Love-bombing Estonia’s Russian speakers

Can music and culture help unite Estonia? Guitar riffs lilt through the air and over the narrow river that marks the border between Estonia and Russia. It’s the first time Estonia’s annual festival Tallinn Music Week has been held in Narva, bringing coach loads of musicians from 30 countries around the world to a normally sleepy city. The organiser moved the festival when the war in Ukraine broke out in order to send a message of unity and to encourage Estonians from the capital to mix with people in Narva, where 97% of Estonians have Russian as their mother tongue. Many can barely speak Estonian at all.

Across Estonia, one quarter of the population are Russian speakers, prompting many to describe this as a threat. When Putin invaded Ukraine on the premise of liberating Russian speakers there, it lead to many in the press to ask ‘is Narva next?’ but a new generation of Russian speaking Estonians are increasingly frustrated by this rhetoric and say it simply is not true. Russian speakers are even signing up to Estonia’s volunteer defence force, ready to fight to defend Estonia should the worst happen. Their allegiance is clear. But is music and culture enough to unite Estonia’s Russian speakers?

Presenter: Lucy Ash
Producer: Phoebe Keane

(Image: Tallinn Music Week festival lights up Kreenholm, an abandoned 19th century textile factory in Narva, on Estonia’s border with Russia. Credit: Phoebe Keane/BBC)

Music credits:

Artist: Trad Attack!
Track: Sõit
Writers: Jalmar Vabarna, Sandra Vabarna, Tõnu Tubli

Artist: Gameboy Tetris and Nublu
Track: Für Oksana
Writers: Pavel Botsarov, Markkus Pulk, Fabry El Androide, Ago Teppand

Artist: Pale Alison
Track: забывай
Writers: Evelina Koop, Nikolay Rudakov

Artist: Jaakko
Sound Installation: On the Border/Rajalla