At the first ever Võro Congress, which was held on Saturday, the Võros of southern Estonia voted to declare themselves an indigenous people. During the congress, bills were also adopted to declare Võro as the language of the Võru region and to protect the natural environment in Võru County.
According to Võro-language writer Kauksi Ülle, it was necessary to call the congress had because in a changing world and in view of the situation created by the expansion of the Nursipalu Military Training Area, it has become even more crucial for people to demonstrably stand up for their rights.
"The world has changed so much, that we have to declare loudly that we are a nation, that we have a language and that we want to be (recognized) in the census (as) Võro people. We don't want our language to be labeled as a dialect, but as a language. We want our environment and our land to be preserved in such a way that we can pass it on to the next generations, so that the Võro people will continue (living here) tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," said Ülle.
Therefore, the congress voted on three important bills, one of which declared the Võros, an ethnic minority group living in southern Estonia. as an indigenous people, in addition to being Estonians.
"Whether there are indigenous peoples in Europe other than the Sami (in Finland – ed.) is still being debated. But, let the officials argue all they want. The most important thing when it comes to designating an indigenous people is that the people themselves have to say so," said Rainer Kuuba, director of the Võro Institute.
The second bill to be adopted stated that the Võru Congress, which was elected for a four-year term, would work actively to ensure Võro is also recognized as a separate language in the Estonian Language Act. The bill also stated schools and kindergartens in the Vana-Võrumaa region, should become bilingual, with lessons taught in both Estonian and Võro.
"The government and the state can't do everything for us here. We have to speak Võro ourselves- We have to teach Võro to our children and let our children speak Võro," said Võro language teacher and Võro ambassador Ene Säinast.
The third bill concerned the Võro County Environmental Care Plan, which states that Võro people have the right to keep their living environment free from toxins, garbage, noise and artificial light.
"And if someone has big plans, then plans are plans. However, they must be negotiated with local residents. If you can reach an agreement with the locals, then that's fine," Kuuba said.
139 delegates from parishes all across Võru County attended the first Võro Congress. The congress established an 11-member elders' council and elected Kauksi Ülle as its president.
After the congress, a demonstration was held on Võru's Tamula beach against the planned expansion of the Nursipalu Military Training Area. Approximately 500 people joined together to form a human chain, sending a message to the new Estonian government that they opposed the expansion as it does not take into account the critical needs of local people.
Editor: Michael Cole