The planned expansion of the Nursipalu Training Area affects 21 families who will be forced to move out of their homes. And while this is a tragedy in its own right, the negative impact of the Ministry of Defense's plan goes much further, Kaspar Kurve writes.
Members of the Antsla, Rõuge and Võru municipality councils and local residents gathered at the Tsooru Civic Center on Monday evening to acquaint themselves with the Ministry of Defense's plan to expand the Nursipalu Training Area. The territory of the military training grounds would grow more than threefold to cover over 9,000 hectares of Võru County.
The process has been baffling to say the least. But I thought I at least knew that Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) would have enough decency to begin with an apology.
Why? Because isolated and abstract bits of information the ministry had until then thrown around resulted in arrhythmia and dangerously high blood pressure, not to mention stress and sleepless nights, for more than a few locals over the past month. One can only imagine what people who keep hearing rumors that they will soon have to abandon their homes feel inside.
The ministry did nothing to alleviate this state of uncertainty until Monday evening, even though the media was rife with rumors and apparently in the know already.
I'm not sure the ministry even realizes the magnitude of the communication blunder. Instead of admitting that the process was started from the wrong end, Pevkur said (seemingly in all seriousness) how he came to Tsooru with an open heart and prioritizes involving the locals. Absurd!
21 households engulfed by the expansion tip of the iceberg
The planned expansion of the Nursipalu Training Area directly affects 21 families who will be forced to move out of their homes. And while this is a tragedy in its own right, the negative impact of the Ministry of Defense's plan goes much further.
Võru is a unique county that serves as the meeting place of two cultures and is best described through such keywords as peace, quiet, community, tradition and natural beauty.
Noise pollution from the planned training area would spread over tens of kilometers, directly affecting thousands of people, homes and wild animals. The expansion would have a negative effect on the region's economy, especially in the crucial tourism sector; would render Võrumaa a less attractive destination for potential new residents and further accelerate peripheralization and loss of services.
On top of everything, the expansion would cover an area right next to the Karula National Park. Here, even the word "absurd" falls short.
Expansion as cheap elections propaganda
No one contests that the security situation has changed considerably, and it is clear national security will be key at upcoming elections. Hanno Pevkur is no fool and clearly sees the potential for additional votes for the Reform Party as who would dare argue against improving Estonia's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, basic inclusion and empathy have been forsaken in the process. The secretive and consciously hurried process (with elections looming) credits neither Pevkur nor the Estonian state. Hundreds of citizens feel betrayed by their own country, with the case further evidence that the administration does not care what happens outside Tallinn or Tartu.
What will happen next will be revealed soon enough, but one thing is for sure: the majority of Võru County residents are opposed to the plan and not about to surrender a piece of their beautiful land without a fight. Nor should they. Nor can they!
Editor: Marcus Turovski