Islanders on Saaremaa are pleased to be getting a 5-meter tall "Ö"-letter statue on the Kuressaare-Kuivastu road. The installation plays on the supposed inability of Saaremaa folk to pronounce the Estonian letter, "Õ", making a sound more akin to the "Ö" letter instead.
On May 18, 2019, a panel referring to this aspect of Saaremaa identity was installed only to be taken down a few days later. The Road Administration (Maanteeamet) argued at the time that there are too many similar roadside curiosities, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.
Residents of Saare County are proud of their Ö-letter identity, but this has caused some resentment between islanders and people on the mainland. It is not merely an anecdote for the islanders, and is a topic that has been talked about for a very long time. In addition to this, the topic has been raised with local government members.
The sign was taken down on the order of Road Administration, who said that the measurements of the sign were incorrect.
Taavi Pae, Associate Geography Professor in Estonia, said: "There are many ways to joke about the Saare Ö-letter, but on the other hand, it shows how much it means to us and how it is part of our cultural identity. It is one of the hallmarks of Saaremaa residents. I think it brings out a lot in terms of the islanders and in terms of the Estonian dialect that we still have such dialects as it is worth drawing attention to."
The conflicts between Saaremaa municipality and the Road Administration lasted almost for a year. Both sides finally came up with an agreement and based on the municipality's information, the Ö-letter statue will be placed at the end of the strait dam from the Muhu side.
Mark Grimitliht, an architect in Saaremaa, said: "A decision was made that the sign has to be noticeable and aesthetic. It began with little brown sign, and now a sculpted look-a-like statue will be placed there. Discussions about the location are still ongoing, but it should be somewhere where visitors can stop and take pictures of this beautiful sculpture."
The municipality has promised to pay for the costs of making the metal Ö-letter. The Road Administration will take care of cleaning the parking lot and install benches and information boards to explain to visitors why the Ö-letter statue has bee put up there.
"Since there is a parking lot next to this new place and people can stop by and read the boards, then I think visitors take up an interest in learning about the sculpture. And since the story of the Ö-letter is interesting, I think it will become a tourist attraction," Pae said.
If the preliminary agreements between Saaremaa and the mainland authorities are still maintained, then perhaps by the end of the summer the Ö-letter sculpture will be in placed at the same site.
Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein