February 24, otherwise known to us, the children of the boat people, as Aktus season, has come and gone for another year. We are finally on the road to the Easter holiday and looking forward to the huge mounds of dirty Ottawa snow finally starting to melt under a sun that feels stronger every day.
This new year is unusual because I have not heard Estonia’s national anthem. It seems that hearing the words and music to Mu Isamaa at least once a season over the decades has become so ingrained that even a “hobby Estonian” such as I feels something is missing or not quite right.
Anyway, instead of attending the traditional Aktus that most of us grew up with (and usually dreaded going to because of having to hold the flag through long winded speeches); I listened to a jazz concert. The quartet, sponsored by the government of Estonia in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the republic, was touring Canada and the United States, complete with lithe female singer in a bright red cocktail dress and serious
“Come check me out” high-heeled boots.
Don’t get me wrong, the concert arranged by the Ottawa embassy was of a very high professional calibre. The pianist in particular was very talented, the singer had a very good voice and the atmosphere at the reception that followed was very enjoyable.
However, it didn’t seem like Eesti Vabariigi Aastapäev observance and I must confess that I am not a jazz lover. I also had to remind myself that this was first and foremost a function primarily for diplomats to which the embassy had as usual, graciously invited members of our small Estonian community. We are fortunate and unique among the smaller centers in that we have the embassy here that willingly spares so much time from its normal diplomatic duties for us.
The new modern Estonia has come a long way in everything including music and on some occasions I am having trouble adapting to it. It is either an age thing or my outlook is tempered by the fact that I have never lived in Estonia. It does not seem that long ago that just buying a red car was frowned on, never mind wearing a bright red dress to Aktus. Dressing in folk costume was OK and mourning Black was even better...
Since I missed Aktus, I decided I may as well go on the internet and listen to what Estonia’s top soldier had to say in the city of Pärnu. His speech about Estonia’s armed forces repelling aggressors was suitably martial for the time and place. In particular lieutenant general Laaneots compared Estonia’s losses during the Second World War and its aftermath to that of Finland, which refused to accede to Soviet demands and went to war repeatedly with the Soviets and also Nazi Germany, thus avoiding occupation and achieving a standard of life that Estonia was still looking up to.
Although he did not name them, his remark that the government of the time had allowed Estonians to be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse reflected negatively on both general Laidoner and president Päts. What struck me as somewhat ludicrous was that right behind the general stood the poker faced former communist secretary general of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. It appeared that he had decided not to wear his Order of Lenin medal to this occasion. You really have to admire how adroit those older native born Estonian politicos are but then again, the man giving the speech was a former Soviet polkovnik. Estonia does indeed have a convoluted complex history.
I came away from my computer screen glad that I live in Canada and our great neighbour is the far from perfect United States, not Russia. During the last few months every time I drop by a gas station and see the price, it forcefully reminds me that the formerly sick Russian bear is getting his strength back. Lately he has been acting downright ornery, especially about this Kosovo thing. Whenever that former KGB guy in charge in the Kremlin growls and rattles his sabre, I reflect on those verses that we sing very quietly at the conclusion of Aktus-the ones that go “Su üle Jumal valvaku…”
Anyway, that’s my belated view from Ottawa for this February 24. I’m looking forward to getting my anthem “fix” at Seedrioru in the summer. See you there.
The view from Ottawa