About a hundred students wrote to the Prime Minister
During the month of May, students from grades 7–12 submitted a total of 95 pieces to the creative writing contest “A letter to the prime minister” organised in cooperation between the Government Office and the Association of Estonian Language Teachers, the Association of the Teachers of Estonian as a Second Language, and the Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature.
The task was to write a letter personally addressed to the prime minister. Letters in Estonian and Russian languages were sent. Many of the students who speak Russian at home had written their letter in Estonian. The letters addressed the importance of Estonia’s restored independence and offered visions for the Republic of Estonia thirty years from now.
The youngest writer was a twelve-year-old seventh-grader and the oldest a nineteen-year-old twelfth-grader. Saue Gymnasium and the Gustav Adolf Grammar School had the most participants, but the Prime Minister received letters from students across the entire country.
The best pieces were based on personal experience that led to a generalisation or the theme of the letter. The writers understood the importance of Estonia’s past and had received information about the past from school lessons or relatives. The sentiment was sensitive and protective where family-based values were addressed. All letters highlighted the importance of Estonia’s independence as a state. Many expressed concern about Estonia’s nature and the violent harvesting of Estonia’s forests: “There are massive timber storage lots near my home; timber is transported there across the island of Hiiumaa and then exported on large cargo ships. – – – I feel deep sadness as I pass cutting areas where cutting has not been done properly, but which look like victims of violence instead. The land has been turned upside down, stumps have been tipped over, and tree trunks lie solemnly stacked in the middle of the clearing.” (Henri Lees-Leesma, Saue Gymnasium, grade 7b)
Students expressed their concern about the fate of Estonian language and the teaching of the language in all Estonian schools. They appealed on the conscience of the adults: “I sincerely hope that the adults of our day are smart, responsible, and brave enough to make decisions …” (Liisa Kukk, St. Michael’s School, grade 8).
The winning letter of the middle age group expressed sadness for times gone by through personal experience by interpreting the run-down Klooga manor house and its surroundings as a symbol of an order of society in need of reconstruction. Students also acknowledge Estonia’s 30 years of success and know how to value freedom: “I appreciate everything I can consider self-evident – to be able to speak with my family and friends in Estonian, to study objective history at school, to walk on peaceful landscapes without cannon fire, to ride a fishing boat off the coast without the fear of getting shot by “your own people”, and to sing national songs.” (Kertu Ketlin Lepmets, Tallinn Mustamäe Gymnasium, grade 10)
The authors had also noticed negative aspects such as hatred towards minorities, the wage gap, intolerance, emotion-based decision-making, and public display of ignorance. “My heart aches because of the viciousness and malice I see in the society. – – – It is an ugly sight to see an Estonian carrying a grudge towards another. The times where neighbours were at each other’s throats like Tammsaare’s Andres and Pearu should be a thing of the past.”
Students expressed hope that “by the time we celebrate our 60th anniversary of restored independence, the honour and dignity of other human beings is being respected without question and referendums lead us to a stronger and better state instead of weighing our nation down.” (Margaret Oll, Gustav Adolf Grammar School, grade 10)In the letters, hopes are expressed that the prime minister can understand and support these ideas.
The writers showed their good knowledge of Estonian history by highlighting important facts that should be remembered. Writers reminded us of human rights and recommended that education and research should be developed as a priority in the next 30 years. It was mentioned that the voice of the youth should be heard sooner than during public protests after the making of damaging decisions. The importance of sustainability and smart use of resources was also highlighted. One author hoped that in 30 years, Estonia would be one of the countries to lead the way for the rest of the world.
Secondary school students expressed concern over an ageing society, emigration, and the negative effect of globalisation on the relationship with one’s homeland. “While in the early twentieth century, efforts were made to find great role models for Estonian culture from Europe, then now, it is the other way round – we must stress the pride and importance of being Estonian.” (Mona Tammemägi, Gustav Adolf Grammar School, grade 12) However, the writer also offered solutions, for example for improving the public space next to the Tartu Road: “Give young Art Academy students opportunities to improve the urban environment of Tallinn; this could deepen the bond of some youngsters with their homeland.” It was found that the reason of urbanisation is still the lack of attractive centres and conveniences in rural areas.
The work of the winner of Russian-language letters, Georgi Severeniak (Ahtme Basic School, grade 7), is especially heartfelt in its hopes for a country that would operate like a family. It additionally proposes better economic compensation for grandparents and less working hours for mothers so that children could come home to a warm meal every day. The writer thinks that he would have more siblings if her mum could stay at home and would have less work-related stress. The loss of connection between generations is contemplated.
Several winning letters express a special and tender bond with their previous generations: talks within the family circle, impressive stories or grandparents and the pain of the past the youth has not experienced personally, but can feel it in their genetic memory. Students expressed belief in the development of the country and that the Prime Minister is aware and can help and influence the process. These were letters written from heart to heart.
The jury of the creative writing contest “A letter to the prime minister” was made up of Anu Kell, Kerli Rhede, llmar Tomusk, Kaja Sarapuu, Ivika Hein, Maarja Vaino, Tiina Brock, Ingrid Prees, Madis Päts, Jelena Moisejeva, and Jelena Teder.
The jury selected 18 award-winning letters and three special nominations. The results are available here.
The winning students and their teachers have been invited to a ceremony held at Stenbock House on 21 June 2021. See photo gallery here.
Written by Kaja Sarapuu