July 16, 2016 - The Estonian World Council (EWC) - Ülemaailmne Eesti Kesknõukogu - has endorsed a proposal to end the ESTO tradition by holding the final ESTO in Helsinki and Tallinn in the summer of 2019 before the Estonian National Song and Dance Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of Estonians from around the world every five years.
The first Global Estonian Cultural Days, known later as ESTO, was held in Toronto in 1972 and ESTOs were then held every four years thereafter. The festival brought together Estonians living outside of Soviet-occupied Estonia for a week-long event that featured congresses, formal balls, song and dance festivals, and other events. The ESTO festivals were intended both to preserve free Estonian culture and as a political statement.
After Estonia achieved its independence, the ESTO held in Stockholm in 1996 ended in Tallinn when the festival flag was symbolically returned to Estonia. The festival continued again in 2000 and was last held in 2013 in conjunction with the popular West Coast Estonian Days festival in San Francisco.
A Toronto ESTO festival was planned for 2018 but due to a wish to increase global participation, EWC has agreed that a final 2019 festival with full global participation would be more a more effective solution and symbolically important. “The incredibly powerful legacy of ESTO needs to be treated with respect. It played a critical cultural and political role and Estonians around the world can be very proud of that history,“ said EWC President, Marju Rink-Abel. “The way this final ESTO in Helsinki and Tallinn is shaping up will ensure that we do that with true global and high level Estonian participation.”
Celebrations to commemorate Estonia’s birthday will begin in the Spring of 2017 and will end in February 2020, during which ESTO will represent one of the most important events of the official ‘Estonia 100’ program. “Estonia is preparing for a historically monumental event - the celebration of the 100th birthday of the independent Estonian Republic. We’re happy to invite Estonians around the world to come together in Estonia to commemorate this important celebration, together. ESTO 2019, will offer a perfect opportunity to do this,” said Estonia 100 Organizing Committee Director Jaanus Rohumaa.
A global Estonian committee has been formed to guide the organization of ESTO 2019. Discussions with government organizations and corporate sponsors are being concluded and a joint announcement will be made in the coming weeks.
“The groups and organizations we’ve spoken to both in Estonia, Finland and elsewhere, have reacted very positively to the idea. We’re looking forward to bringing the global Estonian diaspora together for one final ESTO and the start of a new tradition moving forward,” said EWC Vice President Marcus Kolga.
Estonian Ministry of Culture undersecretary Anne-Ly Reimaa said that 2019 is an extraordinarily important year for Estonians and friends of Estonia for several reasons - including celebrations surrounding The National Song Festival and ESTO. “Our shared efforts to sustain and grow Estonian culture, both inside Estonia and in our Estonian communities living abroad, have recently taken on new and significant importance,” said Reimaa. “ESTO has had an important historical role in establishing and keeping the Estonian identity alive, and the government of Estonia will always support efforts by our communities around the world to sustain the Estonian language and culture.”
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Estonian World Council Announces Final ESTO: 2019 in Helsinki and Tallinn (9)