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Lotman: Security academy would be crucial Estonian identity point in Narva

Mihhail Lotman.
Mihhail Lotman. Source: (Sille Annuk/Postimees/Scanpix)

In an opinion piece published by Eesti Päevaleht, Tallinn University professor Mihhail Lotman found it important to overcome the mental barrier separating Ida-Viru County from the rest of Estonia.

 While Lotman admitted that he is critical of the current government, he stressed that he was critical, not oppositional, and that he was still able to recognize some positive aspects of the current government’s program and actions, one of which, he highlighted, was the plan to relocate the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Narva.

Lotman noted that he has already spoken about the matter as well as read up on various arguments for and against the move and ended up even more strongly in favor of it. "All arguments (e.g. Narva’s crime-conducive situation, proximity to Russian border, which would allow for eavesdropping of what is going on at the academy) are in substance very weak and even disingenuous," he wrote.

The TLÜ professor pointed out that a little-discussed primary issue speaking against the move is officials not wanting to relocate to Narva, although in defense of the academy’s teaching and administrative staff, he admitted that moving to Narva was no walk in the park. He noted that as such a move would require commitment and a sense of mission, compensation for everyday, cultural and other inconveniences would not be amiss; indeed, he pointed out that the ministry is already planning on hefty raises and considering other benefits besides, including transport and housing.

Arguments in favor of the move were nonetheless more compelling, he continued, citing reasons such as Estonia’s territorial integrity, regional cohesion, demographics and geopolitics. While the University of Tartu’s Narva College initially faced a lot of opposition, it has since become an integral element at the forefront of Estonian identity in the Northeastern border city, Lotman recalled, but he stressed that Narva needs more Estonia. "It is crucial to break the psychological barrier which separates Ida-Viru County from the 'real Estonia,'" he stated.

The professor found that the relocation of the security sciences academy to Narva would only be a start. "The Estonian state must powerfully establish itself across the entirety of its territory," he asserted. This would, of course, require the solving of various logistical issues which would also help to connect the region to the rest of the country and the capital of Tallinn, but the hope would be to make it more accessible to the remainder of Estonians.

Fighting for the unattainable rather than what Estonia still has

Lotman illustrated the persisting mental divide between the Ida-Viru region and the rest of the country with a brief conversation he had had with an Estonian nationalist in Tartu a few years ago. The nationalist claimed that he would never, ever go to Narva as it was "the Russkies' city." "I asked him a rhetorical question: didn’t he just stand, on the anniversary of the [Soviet] deportations, by the Memento memorial with a sign bearing a large '5.2%' and a message that read something like 'We demand our land back'?"

As the nationalist couldn’t understand how these two things were connected, Lotman tried in vain to explain that therein lay the issue — that he would be willing to at least nominally fight for what was unattainable but at the same time concede that which still yet belongs to Estonia.

He recognized that Narva, as a center of a number of Estonia’s problems, was important not just strategically but also psychologically, a point which was not lost on Estonia’s opponents. "Relocating the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Estonia is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is only one step in the fight for Ida-Viru County," he concluded.


Mihhail Lotman's full opinion piece was originally published by Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian) on Tuesday evening.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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