A moment from Korp! Vironia's Toronto virtual Kommerss (2020)
Friday, 04 December 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 48 2020 - Vincent Teetsov
In a year that has seen many cancellations and postponements, the eagerness for celebration and fraternity hasn't been diminished. Least of all for Estonian academic fraternity Korporatsioon Vironia, on the occasion of its 120th Aastapäev
, (an annual commemoration of the fraternity's founding).
On November 26th, 1900, Vironia became the very first Estonian korporatsioon
, at a time when Estonian students had limited options for gathering together and speaking their language. It all began at Riga Polytechnicum.
Though Tsar Nicholas II made Russian the official language of the university in 1896, in 1890, German was the teaching language, likely because many of the professors were German. By then, Eesti Üliõpilaste Selts (the Estonian Students Society) had been active for 20 years as a selts
(society). However, Karl Ipsberg and Gustav Nurm envisioned a future in which the Chargierten Convent
, a collection of six other German, Russian, and Polish-language fraternities, would allow an Estonian fraternity to join their exclusive association. Latvian fraternities were not allowed to be part of it either, which only changed in 1897 when Korp! Selonija was admitted to the Convent.
The idea came to fruition at the turn of the 20th century, and as detailed in Jaan Meri's historical presentation during the online gathering, Estonian patriotism was sustained with dedication over the decades. 80 members fought in the Estonian War of Independence, receiving 34 Vabadusristi
(Cross of Liberty) medals, and many members were involved via other efforts.
During the Soviet occupation, Vironia continued to be active abroad, including in Toronto. One memorable event of the past 50 years includes the 1970 celebration of Vironia's founding, at Tartu College, which was just recently opened at that time. Meri remembers this as Vironia's second best anniversary party that he has been a part of.
He explained, “The 1970 celebration could be thought of as the transition to a rejuvenated Vironia. The vast majority of the older members (from across North America) joined Vironia in Tartu or Tallinn and were born in Estonia.” In contrast, new members from the previous three years were all born outside of Estonia.
Everyone watched old footage of the weekend and reminisced about the magnificent time that was had. And for all those who weren't born yet, it was a chance to wish we could have been there to dance to the live band and speak with another generation of Estonians in Canada, who made our current opportunities possible.
According to Meri, the best Vironia anniversary celebration was the 100th anniversary, in 2000, which was “the first larger get together between Vironia in Eesti and Toronto.” Over one week, members celebrated in Toronto and Tartu, with a trip to Riga in between.
Regular contact continues between Estonian and Canadian chapters of Vironia. The day after the Toronto chapter's 2020 virtual event, there was also an Aastapäev event live streamed from Tartu.
This year's Kommerss
was a chance to remember members who passed away in the last year, talk with good friends, sing, and listen to thoughtful kõned
(speeches). Ants Toi went around the group and asked where everyone was calling in from, highlighting the wide geographical coverage of Vironia's membership.
While the wish to be in Tartu that night was widely expressed, one member, Peeter Nieländer, was in fact tuning in seven hours ahead from Tartu. Dozens of people were there for what has been, and continues to be, a key date in the calendar.
For many Estonian academic fraternities, sororities, and societies, November is an active and meaningful time of year. It's a time to celebrate our togetherness, even if on Zoom.
Written by Vincent Teetsov