Gallery: President Alar Karis visits Narva, holds town hall with locals
President Alar Karis is currently on a visit to Ida-Viru County in Northeastern Estonia, where he visited the border city of Narva on Thursday. Meeting with city residents on Thursday evening, the head of state stressed that the people of Narva, just as all Ida-Viru County residents, are "our people."
"We are all 'our people' to one another," Karis told city residents at the University of Tartu Narva College according to a press release. "Narva is a typical Estonian city. It has its own peculiarities and histories, just like Tartu, Maardu, Tallinn or Pärnu do, but it's otherwise a typical Estonian city."
Fielding questions from local residents, the head of state said that there are no taboo topics in Estonia.
"We have to talk about everything that affects and interests our people," he said. "Estonia is a democratic country — people can think differently and speak differently here. We can agree to disagree, but what's important is that we discuss things and that we know what others' opinions are."
On the subject of May 9, which is celebrated in Russia and communities abroad as Victory Day, Karis stressed that it is also Europe Day, and a symbol of the hope that there may never be war in Europe again. He expressed hope that everyone in Estonia will have enough tact to commemorate the fallen of World War II in a way that won't hurt anyone.
Several questions asked by the public were in connection with the war in Ukraine. The president stressed that Estonia is continuing to help Ukraine with both arms and humanitarian aid. "We have to do everything we can to ensure that the war in Ukraine comes to an end," he said.
In response to residents' queries, Karis reaffirmed that Estonia is currently not under threat of war.
"I don't believe that Russia is going to start testing a NATO member state," he said. "But we have to boost our defense capability to the point where no one even wants to ever attack us. If our neighboring countries Finland and Sweden wish to join NATO, they'll find that collective defense is more effective than each country is capable of alone."
The president likewise highlighted that Ida-Viru County residents are clearly increasingly interested in learning the Estonian language, but added that an issue has emerged in finding sufficient Estonian language teachers to meet this demand.
Other topics asked about and discussed at Thursday's town hall meeting included the easing of Estonian language exam requirements, finding housing and jobs for refugees who have arrived from Ukraine, the organization of bomb shelters and the matter of alternatives to Russian gas in energy production, but also the accessibility of Russian-laguage media, restrictions imposed on Russian students applying to Estonian universities as well as the meaning of various symbols.
President visits local businesses in region
President Karis on Thursday also visited mayonnaise and condensed milk producer Polven Foods in Kohtla-Järve, Lammas ja Roos ("The Sheep and the Rose"), a family restaurant in Iisaku, and cheese producer Alutaguse Juust.
"I'm glad to see enterprising people expand production even despite various crises, and that local small producers with their innovative products have found their way to our consumers' dinner tables," he said.
"When starting their businesses, small-business owners have first and foremost created jobs for themselves and their families, but jobs are now being offered to others as well," he noted. "By buying their products, we can help ensure that there are jobs in rural areas and thus support regional development."
Meeting with students at Kiviõli First High School, the Estonian president stressed that it is worth both everyone themselves and the state as a whole investing into education.
He also recommended that young people study abroad and get to know other cultures, if possible, as this will help them better understand the world as well as find solutions to problems.
On Friday, President Karis will continue his visit to Ida-Viru County in Purtse, Sillamäe and Alutaguse.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla