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Estonian Edmontorlians root for homeland's independence


Neighbors Reporter

As Estonians prepared to cast their ballots in the March 3 referendum on the Baltic nation's independence from the Soviet Union their countrymen here in Edmonton were rooting for their success.

Edmonton Estonian Society members and their families gathered Feb. 24 at the Commonwealth Lawn and Bowling Clubhouse in Woodcroft to mark Estonian Independence Day.

Part of the celebrations included a motion to support Estonians in their bid to gain independence from the Soviet Union.

"As Estonians living abroad, we don't have a vote in the referendum, but we want to show them we support them," said society president Eda McClung. Their motion supporting independence will be passed on to Estonia through the Toronto-based Estonian Central Council of Canada.

The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were taken over by the Soviet Union at the close of the Second World War. In a referendum held Feb. 9, Lithuanians voted 90 per cent in favor of independence. Latvia also holds a referendum on independence March 3.

Estonian Independence Day marks the date, 73 years ago, when the Baltic country first gained its independence from Russia. Estonia remained an independent nation until 1940.

There are 80 families who are members of the Estonian society here. McClung estimates there are several hundred Edmontonians who are partly or fully of Estonian origin.

McClung said there have been three waves of Estonian immigration to Canada. The first was to Alberta at the turn of the century. Most settled in Sylvan Lake and Stettler. The second she described as economic refugees who came for the land and homesteading. The final group were political refugees who came at the end of the Second World War to escape Communist rule.

McClung said most of the members of the society belong to the third wave of political refugees, and they see the current struggle for independence and democracy as a continuation of the struggle they faced at the close of the war.

"With Gorbachev (Soviet President Mikhail Gorba'chev) saying he doesn't want the Soviet Union to break up, we realize it may be a while before they get the independence they so justly deserve," said McClung.

Guest speaker at the Independence Day event was Miriam Isberg Anderson, an Estonian and a Toronto travel agency owner. She recently succeeded in establishing a travel agency in Estonia.

Anderson has travelled many times to Estonia and she described life there as very difficult, particularly for city dwellers. She said rural Estonians have been less affected by the Soviet rule and have been able to retain their own way of life. In the cities she says people often hold two, three and even four jobs and struggle for the bare necessities of food and clothing.

She visited several schools and although the children can watch western television programs on Finnish TV channels, they have very little real knowledge of western life.

She said Estonians are eager to learn more about Canada and about their Estonian countrymen living here. She urged local Estonians to make an effort to visit their homeland.

Despite the political upheavels, Anderson said it is still safe to travel in Estonia and visitors are, free to visit all parts of the country.


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