Erik Gamzejev: Moving to Ida-Viru County a patriotic act

Erik Gamzejev.
Erik Gamzejev. Source: Matti Kämärä / Põhjarannik

Educated people moving to Ida-Viru County could be considered a patriotic act. It would give regional development new momentum and reinforce pro-Estonian sentiment, Erik Gamzejev notes in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

A plan by a group of Narva residents to celebrate the "liberation" of Narva next Tuesday poses no threat to Estonia's national security, while it does a disservice to the city itself. It works to amplify the image in the rest of Estonia of Narva and the rest of Ida-Viru County as being home mostly to pro-Soviet and pro-Putin people.

It would be wrong to claim there are no such people. They can be found in Narva, but also Tallinn, Maardu, Tartu and probably other places in Estonia. Their number makes for a separate question. It is quite difficult to gauge the relative importance of people here rooting for the Kremlin's policy without thorough studies, just as it is to measure mentality.

A few such undertakings as the one planned in Narva for July 26 or interviews with and social media posts by a few individuals who support Putin might create in Estonians righteous displeasure, while they hardly objectively reflect the general situation.

No noteworthy event has been held in Ida-Viru County in support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On the one hand, we can see this as success on the part of Estonian law enforcement. On the other, it is clear that most people who live in Ida-Viru County understand that what Russia has undertaken in Ukraine will only result in destruction, horror and grief. And it makes no difference whether those suffering are Ukrainians, Russians or someone else.

There are no signs to suggest people here yearn for the same status or want to move to Putin's country the fate and social rules of which they can see on the opposite bank of the River Narva. One would be hard-pressed to come up with anything they would stand to gain.

Support for Ukraine is perhaps not as evident in Narva as most Estonians would expect – the line between good and evil being so clear here. But after consuming Kremlin propaganda for decades and sincerely believing that Putin is a positive hero, many have trouble letting go of the fairy tale. Who wants to publicly demonstrate and admit they have been taken for a fool and left feeling empty.

At the same time, Narva has, in addition to state and municipal agencies, a host of volunteers helping [Ukrainian] refugees. Ukrainians are also the star players of the Narva Trans football club that plays in the Estonian Meistriliiga and have scored half of its goals this season. Experienced player Deniss Dedetško grabs the Ukrainian flag and lifts it over his head after every goal he scores in full view of the Narva team's fans.

Public support for Russia at least is in decline in Ida-Viru County. One can see considerably fewer people wearing T-shirts or caps displaying the word "Rossiya" compared to a year ago. That said, being pro-Estonian could be more prominent as well. We could see a lot more blue, black and white flags on buildings in Ida-Viru County cities on national holidays.

Estonianness would also make more headway in Ida-Viru County if learning Estonian was not seen as malicious enforcement but rather as a way to get ahead in Estonia and enjoy life to a greater degree. So that schools would really tie Russian youths to Estonian culture, history and society and spark a natural interest in these things. So that a part of teachers who speak of Estonia as their country would mean the Republic of Estonia as opposed to the days of the Estonian SSR and would bother to learn Estonian themselves instead of hoping for mercy from the Language Inspectorate while harboring feelings of animosity toward the Estonian state. So that June 23 would be a more important day than May 9 also in people's thoughts and not just the calendar.

Many coming from other parts of Estonia who visit Ida-Viru County for the first time are surprised to find that it is not a Russian place. That the tens of thousands of Estonians who lived here throughout the occupation and still do have kept Estonianness alive and brought it closer to the hearts of a lot of Russian people.

Of course, all of it could be happening faster. As there is no end in sight to the work that still needs to be done, more hands are needed. It is great that cultural promoter Piia Tamm from Tartu, Mayor of Sillamäe Tõnis Kalberg and Narva Mayor Katri Raik have been active in Ida-Viru County for decades, that Hendrik Agur from Viljandi County, Tarmo Post from Valga County and Irene Käosaar from Tartu are running our schools. But we need a lot more such leaders to achieve a breakthrough.

It is good that the police, courts and other law enforcement organs pay their employees in Ida-Viru County a premium. And yet, Ida-Viru County is not for Estonia what Lapland is for Finland or Alaska for America. It takes less time to drive from Tallinn to Kohtla-Järve than it does to take the ferry to Saaremaa or drive to Tartu. Rather, what is long is the mental distance shaped over the years.

Coming to live and work in Ida-Viru County should be seen as a patriotic act. An act that can be committed by teachers, doctors, engineers and people from many other walks of life able to deliver new momentum to regional development and strengthen Estonianness.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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