Finno-Ugric kinship in the Estonian national image: A shared emotion or a fuzzy question?


Keywords: Finno-Ugric kinship movement, identity, Finno-Ugric peoples, research history

The essay is a contemplation on the role and meaning of Finno-Ugric kinship as part of modern Estonian identity. The focus is on the relations between Estonians (in particular, scholars and other intellectuals) and Finno-Ugric peoples since the early 19th century, as well as on the reflections of the kinship concept in the Estonian society in different periods. The idea of Finno-Ugric kinship actually germinated in the theory of language affinity, which emerged and developed in the 19th century. However, a scientifically hermetic theory can hardly function as a single component of either a movement or a people’s group identity. In different times the popularity and influence of the Finno-Ugric kinship idea has differed. Differences can also be observed in the attitude towards the Eastern and Western (Finnish, Hungarian) kindred peoples due to the formers’ long experience of living under Russian rule and in the Russian cultural space.

In the 19th century, during the period of National Awakening, Estonians found the idea of Finno-Ugric kinship topical and hot enough. At that time it mainly meant a relatively one-sided admiration of the cultural achievements of the Finnish people, who, like a bigger brother, was looked up to as an ideal example of getting things done under the rule of Tsarist Russia. In the pre-war Estonian Republic, kinship activities enjoyed a relatively high national prestige, but real contacts with the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia were limited for political reasons. Real scientific research and contacts became possible only after the war was over, which period was the heyday of Finno-Ugric research in Estonia. Another upsurge of Finno-Ugric interest arrived at the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union entailed a great social upheaval in Estonia. The 21st century has brought about a gradual withdrawal of emotions from identity issues. A pragmatic attitude has come to prevail not only where Finno-Ugric matters are concerned, but also in questions of the Estonian language and culture as such.

Madis Arukask (b. 1969), PhD, University of Tartu, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Associate Professor / Senior Researcher, madis.arukask@ut.ee


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