Opinion: Song and Dance Festival not the preserve of politicians

ERR journalist and Song Festival participant Merilin Pärli
ERR journalist and Song Festival participant Merilin Pärli Source: ERR

The Estonian Song and Dance Festival is for everyone, regardless of constitution, regimes and governments. It is not the preserve of politicians, and so should not be hijacked by them, writes ERR's Merilin Pärli, a participant in the Song Festival herself.

Every five years is that time again: We all come to the Song Festival Grounds' "Singing Arch" and sing shoulder-to-shoulder. Plus the public sings along, sitting tightly as they are on the facing grass.

Those Estonians who prefer to sit alone and seek out a table in a cafe, far from others, can meet their own needs and soak up the festival as if they were a performer backstage, patiently waiting their turn, then gradually, as buses start to roll, ranks of them can head off joyously, still singing, and sitting close together as they make their way home.

It's a meeting place of joy, emotion and boldness!

This is exactly how it was this time, as well. Songs, both new and well-known classics, side-by-side, as, after all, what would the Song Festival be without [festival standby] "Mesipuu" or [Estonian composer and conductor, commemorated by a famous statue which presides over the festival grounds, Gustav] Ernesaks?

The wave of emotion and warm feelings the Song Festival brings carries on for long afterwards, and in the days following, people cannot sit still or even walk around normally. Who said Estonians were dull?!

But then, there is this one bitter little pill, which tends to repeat at each festival: The politician's (read: Minister of Culture) speech. In 2009, then-culture minister Laine Randjärv (then, Laine Jänes), in addition to making a speech, took over the combined choirs and led one song. Because she could. This time the politician's speech was embodied by current culture minister Tõnis Lukas.

Lukas did something which should never be done: overwhelmed emotionally by the masses in attendance, went down the route of a political thread in his speech, and was unable to resist.

He just came along and hijacked the Song Festival, as if it were a totally new event that couldn't happen without him, rather than a national and age-old celebration.

He made a political point out of patriotic songs from Alo Mattiisen and Jüri Leesment being left out this year, and took the words of those songs out of context, adding in his own political context. Again, he did this, because he could.

Figuratively speaking, Lukas set fire to the fuel tank.

An audience already fortified with patriotic songs was in the palm of his hand; it was easy to find emotions from the audience, which supported his message. They were intoxicated.

However, more than a few among the ranks of singers and audience alike who found this befuddled performance embarrassing, and failed to understand why it was necessary to make yet another beautiful song festival about politics again. Why the political points-scoring?

It was painful and demanding on credulity, something also reflected in the physiognomies of those singers beamed on to the screens during the live transmission, and then taking on a life of its own via social media.

"What's going on?" we asked one another. Some of us even hid our faces with embarrassment.

I understand perfectly well that the Song and Dance Festival is funded by the Ministry of Culture and as such is the biggest event within its remit.

However, to use this as justification for the minister's speech amounts to an abuse of power, which is a good thing to avoid.

The Song Festival is not a place for policy making. Consequently, speeches should be confined to those from the president, which this time was notably warm and cordial.

Our 150-year-old celebration is too great and too dignified to be given to politicians to aggrandize themselves simply because their office allows them to do so.

An "Estonian thing" is not the domain of any political party or other political force or interest group. It's for all of us. Hence why no one can use it for their own benefit.

This is because we know that the power of the word is mighty, as is the power of the song lyric, as we know full well from our song festival tradition.

In order to avoid this temptation in future, the Song and Dance Festival could make it policy not to permit politicians to make speeches from the conductor's podium, including the culture minister who heads up the celebration.

The Song and Dance Festival does not belong to the Minister of Culture. It is all of Estonia's song festival, and we won't allow it to be hijacked by politicians.

Download the ERR News app for Android and iOS now and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: