Estonian poet Hando Runnel receives the “Contribution to the Estonian National Identity” award

The University of Tartu has presented its award for contribution to the Estonian national identity to the poet, publisher, essayist and national thinker, Hando Runnel.

The University of Tartu, Estonia’s oldest and largest university, has issued the award for “Contribution to Estonian National Identity” 16 times and this year, it was given to the renowned Estonian poet, Hando Runnel.

“Hando Runnel has passionately and effectively promoted the Estonian ethnic and national identity. His creative work centres on the poet’s relationship with his homeland and people, and with the great problems of life and society,” the university said in a statement.

“At the decisive moments of restoration of independence in Estonia, he was one of the ideologists of freedom. He put Estonia and Estonians and the idea of our existence into words, determining the future of Estonia by these words. During difficult times of oppression, his well-known songs and poems helped keep up people’s belief in the survival of Estonianness and the hope for independence.”

Most influential crossover writer in the Estonian literature

The university said that an example of Runnel’s work, “carried by his sense of mission, extensive knowledge and intellectual curiosity”, is the series of essay collections by Estonian thinkers, “Eesti mõttelugu” (“The Story of Estonian Thought”). “The book series, which has been called ‘a national epic of essays’ and ‘the encyclopaedia of Estonian intellectual life’, brings together and publishes the most valuable treasures of Estonian thought throughout history – collecting and adding value to what has already been published, and enabling the reader to enjoy the works of great Estonian men and women.”

“Hando Runnel has been called the greatest and most influential crossover writer in the Estonian literature. The themes of his poems speak equally to readers of all ages. He bravely and skilfully interprets different topics and areas, without fear of taboo subjects,” the university said, noting also that Runnel’s poetry is highly musical. “Estonian musicians have compared his poems to songs, claiming that melody and rhythm have already been written into them. Probably this is why so many of Runnel’s verses have found a way to people’s hearts in music.”

The university also noted that at the peak of the new national awakening, Runnel was one of the leaders working towards the reopening of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Tartu. “He was convinced that a universitas must definitely comprise a school of theology and that the faculty which was closed by the Soviet authorities in 1940 had to be reopened.”

Cover: Hando Runnel at the University of Tartu. Photo by Andres Tennus.

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