As Estonians in Canada prepare for holidays, summer camps, cottages and trips to Estonia to celebrate ESTO and the song and dance festival, we should also take a moment to appreciate our community’s recent achievements and face our concerns.
Despite the challenges that have developed in our community over the past few years, our future is bright and the incredible opportunities that it holds for our community in Canada and Estonians around the world, are perhaps greater than ever before.
Canadian-Estonians are blazing new trails for our global community.
The Canadian-Estonian vision of a Global Estonian identity, that unites our communities beyond any borders, from Montreal to Auckland and Helsinki to Johannesburg, is being enabled by the Estonian government and will bring all Estonians, around the world, closer together. A council of senior government ministers, including the Prime Minister, will meet regularly with the elected representatives of our communities worldwide, to help foster greater mutual understanding and cooperation in efforts to build and strengthen a global Estonian identity and movement.
Our schools and camps are teeming with Estonian activity as more and more young Canadians of Estonian heritage, embrace their identity and culture in hopes of passing that gift to their children. Their future depends on what we do today, and this must remain the single most important focus for our community. Our community must ensure that these youth organizations continue to receive our support, and that the funding that allows them to provide these critically important programs for our youth, is not reduced.
We can also look forward to the promise of an elaborate and beautifully designed new Estonian Center, which embodies Estonian entrepreneurship. The Center is close to becoming a reality, and will house much of our Toronto community activities in the coming decades. Other centers and camps in Vancouver, Hamilton, Montreal, Elora, Udora and elsewhere, also deserve our attention, and the volunteers who tirelessly maintain and support them, our sincere thanks.
Challenges remain, but can they can be overcome through respectful, friendly cooperation and a unified community.
The new Estonian coalition government has generated significant discussion here in Canada and in many other parts of the world. The voices of praise and accolades that we grew accustomed to over the past decade have become less rosy and more critical in nature over the past few months.
It’s no secret that the positions of certain members of the current Estonian coalition government, conflict, often deeply, with our own Canadian and western values. Our Canadian neighbours and friends may ask us, what’s happening in Estonia. As difficult as it may be to answer this question, we should answer it honestly, without betraying our own principles. The governing Center Party does maintain an agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, and members of EKRE, whom they invited to join as equal partners of the coalition, have publicly supported racist and homophobic positions.
However, they do not represent the majority of Estonians, who are otherwise tolerant and empathetic. Most Estonians continue to reflect the pioneering and progressive policies their nation embraced during the first period of independence, when minorities were granted broad cultural autonomy and rights under the Estonian constitution.
To those cynical Estonian politicians and media blowhards, who tell tolerant and liberal Estonians that they should move to Canada - we say, you are welcome here.
As Canadians we are well aware, that the small number of refugees that Estonia could provide shelter and safety to, pose no threat to Estonian culture, language or heritage. And we should not be shamefully intimidated into remaining silent about this.
Our experience, as Estonian-Canadians whose families fled terror and repression and who were given the opportunity to live peacefully and contribute to the building of our Canadian community and a greater society, could help inspire a more tolerant and empathetic Estonian policy towards newcomers and refugees. Similarly, Estonians who believe in equality and tolerance, deserve our support and should not be made afraid to speak out in support of these values.
Estonian language is of course an important pillar of Estonian culture but this small global nation, cannot afford to reject those whose Estonian is not perfect, nor those Estonians with different skin tones, sexual preferences, religions or heritages. We must embrace all those who share our Estonian identity and ensure that they never lose that feeling of being Estonian, just as we should not allow anyone to ever feel ashamed for being Estonian.
One serious challenge we face is the active and ongoing attempts by the Russian government, to distort our history and who we are as Canadian-Estonians. The glorification of Soviet symbols and Stalin by Kremlin supported groups are intended to make Canadians and others forget about Soviet terror and the occupation of Estonia and most of Central and Eastern Europe. As unpleasant or tiresome as it may be to some in our community, we must continue to tell our story to our friends and neighbors, so that the world will never allow such terror to threaten our free nation again. In September our community will lead the organizing of a large national event to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which enabled the coordinated start of WWII by both the Soviets and Nazis. All Estonians in Canada should participate and wear the Black Ribbon made famous by Canadian-Estonian Markus Hess.
As we prepare for our holidays, I hope that we can all take a moment to reflect on how much we benefit from being Estonians in Canada. We can all make our community better, by participating, listening and supporting each other - regardless of language, how we look or who we love.
Eesti meeles, elagu meie kogukond Kanadas. Olgu Võidupüha tähindusrikas kõigile.
For more information: See e-posti aadress on spämmirobotite eest kaitstud. Selle nägemiseks peab su veebilehitsejas olema JavaSkript sisse lülitatud. / www.estoniancouncil.ca