Academic journal article Ethnologies

World of Nations: Notes on Internationalism, Ethnic Diversity and Folklore Scholarships in Four Countries (Finland, United States, French Canada and Solomon Islands)

Academic journal article Ethnologies

World of Nations: Notes on Internationalism, Ethnic Diversity and Folklore Scholarships in Four Countries (Finland, United States, French Canada and Solomon Islands)

Article excerpt

It is an honour to have been asked to speak at this time here in Quebec. I have spoken here once before, almost exactly 20 years ago. I was invited by a folklorist who was not only international in her background and outlook but also struggled to link together her multiple national and ethnic belongings and loyalties: Finland, the United States, French Canada, and the Solomon Islands: Elli-Kaija Kongas Maranda. It is to her memory that I dedicate this talk.

Tallinn, Estonia, May 9, 1998

On Sunday afternoon, May 9, 1998, I arrived in Tallinn, the capital of the small Baltic republic of Estonia. This was the first of many visits there and I was seated in a bus full of scholars representing different disciplines and countries. We were to be tourists in Tallinn for a day before continuing on to the university town of Tartu. The traffic moved slowly and, as we were crawling through the centre of Tallinn, I spotted great numbers of people -- old, middle-aged, men, women, children -- walking slowly in little groups toward a park. They were dressed in holiday finery and carried flowers. As the bus moved forward, I saw people laying the flowers down in front of a big statue. Then I spotted women, dancing, singing and clapping hands at the edges of the park. "Let's go watch," I said to Russian linguist and poet Irina Sandomirskaya who was seated next to me. The driver let us out, the bus moved on toward the hotel, and Irina and I raced to the park.

For a long time, we watched one group of people after another approaching the massive Soviet style statue and placing at its foot not only flowers, but also pieces of salted bread and written messages. They stood in silence for a moment and then moved on. But the flowers were not allowed to remain at the statue: old women picked them up and handed them to young boys who walked solemnly out on the lawn and arranged them there in different patterns. It was all strange and eerie and performed in silence. There were already several flower arrangements on the lawn and Irina told me that the one closest to us spelled "Victory". Then she reminded me that May 9 or Victory Day -- i.e. the day when the Germans were defeated and World War II ended -- remains vigorously celebrated in post-Soviet Russia and in former Soviet republics. After a while, Irina began speaking to people in the park. All identified themselves as Russians and told her that the monument was dedicated to the Soviet soldiers -- many of whom were Estonians -- who rested in a mass grave underneath. They also said that this particular celebration of Victory Day had gained in strength after Estonian independence. I recalled that around 35% of the 1.4 million inhabitants of Estonia are Russian speakers of whom the majority are not citizens of Estonia.

It was difficult to leave. Mesmerized, we watched the continuous and silent placing of cut flowers into the earth and the women singing, dancing, and clapping hands. Irina explained that the song texts were longing, sorrowful and patriotic. When we tore ourselves away, we saw a few individuals standing in the street silently watching the goings-on inside the park. We concluded that they were Estonians. That impression was confirmed later when the entire group of scholars arrived at the park, now led by an Estonian guide. The group lingered there longer than she wanted to; she was visibly bothered by our interest in an event that seemed to have little to do with the Estonian arts and achievements that she wished to show us. Eventually we left, following her.

To my knowledge, this intensely performed act of commemoration has never been studied, neither by Russian nor by Estonian folklorists, nor by any other scholars for that matter. In the light of history, it is not hard to understand why Estonians have not done so. After fifty years of Soviet rule, Estonian scholars are not eager to highlight the ritual commemorations and other expressive forms of their oppressors. …

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