An Insight into Estonia

An interview with Estonian historian Aleksandr Openko
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Eastern Spaces interviewed Estonian historian Aleksandr Openko about the customs and traditions that, in his mind, best celebrate Estonian culture, and everything that is vital to the spirit of the Baltic country.

Eastern Spaces: Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions, Alex!

Aleksandr: No problem!

I’ll start with traditions if that’s alright? What traditions or celebrations do you consider a fundamental part of Estonian culture?

Independence Day, 24th February! It was a dream for more than 700 years.

webreatheasone, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/39971397@N08/3691499250/

How do you celebrate it? Is there a specific meal or party or something?

You know, it’s not about the meal. Meal is for Christmas or Jaani day. It’s about waking up early in the morning, going to the national flag raising ceremony and the military parade.

Oh that sounds great! Does everyone attend?

A lot do.

What age did you start going to the parade?

4.

Wow, from an early age! Could you tell me about Jaani Day too?

It’s 25th-26th June, there is a lot of food, a fire and we jump over it. There is meat, a barbecue, salads, sour cabbage, sausages, and sausages from blood (traditional Estonian Verivorstid – literally translated as blood sausage).

Sounds like a great barbecue to me! What are you celebrating on Jaani Day?

Summer solstice, a midsummer celebration that came from Slavic pagan celebrations in 8th-9th century.

Ah okay! Are there any other historical events which are a source of pride in Estonia?

Independence Recovery in 1991. Juri Night Rebellion in 1343 against Danish and German landlords. Every year in summer and autumn we also celebrate Great Northern War (1700- 1721) – battles between Russians and Swedes. This is an awesome event!

Do you celebrate these? How are they incorporated into Estonian culture?

Yes, we celebrate it every year. They are very famous holidays

Is it similar, with a barbecue or a military parade?

No, more quiet. This is more like respecting the history of our nation.

I get you. It is evident that you are very proud of being Estonian and who you are. I know this is a very broad question, but can you tell me what you feel creates your Estonian identity?

This is my land. And I know, as a historian, quite a lot about my country. It doesn’t really matter that my parents are Ukrainians; I feel like a part of my country, I feel Estonian.

webreatheasone, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/39971397@N08/3691499250/

What makes you feel like that? Is there something that ‘makes you’ an Estonian or is it that you are welcomed?

It’s difficult to describe, it’s like you have some feeling inside you that this is your home, your land.

That’s really great! It’s so nice to hear all this as well. Thanks so much for your help Alex.

No problem at all.

It is apparent from chatting with Alex that he is very proud of being Estonian, and that he holds their traditions in the highest regard. Many of the celebrations revolve around freedom and overcoming the trials of being a small, (mostly) occupied, and oft-forgotten country. Despite celebrating independence from 1918 and therefore being a country under 100 years old, Estonia evidently has strong, powerful, and independent traditions and a people who are proud of what they have achieved.

After being unrecognised for so long, modern Estonia’s national identity seems to derive from the freedom that they as a nation, and as a people, have deservedly achieved. This pride permeates society and is beginning to create its own blend of traditions, some based on old holidays banned under the rule of other nations, but all have been reclaimed with a modern twist, and acknowledgement the country’s independence. Tallinn is becoming increasingly becoming a centre of international tourism, and this may have something to do with the interesting traditions that Estonia now celebrate, and the influence of independence on the country as a whole. Alex made it clear that Estonian society is homely, welcoming and inclusive, and these important qualities seem to have been amplified by the freedom that Estonian people have fought, together, to achieve.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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