VEMU’s Events from March to May 2022

May 25, 2022

The pandemic as well as Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine left their mark on VEMU’s 2022 spring program. Most of the events continued to take place online due to restrictions brought on by Covid. There were events that had to be pushed to a future date so we could go and support Ukraine along with fellow Torontonians at rallies or that just weren’t appropriate during these dark and serious times. At the same time, new events were added to the program that wasn’t originally planned, but due to the political state of the world were important and relevant.

On March 6th we watched the movie “Sandra Gets A Job” (2021, Kopli Cinema Company). The film was followed by a discussion with the director Kaupo Kruusiauk. “Sandra Gets A Job” is a psychological drama about a young Doctor of Physics, Sandra, who unexpectedly loses her job in an interest research group. Getting a new job seems simple at first glance, but after a few failures, Sandra feels herself sinking more and more into unemployment. Every new attempt to find a job is increasingly humiliating. In addition, she must hide her failure, at least from her successful parents who also work in the world of science.

On March 13 we celebrated the Estonian Language Day – “Sõna võtad siita maalta, tõise tõisesta ilmasta”. The endeavour was kickstarted by an English poetry compilation by Kaja Weeks titled “Mouth Quill” published in the US in 2020. Growing up in a family of refugees and the search for identity as an Estonian who lives abroad have taken her on a journey to the very basis and the oldest layer of our language and culture, “regilaul” or “runosong.” As a musician and music teacher herself, who uses music as a form of therapy for disabled children, Kaja has a good understanding and feeling for song as well as song traditions and what importance they hold in shaping an individual’s identity and in maintaining mental health. In a paradoxical way, Kaja’s English poetry has been fueled by the Estonian language. Why? How? Topics including those and what it’s like to be an Estonian abroad were discussed at the event by Kaja Weeks, Kaja Telmet and Inga Eichenbaum (Canada), Janika Oras (Estonia), and Triinu Viilukas and Madli Oras (Austria). Poetry was read, runosongs were sung. The afternoon ended with the viewing of a new runosong in support of Ukraine performed by Mari Kalkun and Anna Hints on February 26th at a rally at Freedom Square in Tallinn.

The screening of the feature film “Where the Heart Is” (Talve, 2019, Taska Film, Kassikuld, Apollo Film Productions, director Ergo Kuld) was rescheduled several times due to the light-hearted nature of the film not being appropriate with the war having just begun. The film was finally viewed but the post-film discussion with screenwriter Martin Algus was cancelled. The film has to do with the final part in author Oskar Luts´ Paunvere-centric series of books upon which the aforementioned and other films have been based.

In March and April, VEMU helped spread the news about a series of web lectures by an Estonian guest professor from abroad at the University of Tartu, Jaan Valsiner. The creation of a guest professor program for Estonians abroad was born from the idea to invite wellknown academics and professors with an Estonian background to come to teach at the University of Tartu for at least one semester. Jaan Valsiner is one of the leading cultural psychologists in the world, has worked at Clark University among others and is currently the Professor of Cultural Psychology at Aalborg University in Denmark. He was the second Estonian guest professor from abroad at the University of Tartu. During the 2020- 2021 school year, the same role was filled by David Ilmar Lepasaar from Berkeley University in California.

The current professor of the Chair of the Estonian Studies at the University of Toronto, Andres Kasekamp, presented a lecture on April 13th titled “The War in Ukraine and Estonia” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its effects on Estonia. This was the first lecture at VEMU in two years which took place in-person at Tartu College. The relevance and importance of the topic at hand were clearly shown by the fact that the discussion with participants lasted for nearly three hours.

The first in-person workshop after Covid restrictions were lifted took place on April 30th, where Ene Timmusk taught how to knit patterned animals. The stuffed animals were made using a book by Anu Raud, Anu Kotli, and Kotomi Hayashi and by utilizing traditional Estonian glove patterns. Among the participants were people who had been knitting for a long time as well as those who were new to the craft.

On May 15th a virtual artist talk by Britta Benno took place. The Estonian printmaker visited Canada in 2021 and spent a month in Hamilton working at the Cotton Factory on several art pieces for her exhibition that was held in Tartu in January of this year. The Society of Estonian Artists in Toronto and VEMU co-hosted the virtual talk and pictorial presentation of her art exhibition at Tartu Art House.