The end of the year is approaching, meaning that the current theme year is also ending to make way for the next one – the Cultural Diversity Year. In the following interview, Eero Raun, project manager of the next theme year, gives an overview of what lies ahead.
What is the purpose of the year dedicated to cultural diversity?
Estonia has always been home to different peoples of the world and the world has always been home to Estonians. Currently, there are people of 211 different nationalities living in Estonia, who speak 243 native languages, were born in 175 different countries, and hold 151 different citizenships. Meanwhile, there are 165,000–200,000 Estonians and people born in Estonia who live all over the world. The cultural specificities of these diverse communities are further enriched by the languages and practices that people with special needs bring to our daily lives.
The Cultural Diversity Year also gives the local representatives of different nationalities an opportunity for greater openness with Estonia by introducing their customs and cultural heritage. This is another opportunity to make Estonia bigger – this time, for ourselves.
In the theme year, we collectively take on everything that helps cultural richness stand out in a special way. In other words, we discover and share, value and create, preserve and enrich the cultural peculiarities of our communities and nations through everything that connects us: from experiences and myths to creativity and the future. This happens in everyday life and on special occasions, as well as in research and events.
Estonia’s cultural richness – where does it lie?
First and foremost, it lies in the local people and in what they have achieved with their dedication and creative spirit in adding beauty and meaning to their lives. Richness refers to wealth and fortune as well as to diversity. The value of cultural diversity is European to the core and in Estonia, it is often more visible to our visitors than to us. But culture is never a thing in itself – it always needs humans to acknowledge and develop it. Think of Estonia’s exceptional biological diversity as an example – that, too, needs the diligent hand of humans for its richness to be preserved. For example, the Laelatu wooded meadow near Virtsu is Europe’s most diverse simply because its diligent owners have mown it consistently through many centuries.
I would first and foremost like to highlight Estonian language as the core value of our national identity. The afterword of the first preserved printed source of Estonian language, the Wanradt-Koell Catechism from 1535, mentions the dialects of Estonian language: ‘Estonian language (eestensche sprake) is not the same across the country, because many words are spoken differently in Tallinn, in Tartu, Narva, Viljandi, and so on.’ It is also worth considering the fact that the population of Estonia at the time used to be about ten times smaller than it is today. However, cultural diversity has persevered to this date – population censuses verify that the percentage of people speaking some dialects is on the rise. Diversity is also part of the Estonian cuisine, which is a combination of local traditions and produce and the influences of German, Russian, and Swedish cuisines.
The possibilities to highlight cultural diversity are seemingly endless. What is your focus in developing the programme for the theme year?
The one-year timeline of the programme takes us through the appreciation of our historical heritage and our roots to our presence in the present moment and finally to a mindfulness regarding the future. The traditional events take place same as ever, but each quarter and calendar month additionally highlights different areas and focus topics related to cultural diversity. We are convinced that a shared culture is the best culture – and we will be investing in sharing in cooperation with our many partners, such as Tartu as the European Capital of Culture 2024. All events highlighting cultural diversity across Estonia can be viewed on the theme year’s official website kultuuririkkus.ee.
The more authors and executors of the ideas reflected in the theme year’s programme we have, the more efficient it will be. The Cultural Diversity Year launches with a grand opening event organised across Estonia on 13 January; in Tallinn, the opening event is held at MUBA (Tallinn College of Music and Ballet), where different cultures are introduced in their richness. Information about all opening events is available on our website kultuuririkkus.ee.
What kinds of changes does the theme year facilitate?
With this theme year, we wish to empower cooperation that respects the diversity of communities as well as attitudes valuing cultural richness and integration. This could improve the cohesion of Estonian society.
We are all aware of the paradox of the modern society, which has equipped us with the best technological tools for communication while conditioning withdrawal and fragmentation to an extent unknown before. To ensure the sustainability of our societal functioning and economic growth, we must increasingly improve the capacity of our communities to understand each other and cooperate. Anyone who’s ever been in a band knows very well that it takes consistent practice to play well together. This theme year allows us to practice exactly that through cultural means of expression.
What is the role of the Integration Foundation in the work related to the theme year? Who has already been involved?
The Integration Foundation is the theme year’s practical executor and has been mandated to carry out the project by the Ministry of Culture. We also organise some events on our own, such as the integration conference. However, we are mainly responsible for creating a network for the theme year and increasing the visibility of the activities and events of our partners.
We have gathered ideas for the programme in different formats from many communities and familiarised them with our plans for executing their ideas. Our current partners include the authorities operating under the Ministry of Culture as well as other state authorities, local governments, and foreign representations, many cultural societies as well as entrepreneurs.
Our partners can use the assistance of the theme year’s project group to find new contacts and ideas for their activities and additional information about project financing opportunities. The participants of our network can also use a common visual identity and additional marketing support to increase the visibility of their projects through coverage before and after the event.
Who else can help and how? What can we do?
All cultural organisers can help by notifying us early in advance of their 2024 events that may suit the calendar of the theme year. It is worth checking out our preliminary website already now, as it includes web forms, designs, and contacts for forwarding ideas. The official website of the theme year, kultuuririkkus.ee, which will be launched by the end of the year, will include an event calendar plus a flow of information in social media.
Is there anything each of us should note down in our calendars already today?
Let us start from the name of the theme year: 2024 will be the Cultural Diversity Year (‘Kultuuririkkuse aasta’ in Estonian and ‘Год богатства культур’ in Russian). Then, one could set a goal in their to-do list to gift themselves and their loved ones time to take a trip to a place in Estonia they have never been to and a cultural event they have never experienced before. All events and important information are available on the website kultuuririkkus.ee. Many thanks to everyone who have added their own events relevant to the theme year! If you, your communities, cities, or counties are hosting any events that could suit our calendar, you are welcome to add them.
Eda Silberg, Undersecretary for Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture
‘The Cultural Diversity Year is a year for everyone, as every one of us contributes to the cultural diversity surrounding us. Although we are different, we are all part of the same whole – Estonian society, which has been intertwined with various cultures throughout centuries. At the same time, integration and maintaining cohesion is an ongoing process and each theme year further improves our awareness and helps us to appreciate the cultural diversity around us. During this year, we will pay special attention to the versatile culture and traditions of the different nationalities living in Estonia as well as to our own multifaceted cultural space and communities (including our compatriots abroad). The entire year 2024 is dedicated to the openness, understanding, and tighter cooperation between Estonia’s different communities. We invite you to discover the cultural richness surrounding you in your daily lives: try out different national cuisines, visit different areas in Estonia, read literature from authors of different nationalities, listen to music from different countries, and communicate with the people around you. The more we communicate and the better we understand each other, the stronger we are as a society.’
Kaja Allilender, Manager of the Regional Department at the Estonian Centre of Folk Culture
‘Estonia is a country of riches; our regional identity is strong. Our cultural spaces have more or less preserved their language, customs, and traditions. During the Cultural Diversity Year, it is important to notice and acknowledge the communities and regions that have maintained their strong roots and are honouring our heritage! I hope that this year motivates communities across Estonia to find what is uniquely theirs! The local cultural space influences the motivation of its inhabitants to either stay in the region or leave. We can only hope that the Cultural Diversity Year makes us think about that!’
Ave Härsing, Head of Cultural Diversity Activities at the Integration Foundation
‘We have many national minority societies – around 300 – and the number is ever increasing. This shows that they are doing well. During the theme year, we will be paying attention to the cultures around us, which is what cultural societies have always done via close cooperation with each other. The greater challenge is improving cooperation with Estonian cultural societies or finding ways for working together with them. 2024 is a year of endless opportunities for national cultural communities: to show themselves, to notice others, to cooperate, find new members, encourage the youth, to add content to the concept of cultural diversity in any way possible and across all fields of life. The societies understand well that this is their year – this has been indicated, for example, by the results of our recent idea-gathering event, offering a colourful kaleidoscope of activities introducing national cultures. In return, the societies expect the general community to notice, acknowledge, and support the need for, existence of, and the balancing effect of cultural diversity.’