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ethno-futurism as a mode of thinking for an alternative future

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Translated by Sven-Erik Soosaar


The First Conference of Young Finno-Ugrian Authors on Ethno-Futurism took place on May 5 to 9, 1994 in Tartu. The conference was held in the honour of the fifth anniversary of the Estonian Kostabi $ociety, which itself was founded in the spirit of ethno-futurism.

All in all, about a hundred guests were invited to the Tartu days of ethno-futurism, representing Udmurts, Komis, Maris, Karelians, Finns, Livonians, Erzyas, Hungarians, the Saami, Võro and Seto peoples.

To all these peoples, Tartu is a place well known as well as a symbolic meeting place: the University of Tartu has bundled together Finno-Ugric peoples, and, even when under the rule of the Russian Empire, offered hope for the future for the peoples living in the territory of the empire.

The aim of the conference was to introduce ethno-futurism to young Finno-Ugric artists and writers by means of speeches, films, exhibitions, songs and meetings. The last day of the conference was entirely dedicated to the discussion of intentions, common and individual, concerning ethno-futurism and the planning of co-operation.

The question of co-operation is complicated due to the fact that the official policy, the aim of which is to Russify the Finno-Ugric peoples living in the territory of Russia by depriving them of their identity has been especially intensive in recent decades.

The Conference made the participants aware of their own cultures as the base of their identity and decided to support and advocate activities that provide 'futu for ethno' (i.e. the survival of peoples in the future) in all respects.

A joint decision to survive was made.

It was suggested in the discussions that the best way to put across this purpose is to creatively associate the ancient Finno-Ugric frame of mind with the more recent possibilities of post-industrial society. This summary is a review by the initiators and organisers of the conference of the fundamental principles and the formation of the Finno-Ugric ethno-futurism as a mode of thinking.


The entity and idea of ethno-futurism is to connect the two extremities of culture - to make the indigenous meet the cosmopolitan and urban. At the point where these two find each other the spark of ethno-futurism is born.

The spark which appears from this contact is a force that enlivens culture by natural means.


For centuries Estonians have called themselves "maarahvas" (people of the land, country people), which is a widespread self-designation among indigenous peoples.

When J. W. Jannsen used the name "eestlane" (Estonian) for "maarahvas" for the first time in 1857, the name Estonia came as well into use to designate the land of the local country people.

By the subsequent rise of self-consciousness and by finding expressing the Estonian identity in words, three trends of national ideology branched off. These were the orientation towards Germany and the total influence of German culture (J. W. Jannsen), Russian influences (C. R. Jakobson) and the trend emphasising the original culture of the local people (J. Hurt).

Estonian men of letters during the National Awakening had got their Russian- or German-minded education in Russian or German. The spirit of the educational institutions was based either on Russian red-tape turn of mind or German middle-class blood. Hence, the young Estonian culture was born mostly following the example of the German mass-culture. Still, collecting Estonian folklore had an important place in the founding program of the academic Learned Estonian Society (founded in 1838).

The work at collecting and preserving of Estonian folklore, began by Jakob Hurt in 1888, created a basis for the written retention of Estonian older oral heritage in a longer perspective. The most important people to encourage his work were the Finnish ethnographer Julius Krohn, who did the similar work in Finland, and Estonian school teachers from different parts of the provinces of Livonia and Estonia. The biggest organisational supporters of the enormous work of collecting the heritage were the Society of Estonian Men of Letters (founded in 1871), the society of musical comedies Vanemuine (1865), the Committee of Estonian Alexandrian School (1868) and the Society of Estonian Farmers (1870).

The newspaper "Postimees", which published monthly summaries and appeals for collecting by Jakob Hurt, had great influence on the populace by stimulating the collecting of ancient texts.

The Zeitgeist and the actual circumstances of the era determined the preference of the German model at the formation of Estonian culture. At the end of the 19th century, it was common to support the directions of development, springing from that. Even M. J. Eisen’s initiative for collecting folklore supported this in its own way, although the popular books on Estonian folklore published by him turned out to be a considerable factor in the development of the intellectual basis of the next generation of Estonian men of letters.

The initiative for collecting the Estonian oral heritage led by Jakob Hurt was an obvious direction to a future which, presuming a way of existence peculiar to the ethnos, would allow the cognition of ethnic identity to be constantly reformed.


Despite the differences in the historical development and the present situation of Finno-Ugric peoples, the similarities of main problems have clearly arisen. The form of statehood accepted in the Western civilisation and conceived as an inalienable part of the so-called “contemporary” civilisation is a legacy of the antique Mediterranean societies and even today constantly develops and repeats errors inherent to it.

Traditional basic units of all Finno-Ugric peoples have been the family, the community and the tribe, and - in extreme situations - the district (parish, shire).

The Finno-Ugric peoples living in the territory of the Russian Federation have preserved their old folk culture as village culture. The most important vital components of this culture are an ethnic religion or a system of ethnic folk beliefs, folk songs still sung, handicraft used as utensils, the use of the original language of the people as the home language. There is no peculiar ethnic urban culture. Is there a possibility to survive as a people in today’s world without a peculiar ethnic urban culture? Some of the favourable possibilities for development available for young Finno-Ugric cultures in the changing world are:

  1. the possibility for development in the context of more than one high culture;
  2. the disappearing of canons from contemporary elitary culture gives the author a possibility to start from traditions and to creatively develop them further;
  3. ethnic peculiarities are favoured worldwide both in mass culture and in elitary culture;
  4. the spreading nature-friendly philosophy fits well with the Finno-Ugric attitude towards Nature as a partner for dialogue, as something sacral.

Finno-Ugrians are conscious that eventually it makes no difference whether to assimilate into Russians or Europeans. Assimilation is still the death of the people in both cases.

All in all, there are ca. 25 million Finno-Ugrians, which is a sufficient amount of people in order to be an active factor in the world. Belonging to a larger group has a positive effect on the ethnic self-consciousness of any people.


The development of technology and civilisation has been disadvantageous to Ugrians for a long time. Cities, hierarchies and rigid or inflexible modes of thinking have not been acceptable for our temperament. Peoples whose frame of mind is rather individualist have had little luck in the world of states, wars and churches. Attempts at adaptation to this world have ended in extensive stress causing alcoholism and suicides.

An important trend in the development of the post-industrial society in the 1990s is the increasing use of widespread computer-networks. The number of Internet users has grown to ca. 45 million and is still only at its starting position. The Net, having more and more importance, and without which life will soon be unimaginable, is developing into an environment totally different from the relations hitherto existing in the society that spawned it.

This Net is not subordinated to any central control, its manipulation by any one force or its serving any one political, religious or commercial purpose or cause is practically impossible. It is the first free working structure, which lacks central control and the possibility for domination and control of ideas.

The Net is a place where a Ugrian may feel at home. Information may be shared more than Christianly - it is sufficient for everybody and it will procreate instead of diminishing when used. The Net is an open system.

The superabundance of information is approaching to entropy, so it is often compared to a jungle. A jungle-like system has no wrecking effect upon the mind of peoples whose habitat has been forest, instead, it offers us an environment passing with our nature.

The Ugrians, always individualist, are used to count on themselves and have an apparatus for orientation more complicated and effective than could ever be built on the basis of the Ten Commandments. The Ugrians can thus continue their life in a contemporary way, at the same time relying on the traditional ethnic nature of their ancestors.

The Net helps Ugrians to preserve the dispersed way of life peculiar to them, without losing contacts with the rest of the world, it helps to make use of unseen possibilities for self-expression and association. No nation has a lead of centuries in using the Net, it is new both in America as well as in Scandinavia and Siberia.

The Ugrians' plan to conquer the world is relies on the creative harmony of the ancient turn of mind and contemporary technology.

This is the great hidden opportunity for the Finno-Ugrians.

Ethno-futurism, putting in motion creative powers, is not an ideology but a way to survive as well as a modus vivendi.

Tartu, May 5 to December 5, 1994

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