Estonian World Council meets in Stockholm
On 3-4 June, members of the Estonian World Council and the Global Estonian Youth Network met at the Estonian House in Stockholm. For many, this was the first physical meeting after the XII international Estonian culture festival ESTO 2019 in Helsinki, Tartu and Tallinn.
Almost all member countries were present: Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Germany, Czechia, Ukraine and the United States. No representative from Russia took part. Finland and the Global Estonian Youth Network attended as observers.
This year, the meeting of the Estonian World Council was kicked off with the international conference “We stand with Ukraine – historical and current perspectives”.
It was symbolic that the conference was held in the European House in Stockholm, in the offices of the European Parliament. Yes, Ukraine is welcome to join the European Union.
The conference had three discussion blocks: historical perspective, NATO’s role in Europe and information warfare.
Chairman of the Estonian World Council Aho Rebas made the opening remarks and guests were welcomed by the Swedish MEP Karin Karlsbro. Russia’s lust for power and perception of history was analysed by Professor of History Hain Rebas and Martin Kragh, Senior Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affair. NATO’s new role in Europe was discussed by Gunnar Hökmark and Björn von Sydow from Sweden, British Ambassador to Sweden Judith Gough, Laima Andrikienė from Lithuania and Marko Mihkelson from Estonia with Alexandra Ivanov moderating. The global information war was the subject of the panel featuring Marcus Kolga from Canada, Patrik Oksanen from Sweden, Jessikka Aro from Finland and Hanna Liubakova from Belarus. Alina Zubkovych, Chairwoman of the Central Organisation of Ukraine in Sweden, and Canada’s Reet Marten Sehr, Chairwoman of the Foreign Policy Team of the Estonian World Council, gave the closing remarks. The fact that one of the speakers, Sofi Oksanen, fell ill was proof that COVID-19 is still very much with us.
The organisers were very happy that the audience included many young people, youth delegates of the Estonian World Council and members of the Global Estonian Youth Network. We consider it crucial for young people to take part in discussions on security. The future is in their hands.
Watch the conference
The plenary of the Central Council of the Estonian World Council was held on 4 June in a hybrid format in the Estonian House in Stockholm
Almost all member countries were present: Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Germany, Czechia, Ukraine and the United States. No representative from Russia took part. The activities of Russia’s Union of Estonian Associations has been suspended for several reasons. These include the tense political situation in Russia and the fear of being labelled a foreign agent. Finland and the Global Estonian Youth Network attended as observers.
At the start of the plenary, Marin Mõttus and Kadri Linnas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the Estonian Diaspora Action Plan for 2022-2025 and the development of the Global Estonians website. Heidy Kiviloo spoke about the work and challenges of the Estonian Institute.
The plenary reviewed amendments to the rules of procedure. The proposal to change the number of mandates at the plenary – to reduce the number of mandates allocated to larger countries, such as Canada, Sweden and the United States, and increase the number of mandates of smaller countries – was not approved. In an analysis commissioned last year, legal scholars Katrin Nyman Metcalf and Tanel Kerikmäe noted that in line with the wishes of the founders of the Estonian World Council, the number of votes of member countries at the plenary must be proportionate to the size of their communities. As the size, activities and impact of central organisations varies a great deal, there is no consensus among member countries on how the votes should be distributed among large, medium-sized and small states.
However, a proposal was made at the plenary to invite new states and networks to join the Council and expand its field of activities. Priority should be given to developing cooperation with the network of Estonian language teachers abroad. Additionally, a proposal was made to establish a scholarship at the Council to support youth activity for Estonian speakers.
Students of Tallinn’s 22nd Upper Secondary School performed Suur minek (The Great Departure). Producer Eva Kalbus had combined the short plays Üle seitsme mere (Across Seven Seas) and Kutsumata külalised (Uninvited Guests) by Loone Ots into a compelling whole. The audience included many people whose family members had fled to Sweden or Germany in 1944 and then on to Canada and the United States. Many recognised the stories of escape of their loved ones. After the performance, the audience could meet with the actors and discuss the play.
On Sunday, young people from the Global Estonian Youth Network went to the family picnic of the Estonian Hobby School of Stockholm, which concluded its 17th academic year in the Drottningholm Palace Park. After several conferences, it was nice to enjoy the sunny and warm summer weather in a picturesque royal park. At the same event, we held the short training titled “Effective and inclusive organisational structure as a way of creating a sustainable community: the example of the Estonian Association of Sweden”.
I was happy to get a chance to share my experience of running the central organisation since 2013. The number of member organisations of the Association has grown from 12 to 30 during my time in office and the number of members is stable at slightly under 2000. The election of the 40-member Representative Assembly of Estonians in Sweden or a miniparliament are held every five years since 1956 and the Rahvuslik Kontakt (National Contact) magazine has been published since 1957. Since 2015, the publication has been issued in two languages and with a new design. The various commissions of the Assembly enable the members to address topics close to their hearts across the country, such as the Estonian language, youth work, history and archives, media and communication, politics and international cooperation, integration and legal affairs.
When presenting our central organisation, we have used the symbol of the Association as a beehive. It is crucial for Estonians in Sweden to have their own beehive where we as bees can be safe and get busy. The structure provides stability and ensures democratic elections. The level of activity of the bees in the hive is up to them. Every Estonian in every corner of Sweden can make their voice heard.
The community magazine Rahvuslik Kontakt is published as a labour of love by the Association and not a private company. The office of the Association provides technical and administrative support to all member organisations, and takes care of the application process for subsidies to the central organisations of ethnic minorities and communication. As information exchange and communication are among the most important services in the beehive, there are plans to draw up a communication strategy for the next meeting of the Assembly. It is important for all member organisations to be on the same page when it comes to the movement of information within, into and out of the community. Every communication channel requires resources that everyone can hardly spare. This is why cooperation is vital.
The programme of the youth days of the Global Estonian Youth Network, entitled The New Force of Estonians, continued on Sunday evening at the Estonian House in Stockholm. The agenda included mapping youth activity in various communities, discussing the development of the Global Estonian Youth Network and making conclusions.
This is not the only significant thing about this meeting. It should be noted that without the ESTO 2019 cultural days, there would be no youth network and many people working together actively now would not have met. The development of Estonian-language youth activity abroad cannot be left to chance, it requires strategic planning and support. I am happy to see that ESTO 2019 entitled Our Future became a fertile breeding ground for our youth and various networks.
The long and busy weekend in Stockholm provided all participants with new energy and strength and helped people make new contacts and connections that further contribute to local activities and global cooperation.
Chairman of the Association of Estonians in Sweden