Passing the torch (1)
As one who is in his sixth decade of attending aktused or festive concert assemblies marking and celebrating the anniversaries of the declaration of independence of Estonia, it seems more often an obligation, a patriotic duty, rather than a heart-felt pronouncement of belonging. Do not get me wrong: emotions are still at play. Yet the routine of speeches, choir performances, and politicians sending their best regards is no longer as invigorating as it once was from the perspective of one living abroad by choice, whose fatherland is now free once again.
The lengthy orations to full houses at Massey Hall in the sixties are, thankfully, a faint memory. And for the last 21 years Estonians abroad have been rejoicing that their homeland, the country of their forefathers was able to peacefully sing off the shackles of communism, though scars remain to this day. We do rejoice abroad, visit Eesti in the summers, but as of choice living in Canada or elsewhere our direct connections are no longer as strong perhaps, as during the occupation years, when we had a cause to fight for.
Hence I was ever so pleasantly, no genuinely moved today, at the aktus held in Toronto’s Estonian House, commemorating 95 years since independence was first declared. To be honest, the last time I recall being as deeply moved was in 1989, when the Singing Revolution was in full voice, Ivo Linna, Alo Matiisen and Merle Jääger brought song and poetry to a packed Convocation Hall, and the future Prime Minister Mart Laar delivered a stirring speech. We could but dream then that the iron curtain would be banished to the dustbin of history, but cracks in the mighty Soviet Union were very apparent. Hope reigned supreme, and was proven justified.
In the almost quarter century since Toronto has seen active Estonians dwindle in numbers, but not in passion as evinced by the assembly. At almost two hours in length it rivalled those historic Massey Hall and O’Keefe Center events of two generations ago. Yet hardly anyone in the audience was restless, attention was kept on speakers and performers, and one truly felt as if the torch was being passed to the next generation. Finally.
That was the theme of the aktus, the passing of the flame, marked by the enthusiastic participation of our youngest children in song and dance, and underlined, for this writer in any case, by the fact that among the Toronto Estonian Male Chorus singers was a gentleman who is only a few months younger than the Republic, born in 1918 as well.
I will leave the detailed reporting of the festive concert assembly to my colleague writing for Eesti Elu, as that should in my opinion be done in Estonian. However, it bears noting, that the keynote speaker, EKN member from Ottawa Paul Läänemets, spoke in both languages, reflecting the demographic reality of 2013, not 1989 or 1918. Läänemets captured the audience’s hearts when he underscored the fact that it is not always the Estonian language that is critical, it is the essence, the spirit of Estonianness, - eesti meel – that matters. As Alberta Estonians have done for over a century, it is what the heart says, rather than what a critical language purist might demand.
The folk dancers were the highlight of the festive part, how wonderful to see Kungla back in action, led by 30-something dedicated Estonian-Canadians, who needed an outlet for their cultural energy. One was also struck by the purity of the Estonian spoken by the young people who recited with verve and energy classic Estonian poetry. I could go on. But it was the finale; the symbolic passing of the torch from most of the prominent members of our community to the very young that resonated deep inside the heart. While it is hard to keep the tremor out of one’s voice when singing the national anthem, this time there probably were few dry eyes in the Estonian House.
Hats off to all the organizers, participants – many of the youngest generation filled multiple roles, playing in the brass band, folk-dancing, singing in the choir and reciting poetry! – and audience, whose participation ensured that at least by word of mouth the declaration of working to keep Estonian culture alive in Canada at present strength until at least 2030 will be carried with respect and determination to others in our community.