TALLINN - Eschewing typical, admittedly ephemeral festivities, Estonia has decided to opt for a more unusual event to commemorate its joining the European Union this spring and make it a more lasting celebration. During the first week of May thousands of volunteers and participants of the country's upcoming song and dance festival will plant 1 million trees.
"We will present our six-generation tradition of the song and dance festival and will promote Estonia as a country with unspoiled nature," said Aet Maatee, chairwoman of the Estonian Song and Dance Festival Foundation.
"We are a forest people," Maatee said in reference to the ancient Finno-Ugric connection with the vast forests of Siberia and the Baltic Sea region.
According to Hannes Rumm, head of the Estonian EU Information Secretariat, Estonia's chances
to receive added publicity and more tourists are higher as other new member states will mostly arrange fairs, exhibitions and open-air concerts - all typical mass-culture festivities.
"We cannot afford famous rock stars, and we decided to go a different way. A tree is mature after 80 years or so, [so] it is a very long-term investment with high salvage value," Rumm said.
The first tree-planting event will take place on May 1, celebrated in Estonia as Spring Day, in the village of Varbola, located in the central part of the country. According to Rumm, every participant will plant about 10 trees, a process which will take up to four hours and presumes a total of 100,000 tree-planting volunteers.
And although the number of trees to be planted seems breathtakingly high, it actually makes up just one tenth of the number of trees typically planted in Estonia by the National Forestry Center.
"Every year we plant 11 million trees to keep the balance of grown and cut trees," said Jaan Schults, head of the forest management department of the National Forestry Center, which will provide the saplings and choose the areas for planting.
The saplings to be planted during the May bee are mostly four-year-old spruce plants at a cost of 2 kroons (0.12 euro) each. "We chose spruce because its transplants are less delicate than others and can be planted by non-experts," Schults said.
Organizers are also stressing the project's pedagogical value.
"A person who has planted a tree with his own hands will value and preserve our forest in the future," Rumm said.
During the first 10 years tree plants need extra attention, and young members of the Estonian School Forest Association will take care of the fresh plantations.
The promotional activities in connection with the accession will cost Estonia around 2.7 million kroons, according to Rumm. Most of the money will cover the expenses of acquiring the plants, preparing the plantation areas, as well as supplies for volunteers and logistics. About 52,000 euros will be spent on promoting Estonia in EU member states through various publications, exhibitions and other projects.
To air an Estonian clip on a German-Polish TV show that will present all new member states to a wider European audience on the evening of April 30 will cost Estonia 20,000 euros alone.
Linking the song festival tradition to the EU accession might help attract more tourists to Estonia this summer, with the next festival planned for July 2 - 4.
Last November the 135-year-old tradition of the song and dance festivals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were recognized by UNESCO as part of the world's cultural heritage.