Global Estonians

Sir Arvi Parbo, an Estonian-Australian mining entrepreneur and a knight – obituary

Sir Arvi Parbo, one of Australia’s most well-known and recognised mining entrepreneurs, and probably the only knighted Estonian, died on 1 May at the age of 93 in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian newspaper, Financial Review, calls Parbo “one of corporate Australia’s most significant figures”.

“Sir Arvi Parbo will be fondly remembered as the most influential 20th century figure of the Australian resources industry,” Steve Knott, the chief executive of Australian Resources and Energy Group AMMA, told the website.

“Arvi’s well-regarded leadership and vision has made Australia a stronger and wealthier nation and helped improved the lives of thousands,” the Australian federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, added. “The resources industry will sadly miss the remarkable life and contribution of Sir Arvi Parbo.”

Australia was where he was most well-known, even though he was born in Tallinn, Estonia, on 10 February 1926. He escaped the Soviet occupation of his homeland in 1944 and ended up in a refugee camp in Germany.

After attending a mining academy in Germany from 1946-1948, he left the country for Australia in 1949. Before emigrating, he was choosing between Canada or Australia – Parbo chose the latter because it was the furthest from Europe.

Once in Australia, he went to study at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Probably the only Estonian knight

Parbo joined Western Mining Corporation (WMC) in 1956 and, over the next 12 years, held the positions of underground surveyor, underground manager, technical assistant to the managing director, and deputy general superintendent.

In 1968, he was appointed general manager and in 1970, became a director. He was appointed deputy managing director in 1971 and became managing director in the same year. In 1974, Parbo was appointed chairman and managing director of WMC.

Under Parbo’s leadership, WMC became the world’s fourth-largest miner of nickel in the late 1960s. In 1975, as a chairman of WMC, he backed the exploration of what would become Olympic Dam mine – now the largest mine in Australia and the fourth largest copper deposit and the largest known single deposit of uranium in the world.

In 1978, Parbo was appointed a Knight Bachelor for his service to industry. The dignity of Knight Bachelor is the basic and lowest rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised orders of chivalry; it is a part of the British honours system. Knights Bachelor are the most ancient sort of British knight (the rank existed during the 13th century reign of King Henry III), but Knights Bachelor rank below knights of chivalric orders.

By having been knighted by the monarch of Australia, Queen Elizabeth II, Parbo likely was the only Estonian knight.

Simultaneous chairman of the three largest Australian companies

In 1986, Parbo relinquished his managing director position at WMC and became the company’s executive chairman. In 1990, he retired as an executive but was appointed non-executive chairman and retired from this position in 1999.

Parbo was simultaneously chairman of the tree largest companies in Australia. He was chairman of Alcoa of Australia from 1978 to 1996, chairman of Munich Reinsurance Company of Australia from 1984 to 1998 and chairman of Zurich Australian Insurance group from 1985 to 1998.

In 1987, Parbo was appointed a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (that in 2001 merged with Billiton plc to become one of the largest mining companies in the world) and was appointed chairman in 1989 until retirement in 1992. “Our industry has lost one of its greatest and Australia has lost a man who worked hard to better himself, the companies he worked for and the people who relied on them,” Andrew Mackenzie, the CEO of BHP, said in a statement. “He is credited with the discovery and backing of Olympic Dam, one of the highest quality ore bodies in the world. He is remembered for his integrity and humility.”

In June 1993, Parbo was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia and had his portrait painted by the artist, William Dargie. The work is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry to recognise Australian citizens and other people for achievement or meritorious service.

“Sir Arvi was, above all, the exemplary migrant who made good. By diligence, study and hard work he made his way through an illustrious mining career and finished at the top of Australia’s biggest company. Australia was indeed fortunate that the young Estonian chose to migrate here rather than Canada,” Financial Review said of Parbo.

Parbo died at his home in Melbourne. Parbo is survived by his wife Saima, who he met at a refugee camp in Germany. They have three children: Ellen, Peter and Martin, and six grandchildren.


Cover: Sir Arvi Parbo,1992 by Brian Dunlop (by the permission of the Australia’s National Portrait Gallery).

Estonians in Sweden condemn EKRE’s attacks in a public appeal

The Estonian community in Sweden, in a public appeal, addressed to the Estonian president, prime minister and chancellor of justice, condemn EKRE’s attacks on minorities and say they’re not going to watch silently how Estonia is moving towards the Hungarian and Polish autocratic societies.

Estonian World publishes the appeal in full.

President of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid

Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia, Ülle Madise

Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia, Jüri Ratas

31 March 2019 in Stockholm

Public appeal of Estonians living in Sweden

Since the declaration of independence in 1918, as well as after the restoration of independence in 1991, Estonia has shown itself to be an innovative, respectful, open and a democratic state. The losses from the Soviet Union during the years of occupation here and beyond the Iron Curtain have left so many wounds healing slowly in our lives. The Estonian refugee community did not lose faith and the struggle for a free Estonia lasted for decades. Estonia’s development as a democratic country has been remarkable. In a short period of time, a poor and unknown country in the northern part of Europe has become a successful and acknowledged miracle of e-government and one of the world’s leaders in digital development.

Today’s political developments in Estonia make us worried. Since 2015, the Riigikogu has a particular political party whose leading members praise the loathsome, vile dictators of history, while immigrants, refugees, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and many other minority groups are the target of the particular political party’s hostility. A political party whose leaders have publicly expressed their desire to limit freedom of the press and the independence of the judicial courts and who threaten mass riots if they fail in succeeding to get representation in the next government. For many years, Estonia’s membership in the European Union and NATO has been questioned – our steadfast foreign and security policy direction, which was already established at the time of president Lennart Meri.

We condemn the attacks on people of colour and all minority groups, LGBTQ and Jewish communities, gynecologists, human rights defenders, cultural figures, journalists and judges. We are not going to remain silent bystanders when Estonia moves towards the Hungarian and Polish autocratic semi-closed societies under the leadership of populist right radical forces. This is the direction that would lead to a loss of confidence in Estonia from the European Union and other foreign partners. Not to mention the threat to Estonia’s constitutional order, democracy and human rights.

Signatories (alphabetically):

Peter Avo Andrekson, rofessor

Kristiina Gilts Stenhardt, architect

Leena Hurt, entrepreneur

Evelyn Höglund, teacher

Liine Jaanivald, lawyer

Maela Jaanivald, landscape architect

Epp Jaansoo, teacher and conductor

Ilona Jenkins, designer

Sofia Joons, musician and sociologist

Kristjan Jättenfeldt, office manager

Rein Jüriado, public official

Ann Jürisoo Arendi, physiotherapist

Krista Kampus, senior advisor at a think tank

Leo Kant, psychologist and university lecturer

Valdo Kask, freelance journalist

Redi Koobak, cultural scientist

Anu Kuusmann, entrepreneur

Alar Kuutmann, culture

Maimi Laks, designer

Ivar Lill, management consultant

Tiina Mark-Berglund, Statistician

Katrin Meerits, opera singer

Enel Melberg, writer and translator

Linda Meri, HR consultant

Tiina Meri, communication and editing

Lauri Metsvahi, musician

Mart Mägi, professor emeritus, honorary doctor of Tallinn Technical University

Aime Mölder, optik

Avo Mölder, computer specialist

Kristi-Maria Nurm, student

Oskar Nurm, student

Hendrik Nyman, teacher

Mart Nyman, criminal inspector

Ivar Paljak, doctor of technology, 4th Order of the National Coat of Arms

Indrek Parts, entrepreneur

Ivar Paulson, doctor of medicine

Pärtel-Peeter Pere, entrepreneur

Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, professor in media and communication

Peeter Puide, writer and translator

Aho Rebas, former cultural advisor, Valgetähe IV klass

Hain Rebas, professor emeritus, Valgetähe III klass

Karin Rebas, expert in education

Helju Rumma, editor

Leana Salu, conductor

Jaan Seim, former headmaster of the Estonian School in Stockholm, Valgetähe V klass

Katrin Sepp, psychologist

Karin Soots, teacher in early education

Mall Stålhammar, professor emeritus

Taave Sööt Vahermägi, CEO

Maarja Talgre, writer

Evelin Tamm, freelance journalist

Marje Taska, artist

Säde Tatar, freelance musician

Lemmi Tui

Toomas Tuulse, composer and musician

Tõnis Tõnisson

Marie Vaadre, European Parliament candidate (L)

Olav Vahtras, professor

Maire Vill, trainer and arent

Piret Villo, Phd, organic chemistry

Kristina Viira, national handicraft promoter


Cover: The representatives of the Estonian community in Sweden handing over the public appeal on 31 March 2019.

Estonian expats to hold cultural days in New York in April

Estonian expats are to hold cultural days in New York City in April; the programme offers a variety of events from films and theatre to a startup showcase.

According to the organisers, the five-day programme, from 3-7 April 2019, offers a wide spectrum of events, including movies, theatre, musicians and lecturers.

The cultural days will be kicked off on Wednesday, 3 April, with the Estonian startup showcase titled “Innovating Disruption at the 59th Parallel”, shining a spotlight on “the eco-system behind one of Silicon Valley’s best-kept secret ‘unicorn hatcheries’”, the organisers said in a statement. The entrepreneurs will also be available for a meet and greet on Friday evening after the opening ceremony.

In addition, a movie night is to spotlight the nature documentary, “Wind Sculpted Land”, and a three-part feature film, “The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow”.

The cultural days also present concerts by the Estonian musicians, Uku Suviste and Grete Paia, and a performance by a New York City-area folk dance group, Saare Vikat, that is vying for a spot to perform at the Song and Dance Festival in Estonia in the summer.

The visitors of the cultural days can also attend a photo exhibit by Maria Spann, titled “Children of the 1944 Estonian Diaspora”, see a play written by the Estonian author, Andrus Kivirähk, and attend various lectures.

Estonian culture for the émigré community

The Estonian cultural days began in 1970 as an event to showcase Estonian culture for the émigré community in an era when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. During 50 years of occupation, Estonian culture in the western world was kept alive through events such as the cultural days.

With independence in 1991 came the opportunity for Estonians everywhere to interact more closely and the Estonian cultural days have transitioned with the times into an event attended by Estonians of all ages and backgrounds including older emigrants and their descendants as well as recent transplants, the organisers said.

The programme of the event is available on its website.


Cover: Grete Paia.

ESTO 2019 – Our future: looking ahead to a global network of Estonian youth

ESTO 2019, a global cultural festival, strives to empower Estonian youth across the globe by uniting them through a network of likeminded individuals; this network will preserve the cultural heritage and strengthen it by adapting it to fulfil present day needs.

ESTO 2019 is the XII global Estonian cultural festival. Beginning in 1972, ESTO festivals have been held every four years, around the world – from Toronto to San Francisco to Melbourne. In 2019, ESTO returns home, taking place from 27 June to 3 July in Tallinn and Tartu – the two largest towns in Estonia – as well as in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

A united global community

The theme for ESTO 2019 is “Our Future” and the focus will be on Estonian youth around the world. Delegates between the ages of 16 and 26 are invited from every country to partake in workshops and discussions, as well as enjoy a movie festival, concerts and much more.

The festival aims to join Estonians scattered around the world to celebrate our heritage and culture – strengthening Estonian spirit through the creation of a united global community. Delegates from countries without Estonian youth organisations are encouraged to establish such organisations themselves upon their return home, using the tools and knowledge they will have gained through workshops and delegates from countries with more prominent Estonian communities.

Along with uniting the broader Estonian community, ESTO 2019 emphasises the equality of all Estonians. Those living in the country are no more important than those living outside. Prominent Estonian communities exist in Finland, throughout Europe, as well as in the US and Canada.

Estonians abroad very passionate about their traditions

Growing up in Toronto – home to one of the largest Estonian communities outside of Estonia – the culture is integral to my life, such that being Estonian influences my day-to-day decisions. I look forward to learning about others’ experiences with their heritage and how it has influenced their lives.

I continue to engage in traditions passed down from my parents and grandparents. I consider myself lucky that both my parents speak Estonian, and that they passed on their knowledge of the language to me. I do know many Estonians who do not speak the language, nevertheless they are just as connected to their heritage. Estonian-speaking or not, there is an innate connection between every Estonian that stems from pride and admiration of the country we call home.

Estonians abroad are just as passionate about the traditions and culture as those living within the country. In fact, some of the communities abroad more closely follow old traditions due to the persistence of my grandparents’ generation in preserving the culture as it was. Meanwhile, the culture within the country continues to evolve.

Connecting the next generation of Estonians

Various evolutionary paths and stages of Estonian culture are apparent throughout the present global communities. With help from the technological savviness our little country is so well known for, ESTO 2019 aims to connect the next generation of Estonians; to unite the copious evolutionary instances while maintaining the individuality of each. The international generation will drive a vibrant new global Estonian culture, enriched by the diversity of global communities.

The goal in connecting individual communities is not to create one uniform Estonian culture. Rather, it is to explore how the existing culture intertwined itself with others from all continents. Moving forward, delegates strive to integrate Estonian culture into that of their home countries and, in turn, introduce aspects of their home country’s culture to the global Estonian community.

Estonian youths in Toronto are fortunate to be presented with so many opportunities to learn about the culture; starting with an Estonian nursery school and graduating on to Estonian schools; girl guides and boy scouts; choirs; gymnastics; summer camps such as Jõekääru, Seedrioru, Kotkajärve; sororities and fraternities for those in post-secondary education, and the list goes on. These organisations provide spaces to communicate in Estonian and bond with friends – many of whom are also relatives – who relate to our values and experiences growing up.

Helping organise ESTO 2019 allows us to give back to the Toronto Estonian community in addition to the greater Estonian community. Fostering connections in a worldwide network of Estonian youths will help strengthen the Estonian spirit and encourage Toronto and other similar communities to grow – with the creation of new Estonian youth organisations – and remain dynamic, innovative cultures.

Embracing our heritage

ESTO 2019 serves as a catalyst for the up and coming generation to not only preserve our cultural heritage but to shape it into our future Estonia, while cherishing the freedom previous generations struggled to attain.

The pride Estonians feel at the mention of this small Baltic country is a testament to the character of its people. Whenever I am asked where I come from, I never hesitate to respond that I am Estonian. Never mind the fact that not I nor my parents were born there or grew up there. I am thankful for my heritage and I embrace it with all my heart.

For more information about ESTO 2019, or to register for the youth programme, visit the ESTO website. Note that registration for youth delegates has been extended to 1 April 2019.


Cover: A group of youngsters in Tallinn (the image is illustrative).

Top 12 most outstanding Estonian women in the world 2019

For International Women’s Day, Estonian World has compiled a list of the most outstanding Estonian women on the global stage.

It is important to emphasise that this is not the ultimate list of the most important Estonian women in the world. There are many others who work hard and stand out. Merely, we have brought out the names of Estonian women who have a larger-than-usual clout and impact outside Estonian borders and help to put the name “Estonia” on the lips of more people around the world.

Anett Kontaveit, sportswoman

Anett Kontaveit is an Estonian professional tennis player. She started training when she was six years old and three years later won her first title. In 2009, Kontaveit won the Estonian women’s championship – at 13, she was the youngest ever to win the adult championship in singles.

Her international breakthrough came in 2011 when she started to play in the ITF women’s tournaments. At her first grass tournament of 2017, the Ricoh Open, Kontaveit reached her second final of the year. In that final, she clinched her maiden WTA title and ensured a top 40 debut. On 1 October 2018, she reached her best singles ranking of No 21 after finishing runner-up at the 2018 Wuhan Open.

Anu Tali, conductor

Anu Tali is an Estonian conductor, currently working as the music director of the Sarasota Orchestra in the US (she is to stand down from her music directorship of the orchestra this year), and she’s also a co-founder of the Nordic Symphony Orchestra.

She has appeared with the Japan and Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestras, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg at the Salzburger Festspiele, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, among others. In November 2017, the Washington Post named Tali as one of the “female conductors to watch”.

Karoli Hindriks, entrepreneur

Karoli Hindriks is an Estonian entrepreneur and the founder of Jobbatical, a company that blends the concept of a job and a sabbatical, matching employers and talent for short-term jobs worldwide.

At 16, she became the youngest inventor in Estonia with a registered patent after transforming a school fashion project – a pedestrian reflector – into a successful business. When she was 24, she spearheaded MTV’s expansion into Estonia, becoming the network’s youngest national CEO. She tripled the network’s sales in the country within two years. By 26, she founded a media sales agency, working with Fox International, helping launch six Fox channels in the region. In 2014, when she was just 31 years old, she founded Jobbatical.

“I discovered that for a person like me, having worked for more than 10 years, there was an option to go and pick melons in Australia or take up an internship. I started to wonder that there must be a multitude of people like me who could add more value than that,” she told Estonian World in an interview on how Jobbatical was born. The company now has 300,000 members around the world – people who are ready to relocate anywhere in the world for the perfect opportunity.

Kelly Sildaru, sportswoman

Kelly Sildaru is a freestyle skier. She started to ski when she was two years old and at the age of 13, became the youngest gold medallist to date at a Winter X Games event, having won the slopestyle event in 2016. In 2017, she won the slopestyle competition at her first World Cup event in New Zealand. She was the gold medal favourite for the women’s slopestyle event in the 2018 winter Olympics, but she missed competing in the games because of a knee injury.

At the X Games Aspen 2019, she won her third gold medal in women’s ski slopestyle, setting a new games record with a score of 99.00.

Kristel Kruustük, entrepreneur

Having worked as a tester herself, and become disillusioned by how testers were treated by big app-building companies, in 2012, Kristel Kruustük came up with the idea of building a platform that would actually appreciate the work of a tester − if you find a critical mistake and draw attention to it, you are also likely to be motivated to fix it − thereby providing development teams with quality-assurance testers.

That was the start of Testlio – a company with a goal to become a world leader in mobile apps testing. With offices in Tallinn, Estonia, and San Francisco, CA, the startup has so far raised USD7.5 million in funding and its clients include Microsoft and Lyft. Many Estonian startup entrepreneurs point out that Kruustük has become one of the inspiring role models for other women who are now willing to try their hand in IT and even dream about becoming entrepreneurs and leaders.

But it’s not all work and no fun for Kruustük – whenever she feels in low spirits or simply needs time to muse over, she likes to play the piano. “Playing the piano is like being an entrepreneur,” Kruustük said in an interview in 2016. “You will not be very good at it as you start, and it will take a while to excel. You need to practice a lot and learn it by doing, sometimes going slower and then adding speed if needed.”

Kristiina Poska, conductor

In 2011, Kristiina Poska’s career led to engagements at the Komische Oper Berlin for the opera, La Traviata. Poska was enthusiastically received there by both the orchestra and the audience and she was then appointed as First Kapellmeister of the Komische Oper Berlin.

It has been said that “wherever young Kristiina Poska appears on the podium, she thrills and convinces with her exceptional musicality and her impressive, highly distinguished conducting”.

Poska is internationally much in demand as a conductor – in 2015, she was the busiest female conductor in the world, based on performances in all genres. In October 2018, Theater Basel in Switzerland announced the appointment of Poska as its next general music director, effective in the 2019-2020 season.

Lili Milani, scientist

Lili Milani was born in Sweden to Iranian parents, but her family moved to Estonia when she was 13, due to her dad’s work at the Tallinn University of Technology. Milani went to the Tallinn English College and picked up both the Estonian and English language pretty fast.

She became interested about genetics and acquired a master’s degree in genome technology at the University of Tartu and then defended her doctoral degree in 2009 at Uppsala University in the speciality of molecular medicine. After defending her PhD degree, she returned to Estonia and started a career at Estonian Genome Centre of the University of Tartu, where today she is a head researcher.

Since then, Milani has implemented new methods in the core facility of the Estonian Genome Centre that are not only used for research purposes but also to diagnose serious genetic diseases. In 2018, the centre ran the Estonian government-backed project to collect the DNA samples of 100,000 Estonians – with the aim of collecting genetic data and integrating it into every-day medical practice by giving people feedback of their personal genetic risks.

Milani has also published research papers in magazines such as Genome Research, Nature, Science, Nature Genetics and BMC Genomics – and is among the most cited female Estonian scientists in the world. Despite her Iranian roots, Milani has publicly said that she feels Estonian and likes that feeling.

Maarja Nuut, music artist

While combining vocal work with violin, Maarja Nuut’s music is a blend of Estonian folk traditions with contemporary experimental sounds. Since 2016, she has toured in over 50 countries around the world and found many culturally influential fans along the way. “That’s what it sounds like when the snow sings,” Simon Le Bon, the lead singer and lyricist of the band, Duran Duran, once remarked on Twitter about Nuut.

Le Bon is just one of many culturally influential fans of Nuut. “It would be churlish to miss out on reporting, or raving about, what a phenomenal artist Maarja Nuut is. /–/ There’s a touristy pub in Tallinn centre called Hell Hunt that boasts a painting above the door showing a naked girl, eyes shut and smiling, riding on the back of a grinning wolf. That’s what her music sounds like,” said the Quietus, a British online music and pop culture magazine, in a review of her sound.

Currently, Nuut is touring Australia and New Zealand.

Mari Kalkun, music artist

Singer-songwriter Mari Kalkun relies in her work on her southern Estonian roots, singing in the Võro dialect. Her songs are inspired by nature, Estonian poetry and folk music. For making music and accompanying herself, she uses the kannel, the piano, the accordion and the guitar, but sometimes also pipes, whistles and various experimental instruments.

While most of the Estonian pop and rock artists have struggled to attract even the tiniest of attention abroad, Kalkun has been on a radar of the international music press for some time.

In December, the Guardian included Kalkun’s third album “Ilmamõtsan” among the 2018’s 10 best world albums – a list otherwise dominated by African, Middle Eastern and Caribbean artists. Back in June 2018, the Guardian wrote in its review of the “Ilmamõtsan” – which Kalkun recorded almost entirely solo at her studio in her Võru county farmhouse – that “the result is a mesmerising record steeped in a sylvan atmosphere” and called the album “a magical creation”.

Separately, another British media outlet, the Arts Desk, also included Kalkuns’ “Ilmamõtsan” among the Albums of the Year 2018.

Marika Mikelsaar, scientist 

Unlike most other women in this list, Marika Mikelsaar has not stood out in any single year – rather, the scientific work she started back in 1995, has produced successful results as years go by. Mikelsaar, together with Mihkel Zilmer, led the University of Tartu research teams that discovered the ME-3 probiotic bacteria. The ME-3 protects the human health by attacking harmful microbes and contributing to physical well-being.

Subsequently, the ME-3 bacteria caught the interest of manufacturers of leaven, food and food supplements in Estonia, Finland, Denmark, France, Italy, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Taiwan, China and other countries. It can be added to yoghurts or sold as capsules in pharmacies.

“At every conference, the most fascinating presenters are asked about their dreams. A scientist always spontaneously answers that their dream is to have their discovery put into use,” Mikelsaar, now a professor emeritus, said in 2018.

Moonika Siimets, film director

Moonika Siimets is a film director whose 2018 debut full-length feature film, “The Little Comrade”, wowed the audiences at home and caught attention also abroad. She studied her trade at Tallinn University and in addition, participated in Judith Weston’s screenwriting and directing master classes in the US.

She started her directing career with several documentaries, but it was her debut feature film, “The Little Comrade”, that brought her a wider attention and praise. The film about Stalinist tyranny is based on the autobiographical novel written by the renowned Estonian writer, Leelo Tungal, and tells the story of the six-year-old Leelo, whose mother was sent to a Soviet prison camp.

The Variety magazine said that “Moonika Siimets successfully captures the perplexed perspective of a traumatized 6-year-old who sees her mother, a school principal, arrested and taken away at gunpoint. … Siimets’ screenplay makes it possible for those unfamiliar with Baltic history to comprehend what is going on from Leelo’s point of view, as even the everyday language around her changes,” the magazine added. It also noted that “Siimets and her adorable lead actress create numerous instances of plaintive humour”.

In 2018, Siimets’ movie was crowned best debut film at Nordic Film Days Lübeck in Germany, won the grand prize at the Waterloo Historical Film Festival in Belgium and the Public Choice Award at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

Riina Kionka, EU official

Riina Kionka at her desk in Brussels. © European Union

Riina Kionka is the chief foreign policy advisor to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, making her the most influential official of Estonian nationality in the European Union. She has held that position since December 2014 when the former Polish prime minister took over the presidency from Herman van Rompuy.

Detroit, Michigan-born Kionka is a lifelong diplomat. Like the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Kionka has also worked at Radio Free Europe, as an analyst.

She has a bachelor’s degree in international relations and German literature from Michigan State University, and a doctorate in international relations from Columbia University in New York. In an interview with Estonian World, she said she never even wanted to be a diplomat and had rather been a conductor, but fate had other plans for her.


Cover: Mari Kalkun (photo by Matti Komulainen). Facebook cover: Anu Tali (Kabir Cardenas/Sarasota Orchestra). Special thanks to Kaupo Kikkas!

Marcus Kolga: Canadians can learn from the Estonian-Canadian experience

Marcus Kolga, the current president of the Estonian Central Council in Canada, said at the Estonian independence day flag-raising ceremony in Toronto that all Canadians should know why the Estonian community came to Canada and take a note of the wonderful things they have achieved in the country.

Our families left Estonia with little more than a suitcase and the clothes they were wearing as they fled the return of Soviet terror and repression in the fall of 1944. Over a few short days, tens of thousands braved the stormy Baltic Sea and took to the war-torn roads of Europe to seek shelter, peace and freedom.

Here in Canada, and, indeed, Toronto, Estonians found each other and started building. We built churches and a school. We organised choirs and folk dancing groups. Then we built summer camps for our youth when they weren’t busy scouting or guiding the local Estonian troops. During working hours, we contributed to the building of our new homes and contributing fully to the development of this great country, Canada.

We were identified as DPs, or displaced people, and faced discrimination. Our funny-sounding names were sometimes mocked and our advocacy for Estonian independence was often dismissed as hysterical anti-communism.

Our voice in Canadian foreign policy debate was often chauvinistically marginalised by the Anglo-Saxon establishment. This deplorable attitude continues today by some former Canadian diplomats who reject Estonian, Baltic and other Central and Eastern European community concerns as being tainted by our historical experiences.

Estonian experience as Canadians should be included in school curriculums

However, it is our experiences they can learn from, and this is something that we, and our fellow Canadian should be proud of.

School children in this country, an indeed all Canadians, should know why our community came to Canada and the wonderful things we’ve achieved in this country. Our experience, as Canadians, should be included in our school curriculums. I call on each and every one of us to pledge, to achieve this in the coming year. To call our MPs and the minister of education, and tell them about us, and that other Canadians can learn from our proud Estonian experience as Canadians.


Cover: The Estonian Central Council in Canada organised the flag raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall’s Nathan Phillips Square on 24 February 2019 (photo by Peeter Põldre). The opinions in this article are those of the author.

WATCH: Pre-election discussion in Toronto on Estonian diaspora issues

Representatives from the major Estonian political parties are participating in an open debate at the Estonian House in Toronto, Canada, for a pre-election discussion on the global community of Estonians.

Participants Meelis Niinepuu (Estonia 200), Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria/Isamaa), Imre Sooäär (the Centre Party), Jaak Madison (the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia), Eerik-Niiles Kross (the Reform Party), Sven Mikser (Social Democrats) and Andres Herkel (the Free Party) will discuss how the Estonian government can better cooperate and communicate with the Estonian global community to create a global Estonian identity, regardless of where we live and what languages we speak, the organisers said.

The debate is moderated by Andres Kasekamp and Marcus Kolga.

The event is organised by the Estonian Central Council in Canada in cooperation with the union of Swedish Estonians, the Estonian American National Council, the Association of Australian Estonian Societies and the Estonian World Council.


Cover: Canadian-Estonians celebrating Estonian Independence Day on 24 February 2018 in Toronto (the image is illustrative).

For Estonian refugees, a masthead made a new home, half a world away

Estonians fleeing the aftermath of the Second World War and the Soviet occupation found their voice in Australia via a newspaper that continues to this day; Silvi Vann-Wall reports on Meie Kodu (Our Home) and the community it continues to serve.

In the tumultuous time after the Second World War, and throughout the Soviet occupation of their tiny country, thousands of Estonians sought refuge in Australia – which for them held the promise of being as far away from the conflict zone as possible.

As war refugees, Estonians were required to live in migrant camps such as those in Bathurst or Bonegilla, before being given jobs and the chance at integration into the Australian society.

Meanwhile, a small committee, formed by the Sydney Estonian Society, was hard at work acquiring authorisation to publish the first Estonian newspaper in Australia, Meie Kodu.

Bringing comfort to refugees in a strange land

Literally translated as “Our Home”, Meie Kodu was a fitting title for a paper that hoped to bring comfort to refugees in a strange land. It would be published in the Estonian language only and bring news of the latest developments in Europe as well as of happenings in Australia. Although small, it was to become a key part of easing the transition between the European and Australian life.

The Sydney Estonian Society in 1949 decided that such a newspaper was sorely needed. So, in February of that year they called a meeting, led by chairman Toomas Varik, to request formal permission of the Australian government for this paper to be produced. It was also decided that chairman Varik would be the paper’s publisher.

Six months later, authorisation was granted on the basis that such a paper would make a major contribution to Estonian culture. But there was one condition: at least 25 per cent of the newspaper had to be in English.

Undeterred by this proviso, the Sydney Estonian Society soon formed a small news team, led by founder Ilmar Raudma. The team – all volunteers – got down to work straightaway, transcribing articles letter by letter on to a printing press, and printing photos from special plates – often working all night.

Advertisements on where to find Estonian delicacies

The first issue was published on 19 August in 1949, and more than 300 copies were printed. Volunteer packers and transport providers ensured rapid distribution throughout the Australian-Estonian community.

The first issue’s English section contained an introduction to the paper’s mission, an appreciation of press freedom (written by Raudma) and an impassioned article on “Soviet slavery”, republished from a volume of the newsletter “From Behind the Iron Curtain”.

The remainder, published in Estonian, was a mix of local and international news, political cartoons, a sport section and, most important, advertisements on where to find Estonian delicacies.

An emotional reaction

Thanks to their efforts, copies of Meie Kodu soon made their way to the migration camps, sparking an understandably emotional reaction for many detained there. “Really, so far from home and [we have] our own newspaper!” Ülle Slamer wrote in her “History of the Newspaper Meie Kodu” (quotes from which have been translated from Estonian).

Editor-in-chief Raudma was presumably well-versed in the constraints of a compromised and state-controlled press, having worked previously as an officer in the information department of Estonia’s National Propaganda Office. He managed to escape the Soviet occupation by way of Germany in 1944 and went to the US shortly thereafter.

Raudma had arrived in Australia only a year before the founding of Meie Kodu. It was no doubt a relief to be overseeing a newspaper in a country where press freedom was significantly greater than in the Soviet Union – where articles were heavily censored.

Raudma wrote in his first Meie Kodu article, “Our Appreciation”:

“We feel much obliged to the Authorities of the Commonwealth for the benevolent consideration of our sincere and firm desire to do all in our power to help the new settlers of Estonian nationality in this free and, in our opinion, happiest country in the world, to become a valuable addition to all good Australians. However, as far as the generations just arrived are concerned, we may become good Australians only by being, in the first instance, good Estonians.”

The fight for the Estonian liberation

Not content with the role of “detached watchdog”, the team behind Meie Kodu had an unabashed agenda: the liberation of the Estonian people. As Raudma’s colleague Juhan Viinang wrote in his introduction article, published in the same issue: “We propose to present the life of Estonians in Australia and elsewhere the Australian way of life, impartial information on international politics, Estonian cultural activity locally and abroad and to do our part in the fight for Estonian liberation and the combined struggle for the freedom of the world from the threat of Communism.”

So they pressed on, fighting systems of oppression the only way they knew how. Soon, Meie Kodu was circulating thousands of copies around Australia.

Unfortunately, Raudma died of leukaemia in 1951, leaving the role of editor-in-chief to Arnold Lond. In February 1954, the team was finally permitted to publish entirely in Estonian. This meant that newcomers struggling with the strange mechanics of English didn’t need to fret when reading their weekly news.

“The first decades of the newspaper were not easy,” Ülle Slamer wrote. Volunteers rarely had formal training, and the long nights spent resolving mechanical issues with the printing press were incredibly frustrating. The only pay they ever saw was a small reimbursement for the Sydney Harbour Bridge toll.

Keeping Estonia alive in the hearts of expats

It was often difficult to obtain information from the international scene, due to both technological and political constraints. “Not much news passed the Iron Curtain,” archivist Eili Annuk said. But Meie Kodu persisted and, contrary to what Wikipedia might declare, the paper did not cease production in 1955.

After all, they had a mission to “keep Estonia alive in the hearts of expats”, Reet Simmul, assistant archivist at the Estonian Archives in Australia, said. It’s thanks to these archives, established in 1952, that one can now access the first 50 years of the paper digitally.

From 1970 to 1992, Tiiu Kroll-Simmul was Meie Kodu’s longest running editor-in-chief. This period saw many changes to the paper, including better access to world news through evolving technology, and thus an ability to report in a more informed manner.

During this time, Annuk began to compile a written catalogue of every copy of the paper for the Estonian archives. In 1991, just near the end of Kroll-Simmul’s time as editor-in-chief, Estonians made world headlines by reclaiming their independence.

Estonia officially declared itself independent at a sitting of the Estonian Supreme Soviet on 20 August 1991. “We drove back from the Snowies [mountain range] to the newspaper office. Uino wanted the paper to publish the news immediately,” Reet Simmul recalled. (Uino Simmul, Reet’s husband, was the chairman of the Sydney Estonian Society at the time.)

Nearly half a century after that first issue, the original editors’ mission had been realised: Estonians were free.

Throughout the 1990s, Estonia’s press freedom improved dramatically, and the Estonian media were finally declared “free” according to the Press Freedom Index in 1993. That status has not only been retained ever since but this year it was ranked as the 12th freest in the world, beating out Australia at 19th.

Propelled into the modern age

With the gap between the Estonian press and their Western counterparts rapidly narrowing, Uino Simmul travelled from Sydney to New York in the ’90s, to see how its Estonian-community newspaper compared.

Inspired by the latest technology he saw there, Meie Kodu’s production was propelled into the modern age with the purchase of computers.

But, as the current editor, Aune Vetik, explained, production still involved plenty of manual work until 2004: volunteers did page layouts by the old cut-and-paste method, and the measuring tool “was an old rope”. Vetik, an Estonian national who first read Meie Kodu in 2004, assumed the editorship in 2011 and admits to being a little taken aback at how old-school the paper was.

“Everything in the office was very brownish-yellow and old, but still functional as it was 50 years ago,” she says. When she tried to shake things up and modernise the paper a bit, she was given an oft-repeated response: “We have always done it in this way.” Meie Kodu went digital in 2012.

A broader scope

According to Reet Simmul, going online and recruiting formally trained sub-editors improved the paper enormously: “The local articles [such as] reviews of amateur plays, church [and] coffee evenings at Estonian Houses have decreased,” she said, which has resulted in a broader scope of international politics and significant Estonian events.

Change has also occurred financially: the paper can now afford to pay its editorial staff. Thanks to such developments, (and Adobe InDesign), volunteers no longer have to slave over the unruly printing press, painstakingly shifting letters to the right position until the early hours of the morning.

Around Australia, absorption of Estonian communities into mainstream society is a cause of concern for all generations. The advent of an email subscription service is just one of the ways Meie Kodu hopes to resolve this issue.

After all, without the economic benefits gained from a lively Estonian-Australian community, the paper’s future is at risk. Publication costs are rising, and the news team is most often left to rely on public donations to bolster funding from Estonian committees. The print run, at only 220 subscribers, is consequently quite small.

The future is far from certain – but then that was the case in 1949 and in 1991 – and the paper, like the country that spawned it, has proven survival skills.


Cover: Copies of Meie Kodu being packed for delivery in 1950. Images courtesy of Silvi Vann-Wall.

Ahto Valter – the Estonian who sailed around the world

It took nine years of detective work to finish a documentary about Ahto Valter, the first Estonian to sail around the world; this layered story about a hero from a past era takes the viewer on a journey through time.

This article is published in collaboration with the Estonian Film Institute.

Ahto Valter (1912-1991) was the first Estonian to sail around the world under the flag of his country. In 1930, his brother Kõu and he crossed the Atlantic Ocean (Tallinn-Miami) on a 26-foot motorless sailboat. From 1930-1933, he sailed across the ocean five times with his brothers Jariilo and Uku as his companions, among others.

He moved to the United States in the 1930s where he worked to propagate nautical tourism and as a marine inspector. From 1938-1940, he took his son, wife and a few other companions and sailed a boat built in Estonia and sailing under the Estonian flag around the world – from New York to New York.

An untold story inspires a documentary

About nine years ago, the documentary filmmaker, Jaanis Valk (39), happened to read a book about Valter. He found out he was the first Estonian to sail around the world and he did it even before the Second World War. “I’m a history buff, but this was new information to me,” Valk admits.

After that, he started investigating what happened to Valter and whether it was material for a documentary. “I was most drawn to the fact that Valter’s story is untold to this day. He was forgotten because of the years of occupation in Estonia. Many don’t even know who he was or that he existed,” Valk says.

The film includes material gathered in the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa. “These have been years of intense detective work for me,” the documentarian says.

The first year and a half were spent figuring out if there even was enough material about the sailor in existence. “During the First Estonian Republic (the Republic of Estonia before the Soviet occupation; there is no ‘First Republic’ of Estonia – editor), people talked a lot about Valter. When he was 17 years old in 1930, he took a tiny boat from Paljassaare Peninsula in Tallinn to New York. But there wasn’t any material about his trip around the world in Estonia,” Valk notes.

But then, some unique footage came to light in Canada and the documentary team knew it was possible to tell the story. “I found out there was film footage of Valter in the film archive of the Republic of South Africa. But from the moment that I got in touch with them, it took nine months to actually get the material. It would have been a real shame if that footage had been missing from the film,” Valk says.

He found out about the footage in South Africa through a diary kept by one of Valter’s travel companions, which described their arrival in Africa and how a cameraman came on board. “The diary named the title of the chronicle. If it hadn’t, we would have never found it because the title had nothing to do with Ahto or Estonia.”

Valk gives another example of his detective work. “Ahto’s son, Ted, sailed around the world when he was 14. In an interview, he says his godmother was Australian, he was christened in Lagos and his godmother’s father was the Australian Chief Justice.” He found a professor at a university in Australia who had done research on that judge. With his help, he found Ted’s godmother’s descendants and they had some photos he previously didn’t know existed. “These kinds of tidbits of a conversation or facts are the type of things that helped lead one thing to another over the years,” Valk explains.

Two eras, two stories

The documentary is about stories from two different eras: one story is told through the diaries of Ahto’s father, Rudolf, and the other through Ahto’s own diaries. Rudolf talks about his family and Ahto growing up, while excerpts from Ahto’s diary describe his trip around the world from 1938 to 1940. One story starts where the other ends and they are tied together by a father-son relationship, the story of a family, societal changes and the war that broke their family apart.

“I decided on an atypical approach to my documentary – I used parallel editing because of a sentence Ted said. He said his father always lived in the present and the future but never in the past. I wanted to use Rudolf to show Ahto’s developing years and who he finally grew up to be,” Valk says. “This isn’t just Ahto’s story, it’s also the story of an era. We are talking about a time when a whole lot was happening in the world. When one era ended, another one began. That’s the story of World War Two and how it broke up families.”

The film shows us the restless spirit of an adventurer, his chase after a dream and his sadness. During one of his adventures, the Second World War started along with the catastrophe it caused. We hear about the hard times through his father Rudolf. On purpose, the only “talking head” style interview in the film is Ahto’s son Ted.

Valk remembers his meeting with Ted was sad in a way. “I never heard my dad talk in Estonian,” Ted said unhappily and explained how sad it made him to never have had the opportunity to meet his grandparents.

The footage from the 1920s to 1930s shows a type of Estonian negativity. We see the young, enterprising Ahto get rejected from the yacht club and how he gets recognition abroad sooner than he gets it at home. That’s an attitude we still haven’t been able to shake, Valk admits.

“It does bother me that we don’t know how to support our thinkers or innovators here. But as soon as they’ve come up with something – whether that’s Skype or the Minox camera – we beat our own chests and say they are made in Estonia. We should improve our ability to recognise people who do things with a sparkle in their eye. Who cares if they’re not successful right away? At least, we are ethically in the right later when we call their achievements Estonian,” Valk says.

He gives a specific example of this with Ahto’s attempts to get funding for a boat motor from the Cultural Endowment. His application comments read, “We were unable to inform him of our negative decision because he had already left for America.” “Ahto couldn’t wait to find out if they would fund him or not. He had a restless nature,” Valk notes.

Colourful brothers

Even though the documentary is focused on Ahto and his trip around the world, the film sheds light on the whole untraditional Valter clan – Ahto’s brothers were also sailors and travellers who searched out foreign lands and didn’t want to stay behind in Estonia.

Valk says there’s enough material for a film just about Valter’s brothers. “Jariilo Valter married an Italian woman who he met when he fell overboard in the Mediterranean Sea and the woman saw him and saved him. He later married the same woman,” he says. “Kõu saved a whole lot of Estonians by taking them West on his boat when the Soviet Army invaded. He later fled to Sweden, then the United States with his wife and children.”

But when asked what kind of a person world traveller Ahto Valter really was, Valk falls deep into thought. “He was a restless dreamer. Estonia was too small for him. Not because of the regime or the people, but just because you find yourself stuck at a certain point. You want freedom and discover that your sails will give it to you. Out at sea, he felt responsible for his own actions and independent of anyone else’s decisions. That was his biggest reason for sailing,” Valk says.

“But if you are asking about Ahto’s personality, then, goodness, I don’t know. I can guess, and I’ve tried to do that in the film. But who knows what the truth really is.”

The documentary, “Ahto. Chasing a Dream” (2018), is written and directed by Jaanis Valk, the cinematographer is Erik Norkroos, the editors are Erik Norkroos, Kersti Miilen and Jaanis Valk, the sound designer is Horret Kuus and the producer is Erik Norkroos.


Cover: Kõu and Ahto Valter. Read more from the Estonian Film Magazine. The Estonian Film Magazine is published since 2013, twice a year, by the Estonian Film Institute. Every issue informs the readers on the news about the Estonian film productions, publishes reviews of new titles and interviews with film professionals. 

100 years of Estonian song and dance showcased in Leicester

The fifth European Estonian Song and Dance Festival took place in Leicester, the UK, as part of Estonia’s centenary celebrations.

By Katrin Puutsa, Reet Järvik, Toomas Ojasoo

The festival, taking place from 7-9 September, brought together Estonian choirs, singers and dancers from 14 European countries.

The main objectives of the event were to introduce Estonian music and dance to a wider audience in the UK and to celebrate Estonia’s centennial together with Estonians who live abroad.

Reet Järvik, one of the main organisers of the event, said she was deeply moved by the number of people, from near and far, who came to participate or to watch the events. The audience included people from Australia, the US and Canada. “It was awesome to be able to showcase Estonian culture to people who had previously had not been aware of the its song and dance tradition,” Järvik said.

The programme took the audience on a journey through time from shortly before Estonia first gained independence 100 years ago to the present day. The songs and dances represented the years from first independence in 1918 to annexation by the Soviet Union in 1944 to the regaining of nationhood in 1991 and, further still, into the new millennium.

A festival started by Estonian refugees

As it was not possible for Estonian refugees to return to their homeland after the Second World War, it was imperative to keep alive their song and dance tradition and they organised events in their respective countries – in Europe predominantly in Sweden, Germany and the UK.

The first joint festivals were held in 1974 and 1978 in Münster, Germany, before coming to De Montfort Hall in Leicester in 1982. The next festival took place in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1986. In 1991, Estonia regained its independence that made visiting the country’s national and local festivals possible for all again. Thus, the joint European festival floundered.

However, when Estonia’s centenary celebrations approached, the Association of Estonians in Great Britain decided they would revive this festival and invite Estonians from across Europe to take part. This would be the association’s centenary gift from Estonians in the UK to Estonia.

From folk to choir music

The festival began on 7 September in Leicester City Centre’s Jubilee Square where Estonian dance groups and singers could be seen and heard by passers-by. Events continued in the evening at the Y Theatre with Estonia-based folk band, Curly Strings, and the London-based Estonian band, ÖÖ.

The main song and dance festival concert took place the next day at the De Montfort University, with 150 participating singers and 100 dancers. Many traditional Estonian songs, such as “Koit” (Dawn) by Mihkel Lüdig and “Tuljak” (Wedding Song), were performed, engaging the audience to sing along and tap their feet.

The repertoire included also a beautiful melody set to the words of Estonian poet Kersti Merilaas’ “Rukkilill” (The Cornflower) by Peter Sheldon, an Estonian who was born and raised in Leicester. This was followed by an eight-year-old Greta Gnannt from France singing a song composed by herself, called “Armas Eestimaa” (Dear Estonia). In the song, she describes all the things she loves about Estonia, including the country’s emblems, the cornflower and the swallow.

The grande finale was the rousing “Leelo” (Song) by Aapo Ilves, but, as always, the choirs, dancers and audience could not leave without singing “Ta lendab mesipuu poole” (Flying homewards) by Juhan Liiv and Peep Sarapik.

The participating choirs were the European Estonians Choir (that has members from 14 European nations), the London Estonian Ladies Chamber Choir, the REE Choir (International Estonian Experimental Choir), the Gothenburg Estonians Mixed Choir, Haaslava Male Choir and the Siller Choir from Finland.

Folk dance groups included the London National Dancers (Estonian Folks) and the IES Tulevik dancers (UK), the Laiali Folk Dancers from Luxembourg, the Daughters of the Wind from Holland, the Trondheim Trolls from Norway, the Irises from Ireland, the Virvel folk dancers from Stockholm, Turba Tantsupisik and the Lepalind dancers from Estonia.

Leicester Estonian House is alive and kicking

A photo display in the foyer gave an overview of Estonian events which have taken place in the UK since 1947 when many refugee Estonians arrived. They included photos not only of the generation who originally set up organisations, but also of the next generations born in the UK as well as more recent arrivals from Estonia who have come to study, work and to live in the UK.

Between the events, there were many opportunities to visit the Leicester Estonian House which was the main information point for the festival and a place to go for food and drink and to meet up with other festival goers and performers.

The Leicester Estonian House opened its doors in 1960 and is the only Estonian centre of its kind in the Midlands (of England). It is a meeting place for Estonians and their friends and a venue for events including Independence Day, Midsummer’s day, Christmas and other Estonian celebrations.

After some traditional Estonian food and liquid refreshments at the Estonian House, the festival ended with an after-party at the nearby Ukrainian Club with much singing, dancing and socialising until the early hours.

The festival was organised by the Association of Estonians in Great Britain (AEGB), which was established in 1947. The association’s main aim has always been to preserve and promote Estonian culture and language abroad.


Cover: Dancers at the fifth European Estonian Song and Dance festival in Leicester (photo by Chris Key).

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