The Baltic Sea Union in Prague,
Archived Articles 19 Jan 2007 EL (Estonian Life)EWR
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Iivi Zajedová at the statue of Tomás Masaryk in Washington, DC. Masaryk was the first president of Czechoslovakia, and the statue is located on Massachusetts Avenue, directly across the road from the Estonian Embassy. Photo: JBANC - pics/2007/15190_1.jpg
Iivi Zajedová at the statue of Tomás Masaryk in Washington, DC. Masaryk was the first president of Czechoslovakia, and the statue is located on Massachusetts Avenue, directly across the road from the Estonian Embassy. Photo: JBANC
or what happened prior to the establishment of the Czech-Estonian Club in February, 1991

IIVI ZAJEDOVÁ, PH.D.

Before the founding of the Czech-Estonian Club there existed in Prague the illegal “Baltsky svaz” or Baltic Sea Union.

The idea for the founding of the Baltic Sea Union came during a meeting between two good friends – Vladimír Macura and Vladimír Novotny. It’s not certain if this idea came about while during a visit with the bohemian Leo Metsar, or was there something else behind this. Who knows?! In any case, January 14, 1974 entered the annals of the history of the Baltic Sea Union primarily because subsequent conferences were to happen at the same time – during the second weekend of January. Leo Metsar brought to Prague a number of Estonian language textbooks and Vladimír Macura began to learn this language which is very difficult for Czechs to learn. His enthusiasm also inspired others.

The Baltic Sea Union which was created had it own charter, newsletter, and anthem. Becoming a member had its particular conditions, such as: Are you proud enough to pronounce the “õ” letter (the Estonian “õ” letter is practically impossible for a Czech to pronounce)? In the February 1991 issue of the newsletter of the Baltic Sea Union “TEREKÄTT” (“Greetings” or “Zdravice” in Czech), one can read that it was established as a “strictly illegal organization” and was so secret that it isn’t clear even today who belonged to it. Certainly, it was very difficult to decode all the aliases of the first ten members, whose soul was Vladimír Macura, alias Kreutzwald. Other members were the big and intelligent Aavik, Terenaine [Hello Lady], Mesilane [Honey-bee], and Sitikas [Dung Beetle], Vana-Tigu [Old Snail], Ilmarine [a name from Estonian mythology], and Öökull [Night Owl]! In addition, there were some figures like Kalevitütar [Daughter of Kalev, a literary figure] and Kaarditark [Card Shark] (Nadezda Slabihoudová), in whose name was convened the congress and whose assignment was to present the keynote address to the congress. In attendence were also the opponent, in the role of “Venepagan” [a play on words referencing the Estonian mythological figure “Vanapagan” for Old Heathen/Devil; but here “Venepagan” – “Russian Devil”] (analogous to Vanapagan from the literary epic “Kalevipoeg”). Members were translators, literary critics, philosophers and supporters of all three of the occupied Baltic countries. Slovaks also took part in the actions of the Baltic Sea Union.

The Baltic Sea Union began its Congress with the anthem: “When the Tálina lake fills with water” (there is a Tálina lake in the Southern Czech Republic) [another play on words, as according to legend the lake by Tallinn, Estonia - Lake Ülemiste – will overflow its banks and flood the city below on the day that the city is no longer being built]. The flags of the three occupied countries were raised, and national anthems were sung in the original languages (Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian). The singing of the Estonian national anthem in perfect Estonian by Baltic Sea members even astonished Lennart Meri (who was on his first official visit to Prague as President of Estonia). He was no stranger to the Baltic Sea Union in earlier years. Meri, who at the beginning of 1991 was still foreign minister, mentioned close ties to the Baltic Sea Union during the broadcast of a Czech-language program at the Voice of America. He paused with emotion, saying finally that hearing the Estonian anthem in Central Europe was certainly a rare opportunity.

It must be said that in reference to themes presented at the congress, discussion centered primarily on the three Baltic nations, travel impressions, plus existing and possible future translations into Czech, among other topics.

Awards were also presented during the congresses: the acclaimed “Golden Sardine” and for sullied behavior, one could be granted the “Devil’s Shite.” For the last, the owners might be those who, after the Russian language, wrote Tallinn with one “n.” The official languages of the congresses were Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech, and Slovak. Guests were various – well-known Czech literary figures, sometimes Estonians from the homeland (Jaan Kaplinski, for instance), but also local persons of Estonian heritage (such as Mrs. N. Tanska, whose father was Estonian).

Thanks to the work of the Baltic Sea Union, momentum was created in the publishing of books translated from Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian. About 100 works were translated from the Baltic national languages. While it was attempted to organize literary exhibitions on numerous occasions after the so-called Velvet Revolution, the first eagerly awaited exhibition on books translated from Estonian was, after many obstacles, finally put together in September 2003, thanks to the joint efforts and exertions by the members of the Baltic Sea Union and Czech-Estonian Club. A few years earlier a literary evening was organized dedicated to [the famous writer] A.H. Tammsaare, which was opened by the then representative of the Republic of Estonia to the Czech Republic, Riho Laanemäe. V. Macura and N. Slabihoudová introduced the work of Tammsaare that evening, followed by a presentation of H. Tamberg’s short ballet work “The Boy and the Butterfly.” At the same event was an introduction of Vladimír Macura’s analysis of the work of A. H. Tammsaare, published by Antonín Drábek’s company Balt-East in conjunction with the Czech-Estonian Club, and translated also into Estonian.

Personally, my contacts with Vladimír Macura and the Baltic Sea Union began in 1982-1983, which led to the foundation of the Czech-Estonian Club in 1991 during a Res Baltica evening at Prague Realism Theater. The evening was also dedicated to Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians who were still being subjected to Soviet occupation. The actors presented scenes showing how Soviet bases were forced onto the Baltic countries [from 1939]; discussions between Stalin and Molotov; and the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Representatives of Charter 77 and the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic were present at this theatrical evening with a political twist.

Vladimír Macura (who died on April 17, 1999) dedicated a large part of his energy towards Estonia, the Estonian language, and much more related to Estonia. Thanks to his constant pressure, the Czech-Estonian Club was created: “Latvians and Lithuanians already have their clubs, so that means that we cannot neglect the creation of an Estonian one!”

In conclusion, I would like to say that the Baltic Sea Union, as an organization, has certainly lost its meaning, but its members still take an active part in actions related to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

IIVI ZAJEDOVÁ, PH.D.

Member of the Baltic Sea Union since 1983, and a founding member of the Czech-Estonian Club.

(Article translated from the original Estonian by KARL ALTAU)
 
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