Minister of Culture: Estonians living abroad help shape Estonia's image around the world
"I am happy when Estonians living outside the country keep their roots and support the country's development and achievements," says Estonian Minister of Culture Heidy Purga. In the interview given to the Global Estonian portal, there is also talk about preserving Estonianness (eestlus), cultural diplomacy, young Estonians living abroad and returning to Estonia. The Minister of Culture also makes recommendations about cultural events that she also enjoys.
You have said that Estonians abroad are Estonia's ambassadors around the world. What are the important messages that could resonate abroad about the culture and traditions of Estonia?
Indeed, Estonians living outside their homeland are often our first cultural ambassadors abroad, shapers of Estonia's image, introducers of our history, people and culture. It is admirable that Estonians living in different countries have been able to keep the Estonian language and the Estonian spirit alive far from home for several generations.
One of the most complex issues in planning and implementing successful Estonian cultural events is the presence of cooperation partners operating abroad, their interest and awareness of what Estonia has to offer. And it is here that Estonians living abroad can lend a helping hand with their skills and knowledge. We realize more and more clearly how important it is to think through the possibilities of introducing culture abroad in order to reach the end result that is effective and creates added value for as many as possible - increasing the recognition and reputation of Estonia in the world. Estonia's image is also influenced by international success stories related to Estonia, where our compatriots, the global Estonian community, play a very important role.
Estonians living abroad can be helpful in creating the image of Estonia, for example by introducing Estonia as a potential tourist destination or a suitable investment and business environment, by spreading the word about Estonian culture and its international influence, and Estonian society and politics more broadly. Compatriots around the world can actively revive foreign communication and influence the public opinion and international relations of their host country.
In your eyes, what are the possibilities and tools that help Estonians living abroad to keep in touch with Estonia?
Contact networks, collaborative activities and media platforms. The important priorities of the cultural policy aimed at Estonians living abroad are maintaining linguistic and cultural ties with compatriots and supporting cultural societies. Cultural events held in Estonian foreign communities support the preservation of Estonian identity, contribute to the internationalization of Estonian culture, the growth of the country's image and influence, and the promotion of cultural diplomacy.
Maintaining the knowledge of the Estonian language is important in order to understand the history and people of your country, cultural patterns, traditions and customs. Our way of life and social attitudes contain the wisdom and spiritual cultural heritage of our ancestors, which must be preserved and passed on from generation to generation. I am happy when Estonians living outside the country keep their roots and support the country's development and achievements.
Many great creations are cultivated in Estonia. Does the Ministry of Culture have a vision of how this work could reach a wider audience of Estonians abroad and friends of Estonia in the future?
Estonian culture has always been introduced abroad. In foreign countries where Estonians live, Estonian art exhibitions, film festivals, concerts and theater performances take place, which the local Estonian population can also take part in. For example, the Vanemuine theater performed at the Estonian Culture Days in New York this year and last year, and the New York Baltic Film Festival or Estonian Music Week in Canada are also good examples. Children's theater Piip ja Tuut performed at Mardi Laada in Helsinki, Estonian literature was presented at the Turku International Book Fair, and the Estonian National Male Choir and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra gave concerts in England, Manchester and Bradford.
One of the ministry's activities is cultural diplomacy. It is the part of diplomacy where international relations with other countries, international organizations and cooperation partners are created, maintained and developed through culture. The Ministry also contributes to the development of cultural exports, which is related to the development of the creative economy and cultural tourism. Innovation and the development of products and services with high added value, which help to make Estonian culture visible and accessible, play an important role in cultural exports.
The digital revolution has created an opportunity to take part in Estonian cultural events through TV or radio broadcasts in every corner of the world. At the same time, it is important to consciously direct information to foreigners as well. A good example is the trilingual news portal of the Estonian National Broadcasting Company, or your portal, which shares information in three different languages.
If you are interested and want to take part in the activities of a certain cultural field or organize something yourself, it is worth contacting Estonian embassies or writing directly to the Ministry of Culture, where advisers in the field will be able to help with good advice. We can contribute to the introduction of Estonia through various fields of art and culture.
What is your own view of open Estonia and society - what role does the desire of young people to live abroad for a while play in our culture?
An open society supports changes that create shared value. Common knowledge and beliefs, examples and values emerge in culture, which in turn make possible the formation of a common part of the state and the nation. Economists talk about Estonia as a small open economy, we can talk about Estonian culture as a small open culture. There is no alternative to this in today's world.
Estonian culture has been in constant contact with other cultures. Estonian culture changes, transforms and develops vigorously through the members participating in cultural creation. Greater mobility of people, globalization and digital media play their role here, which expand the field of meaning of Estonian culture. The vocabulary of the Estonian language is also developing. We cannot remain limited only by our own traditions. We live in Estonia, where borders are open and where digital culture has become an inherent and natural part of society. The main thing is that the goals and objectives are in place in society and accepted by the majority, and that such a world of understandings and attitudes is finally established that leaves every person the freedom to think and be and to create and consume culture.
It is quite natural that young people want to study at prestigious universities or gain work experience in a foreign country. I really hope that many of them will return and bring the acquired knowledge to us to contribute to the development of their homeland. The Ministry of Culture also supports studying abroad with scholarships, so that young people go abroad to gain valuable experience and thereby strengthen our culture. I believe that young people are fascinated by Estonia's nature, culture and safe society, and they are motivated to come back here after years of study and migration. For example, through the Integration Foundation, we offer return support to young people who have obtained a master's and doctorate degree in foreign countries.
Among Estonians abroad, there are many young people who want to keep in touch with Estonia and be part of the community. How can we further support and encourage these young people on this journey?
Today's world is so open that young people do not have to make life-changing decisions at any moment, but can experiment with living and being in Estonia with the help of various programs. I support maintaining contact with Estonia at all times, so that if there is a desire and will to live here for a longer period, it will be easier to do so and the adaptation will be smoother.
I know that language and culture camps are held in Viljandimaa for 13-18-year-old foreign Estonian youth every summer. Such camps give young people the opportunity to communicate with Estonian peers, learn and practice the language, and get to know Estonia and its culture more closely. This year, young people from 19 different countries participated in the camp. The option is also offered from 6 to 30 p.m. year-old Estonian youths living abroad have the opportunity to come to Estonia every summer and get to know the different regions of Estonia as well as the institutions in order to learn more about the living conditions here, on the basis of which future decisions can be made. The Global Estonian Youth Network (Ülemaailmne Eesti Noortevõrgustik), whose leaders are young people with Estonian roots all over the world, conduct exciting mentoring programs and events that are available to all young people.
I encourage young people to take part in Estonian cultural events both in the host country and in Estonia. You can also watch Estonian films, read Estonian books and press, listen to Estonian music and participate in activities organized by Estonian societies and organizations operating abroad.
The Ministry of Culture has long supported compatriots, also in the matter of returning to Estonia. Sometimes, however, the decision of Estonians living abroad to return is due to a lack of courage. In such a case, what would be the state's message to these people?
Nearly 7,000 people with Estonian roots return to Estonia every year. The decision to pack up your life in a foreign country and come to live in Estonia really requires a lot of courage, entrepreneurship, planning and action. Here I encourage you to thoroughly prepare for this big life change. The more preliminary work is done, the more certain the journey and adaptation here. The Integration Foundation offers a number of different services to returnees to make this journey smoother. A returnee advisor can also be contacted online before you get here.
Every person is important for Estonia. In Estonia, it is possible to have a good career, find an interesting job, come for an internship, learn more Estonian if necessary. Higher education is mostly free in Estonia. People with Estonian roots are always welcome to settle in Estonia. Come, you are welcome!
The next major events that could be of interest to Estonians are next year 2024 as the year of cultural diversity and 2025, when ESTO will take place. What events would you like to see included here?
I definitely want to mention here the XXVIII Song Festival and the XXI Dance Festival in 2025. The year 2024 is the year of cultural diversity, where foreign affairs will definitely be discussed. A lot of interesting and attractive things happen in Estonia throughout the year. Among the summer events, I want to highlight the Saaremaa Opera Days, the Pärnu Music Festival, the traditional music festival in Viljandi, the International Visual Theater Festival Tallinn Treff and many others. An exciting cultural life takes place in every corner of Estonia.
Please recommend a piece of music, a book and a film from the work of Estonians, which have caught your eye recently and which others might also notice?
I recommend studying the books published by SALV publishing house. There is poetry, there is suspense, there is contemporary description of life. In addition, I recommend discovering young Estonian contemporary music performers/composers. We have these young composers emerging and it is very important to notice them. And "Machina Faust" made from film recommendations, i.e. the life of Maria Faust.