One hundred years ago, copies of the Manifesto To the People of Estonia, proclaiming the nation's independence, were being bravely posted, and distributed throughout Estonia.
Overnight, Estonia declared itself one of the most progressive and liberal nations in all of Europe, embracing values in 1918, that we so closely identify with as Canadians - especially diversity.
In doing so, our forefathers declared, that equal rights and protection for all religious and ethnic groups, including “Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews, and others residing within the borders of the republic,” would be guaranteed by their right to cultural autonomy.
The Tartu Peace treaty that was signed by Russia’s Bolshevik government renouncing in perpetuity, all of Russia’s claims to Estonian territory, would not guarantee independence.
After Hitler and Stalin signed a pact that coordinated the star of the Second World War, Soviet, and then Nazi forces, would crush Estonia’s growing, independent, liberal democracy - repressing our cultural and political sovereignty in wave after wave of arrests, deportations and terror.
Nearly 100,000 fled the country in 1944, abandoning homes and tearing apart families. Thousands came to Canada, where so many of you, here today, built new lives and a new community.
The stability of life in Canada, allowed you to build new organizations, schools, camps, newspapers and institutions that continue to allow us to maintain our culture, language and heritage, in this diverse and progressive country, Canada.
Just as we’re thankful to this country and our fellow Canadians, for allowing us to maintain our Estonian identity, we are also proud of the contributions Estonians have made to the building of our great country.
Friends, the strength of our Estonian community lies not in any concrete, steel, glass, bricks or mortar.
Our history, identity, and language: the cultural heritage that we gift to our future generations, depends on the sacrifices of volunteers who fill our community halls with Estonian learning and activity. It is through that activity, that we build and strengthen the bonds that connect us, as Estonians and Canadians.
It is the mother who sacrifices her Saturday mornings to teach Estonian language to the nursery school kids.
It is the uncle, who every summer, helps out at our local Estonian children’s camps.
It is the older sister, who drives the scouts up to Muskoka, for a weekend of outdoor learning.
It is the father, who brings together community members, to sing at weekly choir practices.
And it is the grandmothers, who collect our ethnocultural history, to foster a sense of pride in our heritage right here in Canada.
All of you, who are celebrating Estonian independence and our heritage in Canada: you are our strength.
Look around you. Share your pride. Thank everyone around you. Without you, without them, there would be no Estonian heritage or community in Canada.
The physical structures, that contain our activities in Toronto and Canada, will wear with time. But not our community. We cannot allow that. We must remain proud of our Estonian identity and heritage for generations to come. And we must remain together.
Let us not forget the words of our forefathers, enshrined in the Independence Manifesto for the People of Estonia:
“Sons and daughters of our homeland, unite as one in the sacred task of building our nation! The sweat and blood shed by our ancestors for this country, demand this from us; our forthcoming generations require us to do this”
WE ARE SO MUCH STRONGER TOGETHER.
Elagu Eesti Vabariik. Elagu Eesti rahvas. Elagu Eesti kogukond Kanadas ja ülemaailma.
Speech given by Marcus Kolga at Estonia 100 celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall, Saturday, February 24, 2018.