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Peeter Laurits: Devastation in the woods and humanities

Peeter Laurits.
Peeter Laurits. Source: Private collection

The plundering of sacred sites has become an everyday and state sanctioned practice, with a similar degree of devastation taking place in the field of humanities, Peeter Laurits says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Death is a very big deal; much bigger than life, it is a new dimension of space and time. The death of loved ones and the knowing that it will happen to us one day puts us in touch with the other side, values that transcend a person's life. We call these values sacred, no matter our creed or lack thereof.

Everyone finds their own way of dealing with events that stagger the soul. Those who accept death retain their connection to the other side and sense of sanctity in other situations. They develop the ability to see things on another level, from a different angle, in new context. Even under great stress or when depressed, one retains the knowledge that the world exists on many levels – you can always stop and look at your woes using a different wavelength.

Devastation in the woods

One cannot imagine Estonian cemeteries without trees. The sanctity of trees is self-explanatory for us. Trees have been the keepers of souls, forests the nests of eternity. People going to the woods to think lends power to the whole area. The forest is a spiritual accelerator where the soul can gather strength to jump over to the other side of the mundane and reach values that are bigger than our everyday interests. The grove is the first symbol of our national feeling of sanctity.

The Estonian nature conversation development plan 2020 notes: "Groves, cross trees, sacred springs, boulders and other natural sanctuaries are among the rarest and most endangered parts of Estonian landscapes. Having been largely destroyed elsewhere in Europe, these historical places protect a significant part of Europe's landscape and cultural heritage."

Following the initiative of Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment Marku Lamp, the map layer designating sacred natural sites was first removed from the forests register and from the Land Board's geology portal soon after in 2018. This was done to cater to major timber companies and with the blessing of the Heritage Conservation Board. It is no longer possible to consider natural sacred sites when putting together forestry plans even if one wanted to.

Consequences did not take long to manifest. Both the private sector and State Forest Manager RMK have sacked holy sites before, while it has been turned into an everyday and state sanctioned practice by now.

The list of leveled holy places put together by Ahto Kaasik included nearly 80 sites back in 2018. In what has only been a short time, the Aburi grove, Pärna village grove in Virumaa, the Tulimäe grove near Elva, Kääpa Kuningakivi, Kärgula cross trees, Jakobson's home woods in Kurgja and many others have been lost.

Devastation in humanities

Similar demolition work can be seen in the field of humanities in Estonia. The Estonian Folklore Archive, established by Jakob Hurt – an institution as vital as the Song Festival or the Estonian National Museum – has been languishing for years and has now been all but robbed of research funding following a recent government decision.

In order to qualify for R&D funding, folklorists should write articles in English for international scientific journals. However, that is not the purpose of folklore studies. Claims that the study of folklore is not generating revenue or international renown are wrong. The band Trad.Attack! is a good example here as its activities would not have been possible without research pursued at the archives.

Margus Ott recently wondered on Facebook: "It is interesting how a support activity – the economy – the aim of which is to meet society's material needs has been turned into the principal goal and substance of life in the community. A car needs gasoline to move, but the purpose of a car is not to have something that uses fuel."

The Estonian Folklore Archive is a base code of Estonian culture, our source code server, just as the woods used to be the springs of our feelings of sanctity.

The preamble of the Constitution is clear on the function and task of the Estonian state. Put simply, it means that protecting our language and culture is the main thing the state needs to find money for. All other goals and tasks are secondary. While nationalists and conservatives should be able to grasp this idea, their policy reflects something else entirely.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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