In March 2018 culture.ee actively streamed about Tallinn Music Week, a creative music festival. In September music, art, and international festival experience exchange has reached the Eastern borders of Estonia.
What makes TMW special? Its international harmony between art styles and forms. For example, at TMW you could listen to various bands from all over the world, see works of Estonian designers, taste eco ice-cream LaMuu at pop-up cafés, and talk about urban planning and climate change.
Cherry on the top of this creative cake was the upcoming music festival Station Narva in a frontier town that harbours Russian-speaking Estonians.
Why was this festival so interesting to me, someone who fled the town like fire the moment I graduated high school ten years ago? First of all, TMW was a blast and I had to see if it can be done in Narva as well. Second of all, Narva has changed a lot during a decade of my living abroad and I just had to see if Narva really is next (#narvaisnext is the main hashtag of the campaign for Narva to become a cultural capital of Europe in 2024). “Must go there,” I said to myself and there I was.
Breakfast “à la Narva”
The non-formal learning centre VitaTiim was a great place to reconcile with rapidly changing Narva. A long table with “Narva breakfast” (tea, coffee, sandwiches and pancakes with jam) was a meeting point for the youth workers of the centre, local activists, and the guests of the festival from Narva, Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu… In my line of work I encountered Russian- and Estonian-speaking politicians and cultural personae to get together for a discussion, but for the first time in my life did I see Estonians and Russians mingling together instead of dividing themselves into language groups and talking just about everything in so-called Narva language (or narva keel in Estonian which is also known as Ida-Viru language, a curious mix of Russian and Estonian spoken by half Ida-Viru county and Tallinn). Go Narva keel!
Perfectly imperfect lunch
My lunch took place in Narva Art Residency where I was awaited by muffins and an “imperfect” presentation of one “imperfect” art/book project. Two Finnish artists and comic-book authors Kaisa Leka and Christoffer Leka talked how they crossed the USA by bicycle and made an “Imperfect” travel journal about it (“Imperfect”, 2017: Absolute Truth Press). You can read about the well-designed book and buy it here if you ever get inspired by the first line of the book manual: “To read this book you will need a knife”. The language of the book presentation has evolved into the international: the artists conversed with the public in English by adding a Russian phrase here and there while the public assisted the interpreter.
To go off topic, I decided to have a walk around town after the presentation (and get warm in a café, because the unusually hot summer has come to its end). Luckily I met a former classmate who gave me a tour of this new Narva. The town has truly changed a lot: new shops, cafés, restored park, and new (bigger than in Tallinn) Vaba Lava theatre hint that Narva becomes cool.
What’s for dinner?
For dinner, we had BAZAR or discussions about imported festivals and Narva people’s identity. And again, the discussions were held in Narva keel with some English seasoning. Quite symbolic because Narva residents discussed issues on an international level with the guests from all over Estonia, Russia, Germany, Finland, Sweden. We talked about:
- how can a provincial town become cultural capital;
- how to create a common information network for a small but multinational country;
- how Russian-speaking residents identify themselves vis-à-vis the Estonian population;
- how to interest the youth in active cultural life;
- what Narva residents have so special that nobody else has.
Waiting for a dessert
During these discussions I had a revelation. Any issue can be related to the proud multicultural and multilingual identity of the Narva inhabitants. Russian-speaking Estonians live not on the edge of Europe but on the frontier of two worlds and they need to use this cultural, economical, linguistic position to their advantage. Narva language is nowhere near official language but it has its charm of an Eastern-Estonian dialect and maybe it will become a first step towards the nationwide information exchange.
As a person who was wondering for half of my life whether I am Estonian or Russian, I have now learned to accept and operate multiple cultural identities because in this globalised world there are better things to think of. For example, what future awaits Narva and what its ascend will be like?
And an espresso to boost the energy
I truly hope that next year Station Narva will take place again and there will be more Narva residents on bazaars, concerts, art shows (both as visitors and as participants).
For now, let’s get inspired.