Estonia's centennial year starts with 2018's first petty scandal

Patriotic, but not traditional enough: concert on Tallinn's Freedom Square, Jan. 1, 2018. Source: (Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR)

Estonia's 2018 jubilee year was rung in with a concert on Tallinn's Freedom Square on Sunday evening, when President Kersti Kaljulaid also gave a speech. The organizers agreed not to have the national anthem played at the event, as it would have been drowned out by the noise of the fireworks and the crowd: a decision that is now turning into the new year's first petty scandal.

Karmel Killandi, ERR's producer in charge of the event on Tallinn's Freedom Square on Dec. 31, apologized on Jan. 1 for the organizers' decision to leave out the national anthem.

The decision was made in agreement with representatives of the Office of the President, members of the Estonia 100 committee planning the country's centennial events, and the Tallinn city council because they were worried that the noise of the fireworks and the crowd would drown out the national anthem, Killandi said.

President Kaljulaid's speech on Freedom Square was the first new year address by a president given before a crowd and at an event of this scale. As the change of the year marked the beginning of Estonia's centennial, events were set up at a slightly larger scale than usual, which also meant that more people attended than in previous years.

Instead of the national anthem, singer Ivo Linna along with others performed Eestlane olen ja eestlaseks jään ("I'm an Estonian, and an Estonian I'll remain"), a patriotic pop song out of the time of Estonia's strife to regain its independence from the Soviet Union.

Comments on the matter meanwhile range from mild irritation expressed by some to accusations of treason coming from others.

Chairman of ERR's supervisory council, professor emeritus of the University of Tallinn Rein Veidemann, announced on social media just minutes after the curious absence of the anthem was noticed that he was going to look into the matter: "If the idea was to do something completely new, why invite the President of the Republic, put her behind a speaker's desk adorned with the coat of arms of the republic, when she could have appeared on TV at midnight like the Finnish president did it on YLE?" Veidemann asked.

This prompted Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) member and Minister of the Environment Siim Kiisler to post a waspish comment in return, saying that the Republic of Estonia was certainly doing well if a former long-time member of the Communist Party like Veidemann was so worried about its anthem.

Henn Põlluaas, MP for the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), commented on social media that he missed the sense of pride and tradition that the national anthem brought to such occasions, and expressed his irritation at the fact that President Kaljulaid agreed to what happened.

While conservative politicians remained somewhat cautious, others seem to think that what happened is the beginning of the end for Estonia. "The 100th year of the Republic of Estonia began without the Estonian national anthem. Why? Is this the beginning of the silent erasure of the symbols of the republic and our national independence? The national state is no longer needed, family is no longer sacred, universities don't protect our language, and anyone can become Estonian... Who is behind this? Who is responsible? Who is this 100th birthday arranged for?" former editor-in-chief of weekly Ekspress Priit Hõbemägi asked.

"I'll be against such an Estonia to my last breath, you can be sure of it," he added.

The issue has also triggered hundreds of readers' comments across the Estonian media's major platforms. An effort that, for better or worse, will no doubt more than make up for what the new year concert lacked in emotionality.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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