Minister's Song Festival speech on agenda, content own idea, say organizers

Tõnis Lukas mid-flow in his Song Festival speech on Sunday.
Tõnis Lukas mid-flow in his Song Festival speech on Sunday. Source: ERR

A speech made by Minister of Culture, Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) at Sunday's Song and Dance Festival finale was on the itinerary, though its content had not been coordinated with party organizers, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The speech had met with criticism in some quarters due to its perceived political nature, and to an extent the same applied to another speech he gave at the end of the Dance Festival on Saturday.

However, both the ministry and the festival's organizers noted that there will always be some unexpected "easter eggs" in future culture minister speeches at the event.

Culture minister's speech in brief

In his speech on the final day of the Song Festival Sunday, Tõnis Lukas noted that there was to be no more unnecessary building construction in the vicinity of the Song Festival Grounds and that, if necessary, Estonians could start singing "Stop Lasnamäe" once again. The grounds are close to the largest residential district in Tallinn, which has seen its fair share of new builds in recent years.

At the same time, "Stop Lasnamäe" was a slogan which emerged in the 1980s in the years leading up to Estonian independence and as such could be interpreted as referring to the districts growing Russian-speaking population, at the time it was a common rallying cry. It was also the title of a song, composed by Alo Mattiisen.

Lukas also noted that, whereas at the inaugural song festival in 1869, only a handful of songs from Estonian composers were performed, over the generations, this has burgeoned into a corpus of great Estonian composers, conductors, choirs and musicians.

He also stated that no more buildings should be constructed in the vicinity of the grounds.

"We recognize the heart and soul of this land, we have our own sacred places," Lukas said.

"On June 1, we lit the song and dance festival flame at Raadi, in Tartu, at the Estonian National Museum. Now we are here, in this sacred place for Estonians, which we have sanctified ourselves, through singing," he continued.

"This is a very dear place to us, and we have to be able to fit here, in order to feel united, with noone feeling left out," he added.

"There's no room for another tower or other building here at the Song Festival Grounds and its surrounds. And if necessary, we will once sing again 'Stop Lasnamäe'," he said.

"Do we need to invent something new to feel united? No, because we already have the song festival. We come together here in the beauty of patriotism and always think of this with great joy … that I am an Estonian and I will stay as an Estonian as when I became an Estonian, proud to be such and to have a free voice, as our forefathers," he added.

Speech part of program, content not coordinated beforehand

The content of the speech had not been coordinated with festival organizers, it is reported. It was also not the first time that a culture minister's speech at the quinquennial Song and Dance Festival had met with controversy. At the 2009 event, then-culture minister Laine Jänes (Reform ‒ now Laine Randjärv) had also attracted criticism, albeit as much for leading the combined choirs, which assemble for the final songs of the festival, in one song (Randjärv is a professional conductor).

"The Song and Dance Festival has, over time, seen speeches either from the culture minister, for the full event or the education minster, at youth events, expressing gratitude to participants. These speeches are all part of the overall plan for the festival," Sten Weidebaum, communications director at Laulu- ja Tansupeo SA, the organizers of the festival, said, via a PR firm.

"The speeches had not previously been coordinated with the organizers in terms of their content, which was left freely to the speechmakers," he added.

"All these people deserve recognition and gratitude in front of the wider audience and it is definitely crucial not to forget to give thanks. The festival is very much based on volunteering," said Meelis Kompus, spokesperson for the culture ministry, said, concurring that the speech contents were not agreed in advance, and that culture ministers had approached the task in their own different ways.

"Speeches are an agreed component of the festival scenario, i.e. a place and context have been found in cooperation with artistic teams and directors," he continued.

"As communication manager at the culture ministry, I can confirm that the ministers have prepared themselves in different ways – some have precisely formulated their presentation, some have improvised on the spot; some have spoken very briefly, while others have preferred longer musings," Kompus said.

Tõnis Lukas' response

Tõnis Lukas has commented on the matter on his own social media page, following the speech.

"Thanks to all those who have expressed their welcome support after the festivities, as they share the same emotions concerning both the dance festival and the song festival.

The Dance Festival is the first stage, and ran Thursday and Friday at the Kalev Stadium. The Song Festival runs on the Saturday and Sunday, at the Song Festival Grounds in Kadriorg.

"I say this above all ‒ at this Song Festival, I was not asked to give a classic speech, but to express greetings and thanks. I thanked the participants, and greeted the singers and musicians. This was particularly pertinent before [the song] "Tuljak", since it unites both parties (there is both a "Tuljak" dance, and a song of the same name, which both round off their respective festivals-ed.). This time, I learned a bit more about real estate developments and their goals in the area around the Song Festival Grounds, and I expressed the opinion that Lasnamäe's constructive development in the immediate vicinity of the stage should be slowed down, in order for us to celebrate here in the future," wrote Lukas.

Lukas gave Dance Festival speech as per status as a dancing participant

Whereas the Song Festival has traditionally been opened by the President and wound up by the Minister of Culture, the latter had not spoken before the Dance Festival until now, and was even less involved in the ceremony than this time. According to the organizers of the event, this time the exception arose from Lukas active status as a dancer at the event.

"It is a well-established tradition that the first performance of the dance festival will be opened by the Prime Minister (as it was this time, by Jüri Ratas-ed.). As the current Minister of Culture was also a dancer of the XX Dance Festival, he was given the opportunity to express his gratitude at the end of the third performance, after presenting laurels to dance collective leaders, and wishing to team up with the dancers," explained Weidebaum.

This gave Lukas the same opportunity as Jänes/Randjärv had had ten years ago at the Song Festival, when, in her role as an experienced conductor, she stepped in to conduct a song as noted above.

The original Tõnis Lukas speech at the Song Festival (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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