After settling back into the real world following an intensive week of Estonian lectures, discussion and culture, Maimu Mölder, director of the Canadian-Estonian community's popular annual Forest University (Metsaülikool, MÜ), took the time to answer ERR News' questions regarding the event, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
ERR News: Where did the idea behind the first MÜ come from? Who was involved, and what was their goal?
Maimu Mölder: To fill the void of Estonian-language university level education in the 1960s, "baby boomers" in North America created their own university-level education program. They chose [to host it at] Kotkajärve, a remote and expansive forested property owned by an Estonian Girl Guides and Boy Scouts organization in Muskoka, Canada, and called the week-long lecture series Metsaülikool, or Forest University.
The 60s was a time of rebellion and finding ones roots. MÜ actually had a controversial start — the youth of the day challenged the views of hardliners who believed maintaining ties with Estonians behind the Iron Curtain would give the Soviet Union a political tool to say that Estonians abroad accepted the Soviet regime. The organizers of MÜ had a different take, and wanted to establish cultural ties and learn about developments in culture, politics, sciences and other disciplines. It was important for the organizers that MÜ adhere to academic standards, provide information objectively and espouse democratic ideals.
Interest in attending the first MÜ was high and had to be restricted to 140 in the event's early years in order to keep the fledgling week-long gathering manageable. Age restrictions were also capped at 35 and participants had to commit to stay for the whole week to be accepted. It is worth noting that the event was run by volunteers who forfeited any subsidy for running it, which is the practice even today.
More about Metsaülikool
Maimu Mölder: Forest University remains bridge between Estonia, diaspora. ERR (1)