On June 27, the Estonian community of Cleveland Ohio gathered at the Estonian Cultural Garden for the annual commemoration of Estonia’s final victory of the war of independence, June 21, 1919 and jaanipäev.
We had a special guest, former mayor of Cleveland and eight term Congressman, Dennis Kucinich, who greeted us and reminisced about his work with the Estonian Government on security and defense issues.
In 2005 Ambassador Jüri Luik presented Congressman Kucinich with the Second Class Order of Terra Mariana for his support of the Baltic States.
The Second Class Order of Terra Mariana is one of the highest honors awarded by the Republic of Estonia.
Pastor Peeter Pirn opened the program with a prayer, remembering those local Estonians lost during the COVID year. Estonian Cultural Garden President, Erika Puussaar remembered Hans Ruus, Aino Samoson and Toivo Siitam, who passed away this past year.
Lithuanian Honorary Consul Ingrida Bublys greeted the crowd and Toomas Tubalkain gave the main speech which explained Estonian history based on Kalevipoeg (scroll down).
After the program, attendees posed for a group photo in front of the monument and then enjoyed some Estonian food and pastry during a lengthy social hour.
Welcome to our annual võidupüha / jaanipäeva, Victory Day and St. John’s Day (or Midsummer) commemoration in our beautiful Estonian Cultural Garden.
We are appropriately situated between the Finnish and Latvian gardens and our monument commemorates ‘Kalevipoeg’ or as I like to call it, the Estonian Creation Myth.
This year, we not only remember those 3,588 soldiers who died during our battle for independence and the 13,775 injured during the War of Independence, but we also remember how Estonia regained its independence on August 20th 1991, with no casualties of any kind.
• This past COVID year has posed many challenges for our community. For the first time in my memory, we did not celebrate our independence day together, we did not meet in this park to celebrate Victory Day and we even canceled the Estonian Christmas Party. We were also unable to grieve together, remembering the remarkable lives of those community members we lost during the past year. • We lost Hans Ruus, a long time mainstay in our community. He was an active member of the Estonian Freedom Fighters organization or Võitlejate Ühing, a folk dancer and choir singer, who, with his wife, hosted the Estonian Christmas Party for countless years, cooking verivorst and hapukapsas for our traditional meal. • We lost Aino Samoson, who has actively suported our Cultural Garden, by joining in the spring clean-up and One World Day festivities. I relied on her baking skills to always bring an apple cake and sauerkraut for the Christmas party. She also brought her partner Bill Schrock into our community. Through his participation and energy, he has become an adopted Estonian. • Most tragically, Toivo Alek Siitam was killed by a hitskip driver on his 60th birthday, Nov. 17, 2020 in Columbus Ohio. Toivo would always make the drive up to Cleveland for our Estonian events. He could be counted on to bring red, black and white currants for our table and always a generous contribution to the Estonian Cultural Garden. In recent years, he joined a hunting club in Estonia, so he could go hunting in his ancestral woods. He provided all of his processed game to the border guards as a special gift for their service.
All three of these individuals were a credit to our community, made certain that they were a credit to their homeland, and are deeply missed at our gatherings. Let us reflect in a moment of silence upon those lives lost during the past year.
As so eloquently stated in the excellent documentary, ‘The Singing Revolution’, our 1991 restoration of Independence was a triumph of Culture over Tyranny.
Each year for One World Day, I introduce hundreds of people to the Estonian Cultural Garden, by explaining the monument and its relevance to Estonia, as our creation myth.
These types of myths have been popularized by the Marvel Comics movies over the last decade or two.
Our Creation myth goes back into prehistory and was captured in the pages of Kalevipoeg.
The inscription “Aga ükskord algab aega..” on the monument has been translated as “One day an age will dawn when all torches break out into full flame at both ends; the open fire will cut the hand from the rock’s fetter; then Kalev will come home and bring happiness to his children.”
The tale of the son of Kalev is a tragic one, not unlike the history of his people…Kalevipoeg was an immortal from the days when such pagan gods ruled the earth.
He journeyed into the forests of what is now Estonia and cleared the demons and monsters from the land and transformed it into an earthly paradise for his children, the Estonian people.
Kalevipoeg did such a good job that his people prospered and became the envy of their neighbors.
Unfortunately, this brought certain risks, others were interested in conquering Estonia and Kalevipoeg needed to defend his land.
He had heard of a powerful wizard in Finland, that made the greatest swords in the world, so Kalevipoeg dove into the Gulf of Finland and swam across to visit the wizard.
The wizard, upon hearing Kalevipoeg’s story said “You’re in luck, I just finished my greatest and most powerful sword.
With this, you will be invincible and can defend all of Estonia from invaders.” Kalevipoeg hefted the sword, felt its balance and felt the magic the wizard had forged into the mighty weapon.
At this point I’d like to say that all people wish for the founders and creators of their country to be good and honorable people that never make mistakes.
I wish I could say that Kalevipoeg was such a superhero, but as so often happens, we sometimes make bad decisions and Kalevipoeg, feeling invincible made a bad decision at this moment and decided not to pay for the sword and cut off the wizard’s son’s head instead.
This was the decision that has impacted Estonia over the millennia.
Kalevipoeg swam back to Estonia, with his new sword, but had the nagging sensation that he had made a big mistake, but once made, it could not be undone.
Kalevipoeg went about his business, riding his horse across Estonia and using the sword to defend the land and people.
One day, riding through a forest stream, a giant wave came up, startling the horse and Kalevipoeg’s sword fell into the water.
Search as he might, Kalevipoeg could not find the sword.
That nagging suspicion that he should have been honorable and paid the price for the sword became stronger.
Kalevipoeg was now worried that the wizard may have been able to curse him or the sword.
Years later, crossing the same stream, another wave came out of nowhere washing Kalevipoeg off his horse and his sword cut him off at the knees.
Kalevipoeg truly regretted that poor decision he made in Finland.
The pagan gods of the day didn’t think it appropriate that a superhero immortal should just lie bleeding on the banks of a stream, but they didn’t want to simply reinstate him to his former position.
They all knew of the bad choice he made and how he brought this on himself, so the gods rescued him, put him on his horse and sent him down to the gates of hell, to hold the door shut for eternity.
Losing their superhero protector, Estonia needed to fend for itself.
They were unprepared for the Hanseatic league’s soldiers and mercenaries attack in 1267 AD and Estonia was conquered by Germanic Barons and Estonians became serfs.
Over the centuries, all manner of nations decided they would like to have Estonia, their strong and beautiful people, their great port of Tallinn and their productive forests, fields and fisheries.
Estonia was occupied by the Germanic Barons, the Swedish King, Danish armies and Russian Tsars.
The one constant was that the German Barons remained in control of the people and land.
They were very good managers and saw the value in paying taxes and keeping the Estonians as serfs.
In the 1800s, I believe Kalevipoeg, as the inscription says, broke free from his bonds and returned to his children, beginning the period of national awakening, with song festivals, serfs being able to buy and bargain for their freedom, own land and get educated.
This national awakening culminated on Feb 24, 1918, when Estonia declared independence from Russia and the Baltic German Barons.
The War of Independence lasted two years and finally, in 1920, peace treaties were signed and Estonia became a recognized nation.
Everything went well until the devils, Molotov and Ribbentrop, serving their masters Hitler and Stalin, decided that the Baltic States should belong to the Soviet Russian sphere of influence.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed in 1939, led directly to World War II and the occupation of Estonia by the Soviets in 1940.
Then Hitler in 1941 and then Stalin again in 1944, which is when my parents fled Estonia for Sweden.
Many other Estonians fled to Germany, though most stayed where they were and suffered brutal Soviet occupation and terror until 1991, when Kalevipoeg sent the Communists back to their own hell and liberated his children once again, using singing as a peaceful, nonviolent weapon in this second “war of independence”.
The story of our Creation Myth is as relevant today, as it has been for millennia. Kalevipoeg and Estonia suffered for centuries under foreign occupation, but the culture of the Estonian people never faltered and proved to be their salvation.
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