The Estonian Ministry of Culture designated the Folk Culture Centre (FCC) as the main body responsible for the implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Within the FCC, an Intangible Cultural Heritage Department (with two professional posts) is responsible, inter alia, for developing and carrying out the cultural policy, organizing training courses, and administering twelve support programmes for intangible cultural heritage, including seven programmes for specific cultural regions of Estonia. In 2009, the Estonian Council for Intangible Cultural Heritage, which comprises some 20 experts, was established as an advisory board to the Ministry. The FCC has a network of 15 folk culture specialists (one in each county of Estonia). The Guiding Principles for Estonian Cultural Policy until 2020 were adopted by the Estonian parliament in February 2014. These include general ideas and guidelines based on grassroots discussions that helped each respective field, including intangible cultural heritage, to set out specific goals and priorities.
As mentioned above, the FCC organizes training courses in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, and various university-level courses are also relevant (in subjects such as Anthropology, Cultural Management, Ethnology and Folklore, Cultural Heritage and Conservation, Agricultural Sciences, Forestry and Traditional Music). There are also applied higher education courses in handicraft technology and design, traditional music, dance art, theatrical studies, cultural management, traditional textiles, traditional construction, and traditional metalwork at the Viljandi Culture Academy and Tallinn University.
Documentation on intangible cultural heritage is held at the Estonian National Museum (the leading ethnographic institution). Other national bodies holding intangible cultural heritage-related documentation include: the Estonian Literary Museum; the Estonian Open-Air Museum; Estonian Public Broadcasting; and the Estonian National Library. All state-funded research and memory institutions, their collections and archives are accessible to the public. The digitization of collections is well underway to make them broadly available on the internet. Local institutes in the different regions share study results with the communities concerned through publications and websites as well as through direct interaction with community leaders and other interested members of the public.
The Estonian Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage is administered by the Estonian Folk Culture Centre. Work on it began in 2007, in close collaboration with researchers from the University of Tartu, the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Literary Museum. The online inventory (www.rahvakultuur.ee/vkpnimistu) was opened to the public in 2010. It is a new inventory that does not directly build on existing databases, in order to ensure that the inventory focuses on intangible cultural heritage as a living heritage, consistent with the 2003 Convention. The inventory is structured in a twofold way. On the one hand, it includes four types of entries: elements of intangible cultural heritage; individual practitioners; organizations connected with the element; and places or regions that are important for this element, On the other hand, the entries are arranged according to intangible cultural heritage domains.
The main criterion for inclusion is the desire of a community to include a particular element. Other criteria are that it corresponds to the definition of intangible cultural heritage; is an element of living heritage important for its community today; and has been passed on from generation to generation. As for viability, each entry must include information on its sustainability, including modes of transmission, the threats it faces (if any), safeguarding measures and their impact. Communities can share their good safeguarding practices. The inventory making is a bottom-up process and communities themselves compile entries for the inventory, decide if they want their intangible cultural heritage to be included, which elements, and how they wish to present them. This ensures the respect of customary practices governing access to elements of intangible cultural heritage. Relevant community non-governmental organizations also participate in identifying and defining intangible cultural heritage. All entries will be updated every five years by the people who compiled them.
Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is integrated into several state and local level planning programmes and the Guiding Principles for Cultural Policy until 2020. The document requires the State to support community initiatives, community and umbrella organizations and events where intangible cultural heritage is transmitted and promoted. Intangible cultural heritage and regional culture are also seen as important bases for related cultural industries. With regard to development, some state-level planning programmes include the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, such as the Estonian Rural Development Plan and the National Strategy on Sustainable Development (‘Sustainable Estonia 21’). The Development Plan of the Ministry of Culture underlines the need to safeguard intangible cultural heritage and, specifically, to ensure the viability of the intangible cultural heritage of different cultural regions. There is a separate Development Plan for the Estonian language and its regional forms as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage and to ensure its continuous use in all fields of life, its safeguarding and research. Several non-governmental state-level umbrella organizations working in different fields of intangible cultural heritage have their own development programmes for intangible cultural heritage, as do several local authorities and village communities.
Awards are an important way to increase the awareness of and respect for intangible cultural heritage (e.g. the annual Heritage Custodian Award of the Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union and the FCC). The FCC also awards scholarships annually to individuals or organizations that play a major role in teaching, transmitting or promoting traditional culture. Representatives of about 180 ethnic groups live in Estonia and they often form national culture societies and associations and present their intangible cultural heritage through festivals and other events.
Cultural identity is seen as a topic that cuts across all levels of education, allowing pupils to learn about intangible cultural heritage. Pupils are encouraged to see themselves as bearers and transmitters of culture. There is often a special focus on the local cultural environment, e.g. by getting to know and participating in local customs and practices (e.g. regional recipes are used in cooking lessons) with the cooperation of bearers. In many communities, the most active members have created non-governmental organizations that organize training courses for transmitting and broadening knowledge about and safeguarding their intangible cultural heritage (e.g. traditional ship-building skills, handicrafts, beekeeping, music etc.).
Bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation is exemplified by the close regional cooperation between the neighbouring countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based on their historic and cultural similarities. In 2010, Estonia hosted a UNESCO capacity-building workshop on the Convention for non-governmental organizations and governmental counterparts. Estonia has also participated in several expert meetings to exchange information and practical experience on national implementation and has shared its experience in different regions of the world (e.g. in Eritrea, South Africa, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Croatia, Belgium, Romania, Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania).
Estonia has three elements on the Representative List: Kihnu cultural space (incorporated in 2008, after having been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003); Baltic song and dance celebrations (incorporated in 2008 on a multinational basis, with Latvia and Lithuania, also after being declared as a Masterpiece in 2003); and Seto Leelo, Seto polyphonic singing tradition (inscribed in 2009). Safeguarding actions taken for the Kihnu cultural space serve as a model for other communities, and the Kihnu community also cooperates with other Estonian communities (e.g. the Seto) to share best practices and help young people get to know each other’s cultures. A strong emphasis has been placed on teaching the Kihnu language, with several seminars for teachers on teaching language and traditional culture. Traditional culture forms an important part of the curriculum in the Kihnu school and camps are organized for children to get to know their traditional culture and music. For Baltic song and dance, a mentoring programme offers in-service training for teachers and instructors. There is also a programme to support the choirs, folk music groups, orchestras and dance groups involved in the Celebration process. The Setomaa Cultural Programme administered by the FCC aims to safeguard the cultural and linguistic features of the Seto and involve children in their linguistic and cultural heritage (through exhibitions and events promoting Seto culture, a Seto language primer, CDs and web pages on various subjects such as handicrafts, customs, singing and food).
In writing the present report, community-based associations provided comments and contributions and were consulted on its content. The Union of Rural Municipalities of Setomaa and the Assembly of Seto Leelo Masters conducted a small survey among community members which was discussed, improved and approved at a community round table.