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5th Annual Kurentovanje Festival; Estonian Independence Day Luncheon; Concert at The United Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church


After we left the town hall, we headed over to the "Slovenian National Home" on St. Clair Avenue to spend some time at the 5th Annual Kurentovanje Festival which, historically, was designed to chase away winter via the "Kurents" aka those wearing a costume composed of a sheepskin overcoat, heavy boots, a red and gold tie, a wooden club a belt of bells, and a hood made of sheepskin (that covers their eyes) and feathers that makes them look bizarre if not downright spooky.

This year, however, as Ms. Mary Ann Vogel (who served as emcee for the parade) appropriately noted, since winter was virtually over last week in Cleveland last week with a temperature on Friday of 77 degrees, the purpose of the Kurent just might be to scare back winter (it might have succeeded since the temperature on Saturday was 41 degrees with snow flurries) and then scare it away again since temperatures in the upcoming week should be in the low 60's.

Prior to the parade, we checked out the festivities inside the Slovenian Hall which included vendors, music, great food (we couldn't resist some delectable pierogis from the "Pierogi Lady" who we see at all kinds of gatherings) and a bocce tournament taking place in the basement. Colorful bonnets were sold that were made by our friends at "Recovery Resources" and we learned that 10,000 people were expected to attend this celebration that would take place until after midnight at this venue and at "Sterle's Country House" a short distance away.

Ms. Vogel praised those who turned out on relatively cold day for what proved to be the most successful Kurentovanje parade that Cleveland has had so far with 21 participants which included the "Upcycle Parts Shop", "Polish Artistic Folk Song and Dance Ensemble", "Gilmour Gladiators", "Lions Step Team",  "Sterle's Country House", "St. Martin De Porres High School", "St. Vitus Slovenian School", and, of course, the Kurents who were a show by themselves.

As the floats passed by, Ms. Vogel urged everyone to make a lot of noise because this was the Slovenians time to show themselves so we all cheered!

And off we were to our third event for the day which was the Estonian Independence Day luncheon that took place at "Der Braumeister" on Lorain Avenue which was coordinated by Ms. Karin Ruus with whom with RSVP'd. About 33 people turned out to celebrate the 99th anniversary of Estonia's declaration of independence which was initially proclaimed in 1918.

As Mr. Toomas Tubalkian would say later in a short talk that he gave, "our homeland was independent for only 22 years before being forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 9, 1940. Fifty-one years later, this tragic episode in Estonia's life ended on August 20, 1991, when the Republic of Estonia was re-established. Now 26 years later, on the 99th, anniversary, our country has been a free and independent land for 48 years."

Accordingly, at the start of the luncheon, a letter was shared that from our good friend, Ms. Ingrid Bublys, the Honorary General Consul of the Repubic of Lithuania, in which she wrote, "it was not that long ago that two million people formed a human chain stretching through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estoni, called the 'Baltic Way'. All three nations had similar experiences of occupation and similar aspirations for gaining independence. Today all three Baltic countries are an example to the world for their freedom and successes."

At the luncheon, we recognized several people like Ms. Erika Puussaar that we had met at various gatherings at the Estonian Cultural Garden. We also talked to some people who we hadn't met before such as a woman named Airika who immigrated to the United States from Estonia in the mid-1990's. While she lived in Estonia, Airika taught school and was amazed to meet one of her former students (who was also at the luncheon) not too long ago here in Cleveland. We agreed; for them to have re-connected by chance was quite remarkable.

Other things that Mr. Tubalkian said in his presentation included:

***Modern Estonia has a population of 1.3 million people and is one of the least populated states of the United Nations, European Union, Eurozone, NATO, OECD, and Schengen Area (visa free travel).

***Estonia and the NATO have enjoyed a very productive relationship. Estonian have contributed greatly to the mine-clearing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and NATO has based troops there (as well as other Baltic countries) to help deter potential aggression.

***Estonia was recently ranked 10th world-wide (4th in Europe) in the quality of overall educational achievement of its students by the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA ratings.

***Estonia is now a world leader in entrepreneurship, with more successful start-up companies per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Mr. Tubalkian concluded his presentation by saying, "it is safe to say that Estonia today, on the eve of its 100th anniversary of independence is a sound, well-functioning country that has earned international respect through its well-reasoned approach to international organizations, respect for human rights, entrepreneurship and functional democracy. We can be justifiably proud of our homeland and look forward to its continued prosperity and success in its future."

Perfectly complementing these words was a prayer delivered by Mr. Peter Orro in which he said, "help us to remember the struggles of those years and the sacrifices that have been made so that the blue, black and white flag can fly over our homeland, today, and indeed, for all the days that remain, so long as we and those whose feet remain planted there shall be committed. Grant those who govern us there the wisdom to follow the right path and restrain those who wish to do us harm."


Our last event for Saturday was a concert at the United Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church at the corner of Andrews Road and Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. We have gone to several such events there and Ms. Anda Cook, who works so hard to put these programs together, was not surprised when we turned up.

We were a bit surprised, though, to encounter none other that Ms. Ingrida Bublys whose letter to the Estonian community figured prominently in the celebration that we had just attended. We told this to Ms. Bublys who was very happy that her letter was shared with all concerned.

The concert was given by two artists who recently arrived in Cleveland from Latvia who were Mr. Gints Berzins who, according to his bio, "when he was eleven years old he won the first Prize at the International Competition for Young Pianists in Vilinus, Lithuania, and the following year he won the first prize at the all-Latvia Competition of Young Pianists."

Mr. Gints was accompanied by Ms. Dinara Rudane who, according to her bio, "has been singing since early school years, and her first competition was when she was nine years old." Both artists were obviously very dedicated to their crafts and this showed when they performed selections from such composers as Handel, Mozart, and Strauss. Towards the end though, they did a delightful rendition of a Mexican Folk Song titled "Dime Que Si" as well as a stunning interpretation of George Gershwin's "Summertime" from the opera, "Porgy and Bess."

We shared a table with Ms. Liga Zemesarajs who told us that this was a especially good time for the Latvians in Cleveland because:

***Mr. Kristaps Porzingis was here earlier in the week playing basketball with the "New York Knicks" at the "Q" and at least 150 local Latvians turned out to support him. Ms. Zemesarajs made it clear, though, that she only rooting for Mr. Porzingis on the New York team; otherwise, she was for Cleveland all the way.

***Ms. Kristine Opolais, the internationally acclaimed Latvian opera star, had recently sung here.

***And Ms. Dinara Rudene, in addition to performing in Lakewood, had sang our national anthem at a Monsters game.

Ms. Zemesarajs considered Ms. Rudene to be a genuine "renaissance woman" since she not only sings opera but has her own rock group named "Rock5Band" which performs all kinds of popular songs. In addition to the talents displayed by her voice, Ms. Rudene is an avid fan of painting, boxing, and hockey. In fact, soon after she arrived in Cleveland this week, we understand that she went to the Brooklyn Rink to get some exercise by playing hockey "with the guys."

Afterwards, we met Mr. Berzins and Ms. Rudene, both charming people, and told them how much we enjoyed their performance and they took our compliments to heart.

On Sunday, we only attended one event which was the 3rd annual Russian "Maslenitsa" celebration this time held at the Cleveland Rockefeller Greenhouse close to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Just as the Kurents chased the Slovenian winter away, Maslenitsa is the Russian Sun Festival signifying the arrival of spring, or so we hope.


We gotto enjoy some "blinis" which are a type of crepe/pancake served with a fruit sauce. A contest took place in which the blinis were judged on the basis of their appearance and taste and the judges included our friends Ms. Debbie Hanson of, Mr. Joe Cimperman of Global Cleveland, and Mr. Ken Kovach who is the longtime choirmaster at St. Theodosius Cathedral and a safe bet to be at as many cultural events in Cleveland as we are.

There were plenty of lovely Russian costumes, music, and dances. As an added treat, the famed voice coach Ms. Olga Druzhinina was there accompanying her students on the piano as they sang so we got to hear from such refreshing young talented singers as Miss Caprice Trifico and Miss Polina Kornyushenko.

It is always nice to see Ms. Svetlana Stolyarova from the Russian Cultural Garden and Ms. Irina Vinograd (a fellow immigration attorney) who served us some excellent rice.

We also recognized Mr. Karl Portnoy who we met last year at a Ukrainian Festival. We had given him a copy of Ms. Margaret W. Wong's book, "The Immigrant's Way" so, at this time, we asked him how he liked it. Mr. Portnoy smiled and said that he liked it a lot.



Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC