Opinion digest: Security sciences academy in Narva would work against prejudices ({{commentsTotal}})

Moving the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Ida-Viru County would contribute to local development. It would also work against the prejudice Estonians hold against the area, and improve the quality of state institutions, the Justice Ministry’s deputy secretary general for the Prison Department, Priit Kama, wrote in an opinion piece in daily Postimees.

Ida-Viru County had been called a relic of Soviet industrialization. Narva, Kama wrote, was an urban anomaly, developed into a city for ideological reasons. Today the county depends on mining and the oil shale industry, but is affected by pollution as much as unemployment that increases with every closure of a factory or plant.

One of the main points frequently made about the area was that simple jobs should be taken here that wouldn’t require local workers to have a lot of skills, or a higher education, Kama explained. This, the theory goes, would then make it possible to hire all those that either did comparable work in their previous jobs, or a kind that required a skill that is no longer in demand.

But this wouldn’t solve the region’s problems, Kama argued. Simple jobs were typically not very well paid, so such a shift in Ida-Virumaa’s economy would only mean increasing the risk of poverty. A step away from skilled work in textile factories and mining companies towards simple industrial jobs would mean regress, not progress.

The diversification of employment opportunities could help, bringing new people to the area and keeping the young there. They were educated and stood a chance to get paid more. In short, developing Ida-Viru County specifically as a place for low-paid, low-skill jobs was dangerous both in terms of the social and economic situation as well as national security, Kama argues.

In terms of Estonia’s internal security, Ida-Virumaa had a special position as well. The cities of Narva and Sillamäe, where almost half of the county’s population live, are almost 100% Russian-speaking. Every third resident of the two cities is a Russian citizen, and doesn’t elect the Riigikogu, but the president of Russia. In 2012, 86% of Russian citizens living in Estonia supported Putin, compared to his 63% support across all of Russia, Kama wrote.

The gap between people of different backgrounds had become particularly evident during the high point of the Ukraine conflict, Kama wrote. Differences were also visible in matters like fighting heroin addiction by handing out methadone to addicts, which in Russia is illegal and seen as harmful by plenty of locals.

Though there was no immediate need to see the local people as a security threat, thanks to those differences they could be used as a means to interfere with Estonia’s internal matters, Kama opined. He also pointed out that despite popular opinion to the contrary, Russia wasn’t actually waging an information war against Estonia at the moment.

For the population to feel that they are benefitting from the advantages of living in Estonia, what would be needed are proper public services and a diverse labour market. This, according to Kama, would include high-paid jobs that demand substantial skills as well as a better command of the Estonian language.

An individual who does not speak sufficient Estonian, but has the necessary skills for a job that requires it, still couldn’t be hired. Plainly, the locals had had to live with a lower standard because of just that, Kama stated. Anyone interacting with the authorities or other public services couldn’t expect the same standard common elsewhere in the country. In other words, the locals had been let down by the state.

Medical personnel, law enforcement, teachers, and others who couldn’t read Estonian legal texts and were unable to keep up with changes in the rest of the country and training offered there couldn’t possibly offer services like they were available elsewhere in Estonia, Kama wrote.

Moving the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences (SKA) to Ida-Viru County would not only take the school’s personnel to that area, but also contribute by raising the importance of Estonian. Local authorities would benefit as well, as the school’s presence would work against their staffing issues, especially in law enforcement.

The experience of Viru Prison in Jõhvi showed that those cadets who spent time in Ida-Viru county made acquaintances and friends in the area, and they were more likely to return to work and live there permanently. With this, the academy would help fill those positions in local law enforcement and public service that otherwise would not be very popular with sufficiently skilled professionals.

The expectations of the newcomers to the area would be higher, they would demand the standard they had experienced elsewhere in Estonia, which would force the local state institutions to develop. This would be something all of the locals would profit from as well, Kama argued. Like this, surroundings would be created that top-level specialists educated elsewhere in the country could see themselves living in.

According to Kama, less than a quarter of the academy’s current students disagreed with moving the school. At the same time, of the students who had already spent several years at the academy, two thirds stated that they would not have signed up if at the time the academy had been in Ida-Viru County, which Kama argued showed that they were already prejudiced against the area.

A responsible state needed to do the necessary explanatory work to counteract this prejudice, independent from the question whether or not some of its institutions might be moved to Ida-Viru County, Kama wrote.

Due to the vocational nature of the academy, it would make little sense to base it on too many permanent positions. The security sector demanded ever new skills and methods, which again were a matter of practice, not theory. Instructors that didn’t want to move along to Narva could be placed elsewhere in security jobs, most likely in Tallinn and Harjumaa, where the academy is currently located.

It would then be in the responsibility of the state’s security services to identify and motivate people suitable for instructors’ positions, and to find a way of making such a step add to people’s careers. Also, while part-time work as an instructor at the academy was currently considered the automatic prerogative of officers working in and around Tallinn, in the future professionals in Ida-Viru County could be included, Kama argued.

There would be work worth about 70 full-time positions at the relocated academy, for which people would either have to move to Ida-Virumaa, or rotate in and out. This might seem like a very large number at first, but here it was worth remembering that Viru Prison in Jõhvi had been forced to hire from scratch, and today had some 200 staff who all had a higher education, Kama argued.

Not doing anything wasn’t an option, and writing statement after statement about how difficult the relocation of state institutions to the area would be a bad example for the next generation, Kama opined. Narva not integrated with the rest of the country could develop to become a real danger to Estonia’s security, while an integrated Narva, as the country’s third city after Tallinn and Tartu, could become a driving force in the area’s development.

To get there, the state’s institutions couldn’t go on repeating that Ida-Viru County was an important issue while never doing anything about the situation.

Priit Kama is the Ministry of Justice’s deputy secretary general responsible for the Prisons Department.

The original article appeared on the website of daily Postimees on Jan. 3, 2016 (link in Estonian).

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