In 2007 Korporatsioon Fraternitas Estica (C!F!E!) is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its birth and the many other momentous and memorable events in its history.
C!F!E! is a Student Corporation – Members of Student Corporations wear specially coloured hats and engage in elaborately solemn rituals involving songs, swords and silver goblets. They defend their individual and collective (ie “corporate”) honour with a seriously fierce determination that is supported by strict internal discipline. Relations with other Student Corporations and their members are governed by extensive rules and regulations, supported by Courts of Honour (and until quite recently, duels).
Such student corporations (called “nations” in Sweden and “osakunta” in Finland) were deeply engrained in the northern European university tradition. Their origins are traced back to 15th century Germany, a time when there were few universities and travel over long distances was both difficult and dangerous. Students from a particular province or town, carrying all the cash they would need for a year of studies, would band together and travel in armed groups. Having safely arrived at the university it was also natural to celebrate their deliverance and then to pool resources and share living quarters (this was before the invention of dormitories and cafeteria meal plans).
Over the centuries student corporations became very popular as their houses provided cheap lodging for students as well as a ready-made infrastructure of life-long friendship and mutual assistance, all of it supported by alumni. Many became specific to a particular discipline or faculty, sometimes with religious or ethnic affiliations, but all of them espoused high ideals of personal and corporate behaviour. Members were free to develop their own political views and careers but student corporations themselves have always been strictly apolitical, apart from broadly uncontroversial patriotic, academic and humanitarian concerns. What was radical, for old Europe, was the egalitarian spirit that governed within the Convents. Birthrights, wealth and social standing had no bearing within the corporation.
Ethnic Estonians had been attending the University of Tartu in significant numbers from the middle of the 19th century but despite many attempts, had never been allowed to form their own Student Corporation. It was quite possible to live, study and succeed at university without belonging to a Corporation – the large Russian student body of the late 19th century had no use for Student Corporations or their mannered etiquette, much preferring the murky intrigues of their own secret societies – but it would always be as a second-class citizen of the Burschenstaat, or Student Nation.
The obstacle that Estonians faced was always the same: the local Baltic-Germans. Quite apart from their historical chauvinism, there was also a growing and well-founded fear of the on-going Estonian Awakening. Allowing something as conspicuous as a fully-fledged Estonian Student Corporation at Tartu, on Estonian soil, in the midst of an increasingly ambitious and restive rural population, was considered dangerously foolish, lest anyone start thinking that Estonians were as good as Germans.
Then, in the midst of a very confused state of revolutionary turmoil roiling the entire Russian Empire, the Baltic-Germans lost control over “their” universities and an industrious group of Estonian men – students and graduates alike – seized the opportunity and made the dream of an Estonian Student Corporation at Tartu a fully-fledged legal reality in the spring of 1907.
C!F!E! and its members have been a force to reckon with ever since. As our motto declares: Cheerful and Righteous, Loyal to the Estonian People!
Festivities will take place in Tartu from May 11th to 15th and in Toronto from May 27th to 29th as well as in Sweden, USA and Australia.
Any member who has been absent from our activities is welcome to join us at our 100th anniversary celebrations in May 2007. Please contact: vil! Thomas Heinsoo, 416-461-0764 x 224.