament when EKN became aware that a group supported by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is planning on constructing a monument glorifying the Soviet Red Army in a Montreal park. As a direct result of EKN’s intervention, the city has put the project on hold and MP James Bezan has contacted Montreal Mayor Denis Corderre to further raise the issue.
Black Ribbon Day Toronto - August 27, 2016. The Estonian Central Council was responsible for hosting the annual Toronto commemoration to remember the European victims of Nazism and Communism, led by Marcus Kolga. Thanks to the effective outreach to Toronto city councillors, EKN was able to secure one of the highest profile venues in Toronto for such an event: the rotunda of City Hall. Having recently established strong relations with the European organization, the Platform on European Memory and Conscience, an important exhibit on Nazi and Soviet repression was installed for a week in the rotunda. The Exhibit, which featured detailed information about the occupation of Estonia, was viewed by over 10,000 people every day. Black Ribbon Day Ottawa. The Estonian Central Council worked closely with the Latvian National Federation to organize a unique commemoration in Ottawa with the Ukrainian community which was very well attended. Black Ribbon Day Vancouver. Vancouver EKN representatives participated with other Central and Eastern European community groups in commemorating Black Ribbon Day at an event held in Surrey, BC, organized by the Canadian Polish Congress British Columbia Branch and the Polish Catholic Community.
Support for Russian Pro-Democratic Movement and Human Rights. EKN participated in the organization of an important event on Russian human rights and the pro-democracy movement: The Boris Nemtsov Memorial Freedom Forum in Toronto. The event was organized in partnership with VEMU, The University of Toronto’s Munk Center, The NATO Association and UpNorth.eu. Leading international Russian rights activists attended, including Bill Browder, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Zhanna Nemtsova and Irwin Cotler.
Federal Government Outreach Campaign. The new EKN has established a Federal Government Outreach Campaign where members of Parliament are continuously informed of Estonian community issues. EKN has met with dozens of MP’s since establishing the campaign earlier this year, including with government Ministers, opposition leaders and key members of staff. A significant result of the campaign was an important Parliamentary hearing on Russian foreign policy and human rights that EKN participated in. EKN was proud to support former Ontario Premier and Liberal Party Leader, Bob Rae on his trip to Estonia in June 2016 to receive his long promised Estonian Maarjamaa Rist State Honour from President Ilves. Mr. Rae has been a strong supporter of Estonian issues, starting in 2009 when he worked to introduce a Canadian Parliamentary resolution to make Black Ribbon Day a National Day of Remembrance in Canada (which he drafted with EKN esimees Marcus Kolga). Mr. Rae has continued to publicly support Estonia’s position in Canada and most recently criticized the current Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stephane Dion, for his attempts to appease the current Russian government and not voice Canadian criticisms over Russian abuse of pro-democracy activists. Mr Rae has encouraged and supported Canada’s participation in NATO’s upcoming Baltic deterrence deployment.
Municipal Campaigns, Joekaaru and lobbying against Toronto’s glorification of Soviet repression. Summer 2016 - EKN has spearheaded a campaign to help one of our community’s cornerstone youth organizations, Joekaaru Children’s Camp, to realize tax free status for its property in Udora. Currently, Joekaaru pays over $30,000 in property taxes to the Town of Georgina and York Region. EKN set up meetings with the local MPP, The Chair of York Region, local politicians and the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation to advocate for tax-free status. Current provincial legislation provides property tax relief for churches, scouting organizations, registered charities and philanthropic organizations. As an ethnic cultural youth camp that operates for just 5 weeks every year and provides access to green space and recreational areas for local residents the remaining 11 months of the year, the rate of taxation for Joekaaru is unacceptable and causes serious financial burdens for our youth, the camp and our community. EKN hopes to help resolve this situation for Joekaaru in the coming weeks.
Soviet Victory Day Commemorations in Toronto. May 2016 - EKN spearheaded the Central and Eastern European community efforts to lobby against a Russian Embassy supported event that glorified the occupation of the Baltic States and the terrifying repression committed against all people who lived in the Soviet Union and beyond. The event at Earl Bales park, May 9, 2016, featured posters of Josef Stalin and the flags symbolizing the occupation of the Baltic States, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and other former Soviet republics. A similar event was held at Toronto’s Nathan Philip’s Square where a group dressed as Russian Red Army soldiers- along with young children dressed as Red Army soldiers- rolled a mock cardboard Soviet tank into the middle of the square in front of city hall. EKN protested the event days before and as a result, Mayor John Tory did not attend nor did any other councillors. The exception was James Pasternak, who has frequently sponsored events that glorify Soviet repression and genocide in Toronto.
Renaming of Tallinn Occupation Museum to VABAMU and marginalizing of repression and occupation in the museum. January to June 2016: EKN has over the past 6 months applied constant pressure on the board of the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn, who have announced plans to rename the Museum as VABAMU and whose plans will minimize the occupation of Estonia by the Soviets and Nazis. Current plans show that the exhibits of those repressive regimes will be buried in the basement of the museum. In May 2016, a children’s play area already replaced an exhibit of Soviet era jail doors on the main floor, and a questionable exhibit about a fictional gay director of a collective farm used LGBT stereotypes to cause potential negative impacts on the LGBT community in Estonia. The Museum misrepresented visitor numbers to the public -claiming that only 2000 people visited the museum in 2015, whereas over 20,000 visited (only 2000 of which were Estonian). EKN sent a letter of concern to the museum and an opinion piece about the museum was published by ERR.
Support for Tribute to Liberty - A Memorial To The Victims of Communism in Ottawa. EKN has offered its ongoing support for the Memorial which has faced crippling negative media coverage in Ottawa and in the national media. EKN president Marcus Kolga has written several opinion pieces supporting the memorial and questioning the motives of critics as being insensitive to the traumas inflicted upon millions of Canadians and their families who fled communist terror. The opinions were published in the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun. Thanks, in part, to EKN’s efforts over the past 6 months, the Liberal government has decided to not abandon the memorial and is proceeding with the project, albeit at a new location.
War In Donbas Exhibit of Sergei Loiko Photos. EKN partnered with VEMU to bring Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Sergei Loiko’s, photos of the war in Eastern Ukraine to Toronto. The horrific images of the war were on display at Tartu College through June.
Important Commemorations, Awards and Events. EKN members were directly involved in bringing Estonia’s Nuku Koor to Canada and the February 2016 Independence Day performances that were attended by hundreds of community members at St. Peter’s Church and Toronto Estonian House.
EKN Medals of Merit were handed out to individuals who have helped support Estonian interests in Canada. This year’s recipients were unique as they included non-politicians from outside of the Estonian community. The EKN executive awarded Paul Grod, President of the Ukrainian community with Medal of Merit as well as leading Russian language journalist in Canada, Alla Kadysh, who has been publicly supportive of Ukrainian and Estonian sovereignty and has encouraged Russian-Canadians to reject the neo-imperialist policies of Vladimir Putin.
UEKN. Members of EKN have actively participated in, and contributed to the Estonian World Council’s meetings and work over the past six months. EKN sent a delegation of members to UEKN’s annual meeting in Washington DC in April, where EKN’s delegates were warmly welcomed by the existing members of the Council.
In addition to various global initiatives, it was decided at the Council meeting that, the final ESTO would be held in Helsinki and Tallinn in 2019 in conjunction with EV100 celebrations and the Song and Dance Festival. Delegates from the global Estonian community, feared that attendance would be low at the initially proposed 2018 festival in Toronto due to competing large scale global Estonian events that same summer. The Estonian government, global Estonian communities, civil society organizations and and private enterprises have committed their active support for ESTO 2019, in which EKN will play an important guiding role.
EV 100. EKN is partnering with The Toronto Estonian Society to help plan and fund Estonia 100 celebrations in Toronto, which will be taking place on the afternoon of Saturday, February 24th at the Sheraton in Downtown Toronto - across from Toronto’s City Hall.
Organizational Milestones and Achievements. EKN has held monthly National Executive meetings on the first Monday of every month
• Two full assembly meetings have been held since March 2016 and have included community organization leaders
• EKN is very proud to have relocated to Tartu College in Spring 2016
• The organization is working on reviving fundraising and building strategies for 2017
• EKN and VEMU are working very closely to safely relocate the EKN keskarhiiv from the Estonian House basement to the Tartu College Archives under the leadership of Ellen Leivat and Piret Noorhani.
EKN Goals 2016-2017. Ongoing development of relations with members of all three levels of government
• Active lobbying on behalf of Estonian community organizations and interests that reflect our community’s values
• Continue the ongoing process of reconstructing lost Constitution, renewing by-laws and modernizing EKN’s voting process
• Continue process of redeveloping fundraising campaigns
• Restructure finances to support long term organizational goals and recover from previous financial losses
• Continue the ongoing process of developing EKN action committees to address community needs and support the implementation of specific identified goals
• Continue to meet with and support our community organizations such as ESK, Tartu College/VEMU, Eesti Maja, Seedrioru, Jõekääru, Skaudid & gaidid, churches across Canada.
Estonian Central Council in Canada
EKN reviews achievements, challenges and kicks-off committee work at October council meeting Estonian Life