Obinitsa becomes the 2015 Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture

Seto people conducting one of their traditional rituals. (ERR)
1/7/2015 9:18 AM
Category: Culture

The Seto Christmas - Talsipühad - on Wednesday also marked the beginning of Obinitsa's turn as a Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture for 25 million people. The culture capital program includes 35 events.

Obinitsa is a village in Võru County in southeastern Estonia and the center of the Seto community.

Obinitsa village, which only has about 135 inhabitants, was chosen the be the Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture in August last year, over Veszprém (Hungary) and the village of Vuokkiniemi (Karelia).

"We have been propagating the Finno-Ugric cause for over 20 years now. A lot of Finno-Ugric folklore groups have been here and given concerts," said Rieka Hõrn, one of the organizers.

As a result, Obinitsa is not just another little provincial Estonian village. It has its own art gallery, clubhouse and a modern village center, as well as a large backing from the community, that provides the Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture with a wider platform.

Moreover, the mayor of the Capital of Culture, Evar Riitsaar, said that the year will not be Obinitsa-centered. "We hope that it will engage not just the local Meremäe municipality but the entire Setomaa and Estonia as well."

The cultural program Obinitsa has put together centers on "strengthening ancestral cultural heritage in the modern environment" and the key priority is engaging the Seto people living on both sides of the Estonian-Russian border.

The flagship event of the Capital of Culture program will be "Week of Finno-Ugric Culture – from Master to Master", to be held during the first week of August and culminating on the traditional Seto Kingdom Day, a major regional fair.

The program of Finno-Ugric Capitals of Culture is a civic initiative of the Youth Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples (MAFUN), established in 2013. The program aims to strengthen common Finno-Ugric identity, raise awareness of Finno-Ugric peoples and languages, and stimulate local cultural, economic and social development.

Setomaa is located in the southeast corner of Estonia adjacent to the Võro region, Latvia, Russia, and Lake Pskov. Today, Setomaa is split between the administrative territory of Võru and Põlva County and the Russian Pechory (Petseri in Estonian) district. The name Setomaa is said to mean "neither this nor that land" (ei see ega too maa), for it has always been caught between two countries, languages, religions and cultures.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who attended the opening ceremony in Obinitsa on Wednesday, said that Setomaa, although small and stuck between two worlds, is great in spirit.

"The dedication and tenacity of the Seto people is an excellent example of how to maintain a unique cultural heritage, even through tough times and the inevitable changes these bring," he said, explaining that Setomaa demonstrates how modern methods of heritage management not only allow cultural and linguistic differences to flourish, but also support economic development and speak to many people from different parts of the world.

"Yet, to ensure the survival of Finno-Ugric languages and culture we have to do more than just preserve and manage. The world has become smaller, but we cannot allow it to become culturally poorer," he added.

Seto folklore groups have always been a staple part of all local folk festivals and the Seto improvisatory call and response singing tradition (Seto leelo) was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. The traditional songs have gained wider popularity thanks to a band called Zetod, which offers slightly more contemporary arrangements of the old tunes. Zetod was declared the Band of the Year back in 2011. 

In 2013, the Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture was the village of Bygy in Udmurtia, Russia.

You can learn more about Obinitsa and its cultural program in their website, or by visiting the Finno-Ugric Capitals of Culture community page on Facebook.

M. Oll

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