Pskov Oblast has for years tried to convince Russian citizens living in the border regions of Estonia to resettle in Russia, but the program has only managed to attract 11 people, including four this year.
Comparable to Estonia in area, Pskov has half as many inhabitants and the region is kept alive thanks to Moscow money, reported ERR radio.
Life in Pskov might not initially look so bad for an unemployed Russian citizen in Estonia.
Travel expenses are compensated for those who take up the offer to move and they are given a one-time handout of 20,000 rubles, or about 500 euros, as well as a smaller subsidy per each member of their household. The local government also offers to cover three quarters of living costs for the first half-year. Cheap motor fuel is another incentive.
However, the fairy tale ends there, according to ERR journalist Igor Taro, who last week attended an event at the Tallinn Russian Cultural Center, where Pskov officials were promoting the resettlement program hoping to increase interest.
While food and living costs in Pskov are comparable to European levels, salaries are half of the Estonian average, which is in turn at the lower end of the EU spectrum.
“It seems that matters are truly tearful on that side of the border,” said Taro. “Looking at the conditions offered to the migrants, it must be admitted that moving to Pskov is worth it only for those who utterly fail to get by in Estonia.”
But perhaps the biggest inconvenience connected with life in Pskov is Russian bureaucracy, especially for those used to Estonia's user-friendly e-services. In Pskov, residents must wage war with queues, endless documentation and fees.
For instance, in August parents had to line up in front of a doctor’s clinic at 04:00 to sign up for medical checkups for their children ahead of the start of the school year. “That which has drawn public attention to H&M and iPhone fans here is just the routine of daily life on that side of the border,” Taro said of the queues.
“Russia’s decline in business freedom, corruption, and human rights rankings are not a myth forged in the West, but the daily reality felt by people. For that reason, Pskov residents are increasingly preferring to give birth in Põlva and Võru, go shopping in Tartu and go to Värska spa on vacation,” said Taro.
“It seems that the Pskov oblast officials coming to Estonia are targeting the wrong group. In comparison, over 100 people have moved to the oblast from Uzbekistan and there would certainly be more takers from Central Asia,” Taro said.
There is a darker issue connected with the program too, Taro said. “There is one ‘but’: The migrant must be white and Slavic in appearance. No one says that officially, but the so-called Russian march [nationalist demonstrations] that took place earlier this week in Pskov is an unofficial confirmation.”