Report: Folklore archive jeopardized by lack of funding

The Estonian Folklore Archive, as covered by
The Estonian Folklore Archive, as covered by "Aktuaalne kaamera". Source: ERR

At the beginning of the year, the question of the future of the Estonian Folklore Archives (Eesti rahvaluule arhiiv) came into focus, since the organization has not received funds for research projects this year.

Exactly why cultural people stepped up to the plate in protection of folklore archives, and ways to explore Estonian culture when the country seems more interested in granting support for scientific research that brings economic benefits, was the subject of a report by ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne Kaamera. Nädal" on Sunday.

Protest songs and petitions

Poet Kristiina Ehin and folk musician Mari Kalkun have created a protest song "Emergency Call to the Prime Minister" ("Hädaabikõne peaministrile"), aimed at highlighting the plight of Estonian Folklore Archives, which as the report showed, uses an old-school card-indexed system, in addition to a newer, online archive.

"I have never written a protest song in my life before, but this situation forced me to do it. We need to sustain and protect our tradition and the people who are working with it," Kalkun said.

At the end of January, six scientific and educational institutions submitted a public request, garnering just over 1,900 signatures as of Friday evening.

"Estonians have a belief in their language, culture, tradition, which is at the basis of this culture, and in that sense, I believe that any kind of way to cut back on this significantly won't mean anything good for the future," Risto Järv, Head of the Estonian Folklore Archives, said.

Folk musicians are also preparing for a joint concert to support the Folklore Archives, as a follow-up to the news that the continuation of the Folklore Archives now hangs in the balance, given the institution didn't receive any money for the research projects, the report said.

Archive breathes life to contemporary artists too

This primarily concerns folk musicians whose success stories are directly related to the treasures of the Estonian Folklore Archives.

"Without this there wouldn't Estonian traditional music, what you could call a revolution. Without it, there wouldn't be [contemporary folk-rock/electronic combo] Trad. Attack! Of the 40 songs, we counted up, 30 are either included in the archive or at least derive their words or melodies from it. We literally, physically go there, open the card library, we take things out, look at those words, we read, and we are aided by the professionals in the field," Trad.Attack! member Jalmar Vabarna said.

It is the case, however, that this kind of work can continue to be done at the Folklore Archives, since both the work of archivists and the preservation of the archives are guaranteed by permanent funding from the stat, according to the report.

The archives don't confine themselves to national songs, either, but also contain material about everything about being Estonian. Traditional medicine is a theme which has been very popular lately, as well as site traditions in conjunction with the heritage conservation (Muinsuskaitseamet-under the culture ministry's responsibility-ed.) for example, with more and more materials due to come.

In addition, various publications and books form an important part of the archive's work, two of which, for example, were selected among the most beautiful books published last week. 

Doesn't receive funding in the way science and research can

Since the archives lacked any successful projects with which to take advantage of research money, a question is whether and to what extent researchers working in the archives will be able to investigate, interpret and introduce the Estonian sources to the general public, according to the report.

"While 85 percent of last year's money is set for the coming year, this is starting to shrink every year, and colleagues estimate that in a few years, the figure will only stand at 40 percent of the original budget," said Risto Järv.

What this will mean for the archive this year is not yet known as the budget has not yet been approved, though layoffs are likely to be in the offing, the report said

More significant still, however, is what makes it difficult for the humanities to obtain research funding.

Ministry of Education and Research comment

When it comes to funding research projects, for example, whereas the sciences have the opportunity to ask for additional funding from the Ministry of Education and Research (and critics say even these are often strained.-ed.), the humanities do not have the same leeway.

"This naturally leads to much greater competition between the humanitaries for research grants," said Katrin Pihor, head of research at the Ministry of Education and Research.

At the same time, the ministry does not accept that research projects that do not focus on Estonia and are not conducted in Estonian would be more successful in distributing money.

"It is not the case that being, so to speak, Estonia-focussed could somehow influence the outcome of research grants," Pihor went on.

"The same goes for research in Estonian, when it's done at the highest level," she added.

"Here, again, the problem is that these research projects are usually evaluated by foreign reviewers. For these, this article in the list of publications included in the research project generally says quite little," said Risto Järv.

Future for the archive

But what is the fate of the Folklore Archives if they fail to submit any successful research projects in the coming years?

"The likelihood of not receiving any research grants in four years is quite small. It is in our interest to have a diversity...," said Pihor, head of research at the ministry.

According to the Folklore Archives, the current distribution of research money is still a major lottery, and the current system has created a situation where research projects are written based on what could be successful, rather than what needs to be researched or done.

"Estonian culture is not a project funded from what is left over," Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) commented.

"Estonian culture is the meaning of our being," he added.

How, then, is it possible to study Estonian culture at a time when the state is more interested in developing those fields of research which will also bring tangible economic benefits?

"I am now aiming to create a corresponding research program within the culture ministry's ambit, which would adequately fund the topics and collections and activities related to Estonia, so a rescue program has to be devised," Lukas said.

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Editor: , Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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