Eesti Elu
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”: ESTO 20..? (10)
Arvamus 29 Sep 2011  Eesti Elu
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Mark Twain’s wit could aptly describe the bewilderment of those who find the Estonian World Council’s recent announcement of the proposed funeral for ESTO-s.

The World Council, in declaring that ESTOs should no longer be organized also declared that the North American West Coast Days, to be held in San Francisco in 2013, will also be the venue for the ceremonial burial of the ESTO world-wide gatherings.

The first Estonian World Festival held in Toronto in 1972 and thereafter the ESTO’s every four years in Baltimore 1976, Stockholm 1980, Toronto 1984, and Melbourne 1988 had as a prime objective, the raising of international awareness to the Soviet captivity of Estonia and the country’s right to self-determination. Through their participation, leading host country politicians helped boost the public visibility of this aspect of the ESTOs. (These efforts were so successful that the Chairman of the Presidium of the Estonian Supreme Soviet, accused the organizers of the 1984 Toronto ESTO of being in collusion with the CIA. This caused such a sensation in the Canadian press, resulting in ample coverage of Estonia’s plight. It’s ironical that a Soviet era communist official actually helped advance ESTO’s publicity effort.)

One of the arguments for declaring the end of ESTO as an institution was Estonia’s restoration of independence in 1991. ESTO’s prime goal had been achieved. But the world-wide nature of the ESTO festivals had other objectives. They helped to solidify our national unity, especially during the years of Soviet occupation. They injected a booster shot of self-identity and reminded us of our cultural heritage. ESTOs gave periodic opportunities to celebrate our distinct culture and to share it with others.

Opposition to ESTO’s continuing was so firm, that at the conclusion of the dual-city Stockholm-Tallinn ESTO of 1996, the ESTO ceremonial flag was formally given to the Estonian National Museum to be exhibited as a relic. In spite of the expectation that ESTOs were an anachronism, organizers in Toronto 2000, Riga 2004 and Münster 2009 took the initiative and offered full scale ESTOs (the latter two over a shorter time).

One could convincingly argue that since the 20,000 attendees in Toronto in 1972 had dwindled to approximately 1000 in 2009 (including choirs, dancers etc.) the critical mass necessary for a successful world-wide celebration can no longer be guaranteed. Consequently the energy expended and the costs involved are not justified.

Opposing the continuation of ESTOs are also those who insist one can enhance one’s sense of heritage and cultural pride by visiting Estonia especially during the periodic Song and Dance Festivals, a unique cultural phenomenon not experienced anywhere else in the world. Definitely yes, all are to be encouraged to visit the country of their predecessors to absorb that intangible quality that some describe `estonianism`. The Song and Dance Festival is especially a powerful generator of national unity, cultural pride and provides attractive cultural exposure on an international scale – all essential original reasons for expending tremendous human resources in organizing ESTOs.

But the Song and dance Festival cannot replace ESTO`s as a world-wide meeting place, where friendships are renewed among people scattered in every corner of the earth. Although the Song and Dance Festival fulfills its functions admirably, it cannot replace ESTO as a deliberate and intimate locale for discussing common issues unique to the Estonian community abroad.

The current diaspora is probably larger than anytime in history. If a group of erstwhile and eager enthusiasts were to announce that ESTO still has some vital signs and that it’s an opportune time for another ESTO, who would admonish and tell them that ESTO has been buried? Why give ESTO a public burial? Publicity? Yes, bad publicity!

For those who see that this issue will cause a serious rift in our ex-patriot community - no it won’t. But it’ll stimulate robust debate, vigorous discussion, at least for those who still give a damn.
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