When I give Uku Masing the honour to be put as the pioneer and forefather of ethnofuturism I naturally have first to explain in a few sentences, what ethnofuturism actually is. I think it's sufficient to tell, that it was launched by a handful of young Estonian writers and scholars at Tartu ten years ago in the transition period from Soviet socialism to independence. The best known of them is Kauksi Ülle, "mother" of the first period aesthetic program. The ethnofuturists were one of the provocative new groups directed against the still official but actually living dead, zombie Socialist realism. Soon the group organized itself as Eesti Kostabi $elts nominated after the Estonian origin painter Mark Kalev Kostabi from California, whose expositions can be seen in Internet. The dollar sign wants to point out, that it is not shameful for an artist to make money.
The ethnofuturists differed from other literary groups in that way, that they wanted to revitalize literature through national traditions. According to the ethnofuturistic manifesto the main aim was to melt together traditions from folklore, national romanticism and earlier modern groups like Siuru and Arbujad (Soothsayers). It is worth to mention, that in his youth Masing was member of the Arbujad-group. And all of this ethnofuturists combined with postmodern ideas of e.g. intertextualism, pastiche and simulacrum. According to postmodern principles it is possible to mix various kinds of literary sources without puristic rigour. Beside these things ethnofuturists laid great thrust in high brand communication technology, especially Internet as a censorfree medium.
You can divide the term ethnofuturism into two parts. Etymologically it refers with ethnos to minority peoples, whose national existence is at stake or at least threated by assimilation politics by states or multinational enterprises. ’Ethnos’ means a little people or nation with own traditions and culture, which lives under pressure of greater peoples, let's say Russians or in the case of Saamis the Nordic majority peoples. Futurism does not anymore point out the modernist aesthetic program at the beginning of our century, which is known through its great figures, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in Italy and Vladimir Mayakovsky in Russia. No, in this context it means hope for future, for a new life, where peoples can develope their culture by means of their own language and traditions.
After five years it was time to internationalize ethnofuturism. EK$ organized in 1994 at Tartu the first Finno-Ugric young creators’, authors' and artists' conference, where ethnofuturism was presented to young talents of relative peoples, and it was accepted unanimously as a common aesthetic program. The best source for intrested is the twospeak collection Waterfowl way - Vodptitsnaja doroga (Tartu 1995), a selection of materials from the conference. The second conference was held at Izhkar, Udmurtia 1998, and the third again at Tartu in May 1999. There ethnofuturism was finally accepted unanimously as a philosophical thought system and aesthetic program, which suits especially for Uralic peoples.
I personally got acquainted with "ethnofutu" during the Finno-Ugrist congress at Jyväskylä 1995 in the thesis of Piret Viires, a member of the original group. Since that I have held numerous lectures, speeches and have written about it sveral articles, so far that I have been together with Andres Heinapuu from SURI (Soome-ugri rahvaste infokeskus, Tallinn) nominated as the philosopher of ethnofuturism, especially during the third conference.
Now still some principles of ethnofuturism. Its’ aims are not only to save cultural traditions, but above all to construct national town culture for such peoples, who have mainly been nomads and peasants. In this meaning ethnofuturism can be an artistic and philosophical ”program of survival”, which grants future for small languages and cultures. Ethnofuturism gives self thrust and evens uneven starting points in giving examples and models for developing national literature and culture.
The most important principle is to stress the dialectics between old and new, ancient mythology plus folklore and national romanticism, and on the other hand modern media and high brand postmodernism. Along the principles of postmodern thinking you can put together and mix various kinds of literary sources. Here you can use the Russian word polistilistika. It is clear, that although we have to point out the importance of the roots (mythology, folklore and native religion), we also have to make clear, that small peoples and ethnic groups can't anymore deal without modern technology and media, i.e. videos, computers, Internet home pages etc. But on the other hand only a minority of Ural intellectuals have tools to use these postmodern information technology. That’s why Internet can’t solve vital problems, it’s only a medium. More important is national and ethnic philosophy, aesthetics and politics..
Ethnofuturism should at first place be an aesthetic program suting for every ethnic literature and art, because it hasn't such rigid rules like the sorrowly famous Socialist realism. It leaves broad possibilities for national and individual variations, a real creative freedom. But it can also be a rescue tool for small Uralic literatures by translations, prices, writer exchange and other cultural political efforts.
It is important to underline, that ”ethnofutu” is no more only aesthetics, but a broader philosophy, which has principles in ontology, epistemology and ethics. It is developing itself to a real rescue program for smaller Uralic peoples. It is broadening itself to village planning, eco- and cultural turism, reviving of natural religion etc.
Ethnofuturism can construct counter myths against efforts to monolithisize cultures in neocolonial and cultural imperialist, multinational and chauvinistic manner. Uralic myths used in modern contexts can be put against artistic individualism, taste dictatorship and Western genrecanons. Ethnofuturistic literature is nearer to traditional collective forms in folklore, popular culture and group production. The myth of eternal return (Mircea Eliade), the myths of common Uralic heritage, the already severly criticized theories of original home and linguistic family tree can still inspire writers creating ethnofuturistic themes.
The decade of ethnofuturism has already shown its strength saving and developing national or ethnic culture, as can be seen in the so called Võro-Seto renaissance or revitalizing the Livonian culture. An especially great influence has the program had in Udmurtia, where majority of the younger writers and artists create new national culture under its banner. It could do even more, if it would be recognized e.g. in Carelian Republic, where the circumstances for doing national culture have worsened along with the Ingrian emigration to Finland. In an Germanic milieu living Kvens in Sweden and Norway could raise their selfthrust and strengthen their identity and ethnic mentality doing their own culture through their language and traditions.
In many of these points Uku Masing's thinking can give worthful impulses. It is quite understandable, that Estonian ethnofuturists have made use of his texts. Also for me he is worthful in many respects.
In the thirties Masing was a keen antifascist, who ironically wrote against the racist Nazi quasitheories and their ancestors in the Imperialistic Wilhelm II era. In the article "’Aryan' and 'animalman'. The latest progress of the 'German science'" (Vaba Maa 12.5.1936), he requests for his fellow citizens (of whom some were excited about German theories), that Estonians should let the entire world know, that they are "Finnomongolic", East Baltic or whatever, but not Aryans. Maybe it would be better to reuse the old theory of K.A. Hermann, that ’Aryan’ and the Estonian word ’ori’ (in Finnish orja, slave) come from the same root. It should not be forgotten, that beside the Basks the Finno-Ugric peoples are the most mysterious and in that way the eldest peoples in Europe. Masing doesn't accept the theory, that Finno-Ugrians come from east. He accepts those theories, that the ancient forefathers of the FU-peoples once were lords of whole Europe, but later they had to move northwards following the melting ice, when other, more violent peoples came from West and South. Its ashtonishing to see, that Masing got into those same ideas, which in the recent ten years have been presented by such Finnish scholars as Kalevi Wiik and Pekka Sammallahti.
Masing was a bitter enemy of such ideas, which were spread by scientists and philosophers like Lucretius Carus, Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, T.H. Huxley and Martin Heidegger. Malthus was for Masing the enemy of mankind. Malthus’s admirer Darwin with his "natural selection" was for Masing just another English Imperialist and Racist. Quoting some verses of such Imperialist English poets like William Wordsworth and Martin Tupper he constates: "Such brain tumults are gloriously clearing way for Darwin, who compared in the ’struggle of existence’ the extinction of ’lower’ forms of life for benefit of ’higher’ forms with the defeat of local industry in the colonies for benefit of English industry”. A good example was the cotton industry of India, which in the long run could not make competition with the English large scale cotton production. The ”natural selection” orders, that the colonial (and nowadays the postcolonial) peoples are worth only as cheap labour force and as consumers of bad quality Western products (medicine, drugs, tobacco, milk powder etc.).
An especially worthful text for ethnofuturistic ideas is Masing's "Confessio amantis", published in Communio Viatorum 2/1961, the tiny periodical published by the theological faculty of the Charles University in Prague. As far as understand the University of Prague was the only one in the socialist countries, who didn't close the faculty of theology. The article rejects powerfully all kind of racist thoughts about the right for white race to rule the other races. Resolutely Masing connects those ideas with the history of capitalism. For him capitalism is just another form of violence by the Medieval war lords and robber knights. The supremacy of the white race is for him "Siegheilslehre" (SHL). In the same manner as the French ethical philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (who came from Vilnius) Masing says, that warfare is for SHL the only right method, the leading principle in the Western ideology. Is it not necessary to mention many examples, how right Masing and Levinas are in recent times: biotechnology, genetic manipulation, the European fortress of EU, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia for to bring it back to stone age, the newest war operation of Russia against Tchetchenia etc. Masing blames the Nazi Rector of the University of Tübingen, Martin Heidegger for glorifying war, like the evangelic theologists, who accept the opinion, that "mankind can't fully develope without wars". That means, that a Christian should forget one of the ten Holy commandments: "Thou shalt not kill"!
Rejecting the Western linear conception of history Masing points out the original native beliefs on "golden age" in the past, which for him are true, not imagination. For Masing these are reminiscents of the shamanistic mentality. According to this mentality it is worth to fight against natural forces, deseasies and demons, not against fellow humans, which is rejected as mental desease. "Primitive" cultures do not know wars, or at least in the golden age there no wars. Especially the Northern indigenous peoples don't know wars. Really, e.g. in the Saami languages there is no own word for 'war'. According to Masing the conflicts between individuals in those "primeval Communist" societies are solved with song contests, like Väinämöinen and Joukahainen do in Kalevala.
The rejection of these ideas by the Western civilization is connected with the primacy of war. Masing says: "The war ideology of capitalism has blinded us in such a degree, that at the beginning not even I could imagine, how such a period /the golden age/ have existed so long, that mankind has memories from it". But an even more difficult question sounds: how was it possible, that mankind got away from that peaceful path and became victim for that fool robbermurderer? Our period has for a long time been and still is the age of political serial murderers, individualistic selfishness, speculative merchants, selected races etc. There is no real difference between a road robber, a feudal lord, a capitalistic great merchant or a Communist bureaucrat. Although skalds, trubadours, poeti laureati and other hired pens are praising the deeds of kings, politicians and capital magnats for fatherland and common benefit, those cliches (”My country”, ”the Aryan race”, ”the Northern race”, ”White man’s burden” etc., we could add: ”Greater Finland”, ”Nokia boom”) are only camouflage for making money.
So the most divine myth of capitalism, "free competition", the Darwinist "to kill or to be killed", are in Masing's sight variations of the ancient Roman slogan of "bellum omnium contra omnes". The concentration of capital, which puts an end to free competition, is according to Masing like a beast eating its’ weaker neighbours: "For capitalists the small entrepreneurs' flesh is sweeter than that of the meager workers'".
Uku Masing made a very worthful contribution to the coming ethnofuturism in his linguistic theoretization an the Uralic language philosophy, especially in the long article "Taevapõdra rahvaste meelest ehk juttu boreaalsest hoiakust" (About the mentality of the peoples of Celestial Reindeer or Speech about the Northern world view); published in Academia 1989). His starting point is criticism against ”Standard Average European” (SAE) thinking. It is dominated by the illusion of allhumanness. According to it everything, which has been founded in the centres must become a norm all over the world.
From the same root came the race theories from the 1850’es and onwards. In Darwin’s opinion the more haired Europeans, especially the Anglo-Saxons will push aside the less hairy Africans and Asians. And not only push aside them. With the law of Natural Selection the lower races will extinct. In that way biology, economy and philosophy strongly interconnect in the colonialistic ideology.
Masing suggests as an alternative folk tales and myths. He compares in a shruff way the Indo-German and the Boreal thinking showing ironically, that the structure of the tales of Grimm brothers and the other Indo-European folk tales follows the Nietzschean ”Wille zur Macht” of the hero, in many cases an ordinary young man and follows his social ascension to a higher cast through marriage with a beautiful princess. The whole universe with helping animals serves this greed to power. Even the fatal slogan of existentialism, "to be thrown into world” follows the same idea of a lonely individualistic hero.
As an alternative against this norm, the thinking of the centre and the cast/class system can be put the Northern and indigenous kinship/clan system, in which the animals are not servants but forefathers and totem figures. Against the Indo-German causal-finalistic plot there is not such a logical story in an Uralic tale or myth. The action is arbitrary and unmotivated. According to Masing approximately so.
This ancient Uralic thinking precedes the newest Western models. The Northern peoples have known from the beginning of times, what the centres in USA and Western Europe invented in the sixties (structuralism, postmodernism). When Ferdinand de Saussure showed the arbitrarity of words, the Ugrians have according to Masing always known, that the name is never identical with its meaning. When an Indo-German imagines, that ’dragon’ is a clear idiom, Mikael Agricola’s (the founder of Finnish written language) translation ’lohikäärme’ shows something else: ’lohi’ (salmon or a big fish like animal) and ’käärme’ (snake) never melt together, and the phantastic shape of this mythical creature stays.
Already Friedrich Nietzsche knew in his Jenseits von Gut und Böse, that the Indo-European and Uralic-Altaic peoples differ from each other in their linguistic and in that way also in their thought system. Masing states, that in Indo-German languages negative words change their nature and get independent, like words with a-, in-, un- and non-prefixes. In Finnish languages words with ei-, epä-, mitte-beginnings never melt together with the positive equivalent, and the contradiction lasts. Masing puts: ”In our languages you never imagine, that ’unexistence’ could exist as an independent term beside ’existence’”. In this context it is worth to mention, how much noise the German philosophy has made about ’being’ and ’existnce’ in Kant’s, Hegel’s and Heidegger’s thinking.
As a central dividing point between Indo-German and Boreal philosophy Masing posits ontology. For Indo-Germans there is one absolutely existing ”reality”. For Ugrians there are several realities, at least three (heaven, earth, the underground world), maybe nine or twelve, depending how many heavens one upon another you imagine.
So as the structure of Uralic languages shapes a thought system, which differs from that of Indo-European neighbours, it prepares possibilities for a synthetic world view, where unnecessary borders between science, philosophy, religion and arts are demolished, as also the great Komi multischolar Kallistrat Zhakov (Garamort) puts it in his limitism. Traditional religious forms of action, Christian and ”Pagan”: prayers, chants, laments, ecstasy, shamanism, are important parts of ethnofuturistic culture.
Ethnofuturism differs from other modern -isms in such a respect, that it heads itself from the margin to the centre, as the others try to do vice versa. Ethnofuturism proudly presents itself as a margin phenomenon. And as the third world war already has started, although slowly and silently, the most conscious part of the indigenous peoples separe themselves from the Western world. It is necessary to survive with your own. The margins will live, not the centres.
[Window to the Finno-Ugric World]