University of Tartu award for contribution to national identity given to Fred Jüssi

On 1 December at the ceremony of the 98th anniversary of the Estonian national university, the University of Tartu award for contribution to Estonian national identity was presented to populariser of nature, biologist Fred Jüssi. This award is granted to individuals whose creative work has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the national identity of Estonians and Estonia.

People who nominated Jüssi for the award underlined his role in popularising nature as well as his direct and indirect influence on knowing and introducing Estonian nature. When describing Jüssi’s merits, it was said that over decades, Fred Jüssi’s name has definitely become a synonym of a researcher and introducer of nature in Estonia. He is one of the best known people in this field; there are no other nature thinkers in Estonia, whose significance is as great.

Another submission adds, “For decades already, Fred Jüssi has been the spokesperson of the nature thinking of Estonian people. His thoughts and voice, the sounds and pictures of nature he has conveyed and his nature writing have shaped the nature-friendly world view of several generations of Estonians. As a man of nature, he is the shaper of our national identity.” 

When handing over the award, rector Volli Kalm said that Fred Jüssi’s activity affects a large part of the society, that his example is important for representatives of all specialisations and age groups. “Fred Jüssi is an incarnation of reliable nature thinking. His contribution to raising Estonian people’s nature awareness is particularly important in current uncertain times, when the topics of nature conservation and understanding of nature are topical in both Estonia and the whole world,” Kalm interpreted Fred Jüssi’s role as a bearer of national identity and thought.

Fred Jüssi was born on 29 January 1935 in Aruba. In 1958 he graduated from the University of Tartu as a biologist specialising in zoology. He worked as a teacher in Emmaste, Hiiumaa from 1958–1960, in ESSR Academy of Sciences Institute of Experimental Biology from 1960–1962, and in the Ministry of Forest Management and Nature Conservation in 1962–1975, mostly as nature protection inspector. From 1976–1983 he worked for the Estonian Radio, and recorded sounds of birds, frogs and other animals. As the author of the radio programme series “Looduse aabits” (ABC of Nature; 1979–1986), he had an impact on a huge number of listeners; these programmes were often recorded and used for teaching. In 1980, he signed the “letter of 40 intellectuals”, which defended the Estonian language and expressed protest against the government in dealing with youth protests.

For several generations, Fred Jüssi has been the best known Estonian nature photographer and populariser of nature. He has authored a number of books of nature photos and texts, many of which have been translated into other languages; and countless writings in the media. He has made radio and TV programmes, published audio records with sounds of birds, frogs and other nature sounds. He is a highly valued speaker at nature events, etc.

For his merits, Fred Jüssi has been granted the Keeper of Estonian Culture of Biology award (1984), Kumari Award (1989), Estonian Renaissance Award (1997), Order of the White Star, 4th class (1998) and Order of the National Coat of Arms, 3rd class (2006). Jüssi is also the founder and honorary member of the Estonian Society for Nature Conservation.

In an interview published in Eesti Loodus in February 2015, Jüssi says about his role, “My Finnish friends once asked me whether I have influenced Estonian life. I was surprised at the question and could not answer. I then started to think that many grownups, people at high positions had told me that my photos or texts had changed their thinking. If such a man is in the Riigikogu or high in the pyramid of hierarchy now, and he has some sediment settled in him of what he read or experienced as a child, and if you take a twig and touch the bottom with it, some bubbles will rise. This is the moral capital that people collect during their lives. Its real meaning may manifest itself much later.”

Names of the laureates of the award of previous thirteen years can be found on UT website.
Recording of the ceremony of the national university’s 98th anniversary and presentation of the contribution to the Estonian national identity award can be viewed on UTTV


Additional information: 
Saima Tiirmaa-Oras
Assistant to the Rector of the University of Tartu
737 5602