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Rein Sikk: Cultural Diversity Year? Time for a Hostility to Culture Award

Rein Sikk.
Rein Sikk. Source: Sven Arbet

Cultural Diversity Year just got underway in Estonia, but at the back of our minds, behind this abundance of cultures, echoes the evil and ugly truth that more and more schools, community centers and libraries are closing their doors this year, notes journalist Rein Sikk in Vikerraadio's Wednesday daily comment.

"Grandpa, grandpa! Was it really you who closed our village library? ...But why?" So asks a grandchild that has rummaged through their grandfather's papers and come across a strange-looking paper. Printed on the paper are the words "Hostility to Culture Award."

Or another incident. "Grandma, grandma! Was it really you who had our village school closed – in the building of which there's nothing left but the chimney? ...But why, grandma?" So asks another grandchild that has rummaged through their grandmother's papers and come across a strange-looking paper. Printed on the paper are the words "Hostility to Culture Award."

The truth is, no such Hostility to Culture Award yet exists. Launched with gusto, however, is our Cultural Diversity Year with its boundless sunshine and rainbows. But at the back of our minds, behind this abundance of cultures, echoes the evil and ugly truth that more and more schools, community centers and libraries are closing their doors this year. Because there's little money, and few people, too.

A sad summary of last year: Vao Library was closed in Järva Municipality, Saksi in Tapa Municipality, Metsküla and Tuudi libraries in Lääneranna Municipality, Tagavere in Saaremaa Municipality, Elistvere in Tartu Municipality, Kuutsi and Sänna libraries in Rõuge Municipality. The Pilistvere service point was closed in Põhja-Sakala Municipality, as were the Haabsaare and Vaabina service points in Antsla Municipality. The Otsa service point in Võru Municipality.

What's more, the demise or merger of schools: Ala Basic School, Hummuli Basic School, Kauksi Basic School, Kuremaa Kindergarten-Elementary School, Leie Basic School, Lõpe School, Mihkli School, Riidaja Basic School, Tõrva School, Ritsu Kindergarten-Elementary School, Sillamäe Kannuka School...

Then add the closures of community centers into the bargain too. Is this barbarism, cultural suicide or rather inevitable? It all depends on how you look at it and the way you handle it.

I found myself at the stately wake of Elistvere Library. Readers and the librarian were praised; letters of commendation, coffee and kringel were doled out. In the end, everyone who wanted could take home with them a huge pile of books no longer needed in Elistvere. It was a lovely, sad and respectable, honorable and dignified farewell for a library. But I've heard of some other places where the doors are locked and the books later thrown into a dumpster. That is a disgraceful way to treat memory.

Whether it's appropriate to close a cultural and educational institution is actually really up to the locals. Even just in terms of whether they remain silent or make noise. Whether they take the loss as an inevitability. Or collect signatures and organize a picket line.

We saw both these types of attitudes and actions last year. We even saw how picket lines or signatures or evil meetings impacted the folks in town hall and had them reconsidering their decisions. But also how, for more than half a year already, one municipality has downright spat on its taxpayers' efforts to save their local school. Of course you know about the shameful Metsküla case. That will be a stain on Lääneranna Municipality's name for decades to come.

And it's precisely in this context that I'm calling on villagers to act who are hurting over cultural and educational barbarities. Even if you can't save your beloved school, library or community center, at least we may succeed in recording some names for posterity. The names of the people behind the soul-crushing closure. Whether as municipal council members or as municipal government hustlers. It's precisely they – the ones closing things – that would deserve Hostility to Culture Awards, issued by local villagers in a citizens' initiative. So that we may long remember the names of the destroyers of our memory institutions.

That's the way to do it in our villages – to select the laureates and publicly announce them. Both on social media and, for example, with flyers in the streets. And this Hostility to Culture Award should most certainly be hand-delivered to its laureates on paper... If only in the name of those moments, decades from now, in which a grandchild asks their grandfather the painful question, "Was it really you that closed down our school...?"

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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