Distant Island Mulls Merger With Tallinn

The red dot is Ruhnu Source: Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ruhnu, a small island of fewer than 100 inhabitants off the southwestern coast of Estonia, has expressed an unlikely interest in merging with the City of Tallinn.

The island's administration has raised the idea in spite of the fact that Ruhnu is located on the other end of Estonia's territorial bounds, separated by sea, forests and all the towns in between. In fact the island is closer to Riga than to Tallinn.

But officials were straight-faced on Thursday when the issue was discussed in a meeting between the mayors of Ruhnu and Tallinn, ETV reported.

Asked why Ruhnu would choose Tallinn of all places to merge with, Ruhnu Mayor Aare Sünter responded: "why not?"

"Indeed, the issue was on the agenda at Ruhnu's last municipal council meeting. The question was raised and if there is a question, then it is worth asking the question. It doesn't pay to keep it to yourself. And that's how it went," he said.

He said Ruhnu has a lot of seasonal inhabitants who only live on the island during the summer and are otherwise connected with Tallinn and other parts of the mainland.

The idea ensued, he said, in relation to the ongoing effort to reform Estonia's overly decentralized local government system, made up of hundreds of small rural towns, many of which don't have the resources to be viable and to provide efficient services to their residents.

A Tallinn-Ruhnu merger is probably not what national-level officials had in mind as an example of efficiency boosting, but Sünter said the two municipalities have similar undertakings. One incentive, he said, is the recent free public transport initiative in the capital, which is only available to registered residents of Tallinn.

Tallinn Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas said the people of Ruhnu must first show volition for a merger before official negotiations can begin. He noted that there could be legal obstacles in the process.

The island, which measures 11.9 square kilometers, was populated mainly by ethnic Swedes until 1944. When Estonia first gained independence, there was a local initiative to rejoin Sweden and a territorial claim by Latvia, but the islanders agreed to join Estonia in 1919.

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