The Big Estonian Cities That We Are Not Proud Of (3)
"We want to run the rest of the country like we run Tallinn!" declared Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar at his party's congress on Saturday. The capital's mayor claimed that people come to Tallinn from all over Estonia to get a piece of the quality of life, which the Center Party has secured for them.
Savisaar pledged that if the Center Party wins [October's elections] elsewhere as well [outside of Tallinn], then the inhabitants of other towns will get the same perks as those in the capital: free public transport, cheaper medications at pharmacies, and more.
According to Savisaar, people are leaving behind their homes elsewhere in Estonia primarily because they find the charm of Center Party power irresistible. Apparently that is a more important factor than the fact that the number of jobs in the rest of Estonia has declined over the last decades, while the lion's share of Estonian business, public agencies, cultural landmarks and colleges have consolidated in the capital.
If the party's cloverleaf logo shines in the green lights beckoning Estonians to the capital, then why doesn't the logo have the same magical powers elsewhere? After all, the Center Party has been in power in the Ida-Viru County's biggest cities - Kohtla-Järve, Narva and Sillamäe - for just as long as the Reform Party has been in power of the national government, close to 15 years.
The only difference is that, while [Prime Minister] Andrus Ansip's party has had to share power with other parties, the Center Party has been a monarch in Ida-Viru cities. They currently hold 26 out of 31 places in the Narva City Council, 20 of 21 in Kohtla-Järve and 16 of 21 in Sillamäe.
Power is absolute, and for many years no other political power has been able to impede the Center Party from carrying out its plans, or, for that matter, creating the same attractive life in Ida-Viru cities that Savisaar praised in Tallinn. Did he really forget the other cities? Or are those cities' leadership members not "real“ Centrists. They certainly weren't nominated to the party leadership.
Perhaps the reason is that Estonian people haven't rushed to those cities like they have to Tallinn. To the contrary, Kohtla-Järve has lost a quarter of its population in the 11 years between the two last population censuses, Narva slightly less.
Nor do Ida-Viru cities have free public transport. More likely, tickets have increasingly become more expensive. Unemployment is noticeably higher than in the capital, salaries are lower and the value of real estate is many times lower.
Similarities can be found only in some of the characteristics of the style of governing. Many city officials and the heads of educational institutions are politicized. A lot is invested in the municipal media to secure power. Corruption is rampant.
The principle of "share and govern" is the basis of an efficient system that will again ensure, with a high probability, victories for the Center Party in those cities at the upcoming elections.
Winning will be made even easier by the fact that the Center Party's biggest competitor in the country, the Reform Party, gave up the fight for the Ida-Viru cities even before the battle began. They didn't even compile their candidate lists, unlike the Social Democrats and IRL, whose prospects are modest at best. A pragmatic approach. If winning odds are meager, let's save money and energy for other matches.
Of course, Kuressaare's football club doesn't really stand a chance against Sillamäe Kalev in the Estonian premier league, but it would be unthinkable for the team to pull a no-show out of fear of losing.
Does the Reform Party no longer want to be a nationwide party or has Ida-Viru County been in some special zone on their map that does not concern them? In their political ads, the Reform Party is "proud“ of Tartu, Haapsalu, Rakvere and many other cities; but Ida-Viru cities, which by population are some of the biggest in Estonia, are not in the list.
What is the consequence of such an attitude? MP Erki Nool, a member of IRL, has admitted that several of his party's initiatives for solving the Ida-Viru problems have been met with resistance from coalition partner Reform. Since no votes will come from Ida-Viru, there is no special interest for the fate of the region. Simple and logical.
So if the mayor of Jõhvi, a Reform Party member, opts to run in an election coalition, not on his own party's list, then he must take into account that he will lose authority and possibly on the county level as well.
The head of Jõhvi municipality must take into account the loss of authority and any wider implication for the center of the county if/when he runs for council as part of an election coalition, not part of the Reform Party list.
But will categorizing Estonia's regions as parties' spheres of influence help advance local life? Yet another row of bricks will be laid in the wall separating "us“ and "them?“ Centrists will be able to raise their flags even higher in Ida-Viru cities, but that won't bring quality of life a single step closer to the capital's if disagreements with state-level coalition parties persist.
On the local level, there should be more of an effort to overcome partisan barriers and to concentrate on concrete actions that would give people an adequate salary, improve the living environment and lessen the development gap with Tallinn.
Enterprising people who want to participate in advancing local life without self-interest have dwindled in number outside of the capital.
None of the ones who are left should be cast aside because they aren't a member of the local political stronghold. Landslide election victories please the party leaderships, but not necessarily the voter.
Erik Gamzejev is the editor in chief of the regional newspaper Põhjarannik, based in Ida-Viru County. The above opinion piece was translated from ERR's Estonian-language news site.