Mayor Katri Raik:­­­ Narva mascot and chronicler

Katri Raik
Katri Raik Source: Kristina Kersa.

In a lengthy interview with ERR News, the mayor of Narva Katri Raik discusses her vision for Narva's future, while the city's identity as a "bridge" between Russia and the West is collapsing. Rebranding the city as the beginning, not the end, of Europe is challenging, she says. Raik also talks about her passion for writing and the history of Narva.

Katri Raik (SDE) has previously served in the Riigikogu, as the head of the Narva College of the University of Tartu for nearly 15 years, as deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Education, as rector of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences (EASS), and as minister of the interior. Raik was elected mayor of Narva in 2020 after nearly two decades of involvement with the region.

"If we had met a year ago today, January 14, the situation would have been very different. The war began on February 24, when we gathered in Narva under the Estonian flag, 12 minutes earlier than in Tallinn. You could see from people's faces, half of them had read the morning news and half had not," Raik said.

"There is clearly a connection between what is happening in Ukraine and life in Narva," she said, as many families here have relatives living in both Ukraine and Russian cities close to the border.

Native Estonian speakers in Narva, the most northeastern city bordering Russia, make up only 1-2 percent of the population and about 4-5 percent of younger residents identify themselves as Estonian: they list "Estonian" as their ethnic or cultural affiliation in official registries.

"One of the changes brought about by the tank removal is that younger people have started referring to themselves as Russian speaking Estonians," Raik said.

"I think it would be perfectly normal to say, 'I am Russian.' This new construct through which younger Russian speakers in Narva want to separate themselves from Russia causes rifts in families — parents do not understand why their children say that, and grandparents do not understand anything anymore," Raik said.

"This tank messed up the cards. Life in Narva is completely messed up."


What is your vision for Narva's future as a border city?

Russian speaking border city...

Narva's bid for the European Capital of Culture 2024 emphasized its unique role in forging connections between the European Union and Russia.

And a bridge, of course.

Now that this narrative has ended, how do you describe the city?

I think people here are searching for an identity, and it is essentially an Estonian one, and yet...

For example, when I speak of Estonia, I fuse the notions of state and country[side], but when Russians in Narva speak about Estonia, they often mean merely the latter, not the Estonian state. It is really difficult to relate to right now.

I am certain about this: Narva was, is and will be an industrial city. Narva must become a city with a new industrial base.

We have now two major production initiatives in the works. One of the goals is to supply 50 percent of the European Union's magnet needs by 2026. The other company aims to extract calcium carbonate and magnesium from our oil shale ash hills using zero CO2 emission technology.

Another important economic factor is tourism, and the main attraction in Narva is still Russia, a view of Russia, a view of the two medieval castles facing each other on the opposite sides of the river Narva.

The attraction used to be the connections between people and the cooperation projects on both sides of the river.

Yes, we are all waiting for the end of the war, and Narva is no exception.

Is there still a bridge after the war?

People here want to have a relationship with Russia. It was the lifestyle of Narva to cross the river to Ivangorod, Kingisepp or St. Petersburg.

Now that the border is closed and Narva has begun to reorient itself towards Tallinn, it is undeniable that a chapter of Narva's history has come to a close, and the removal of the tank has highlighted this fact. At this point, people's attention shifts to Tallinn and the West.

I would also disagree that Estonia is now relocating Soviet-era monuments because Russia is at war with Ukraine.

This understanding, the shift in mentality and identity, takes time.

Since the start of the war, some people were already forced to leave; it has been made abundantly clear that anyone who is not loyal to the state must leave.

36 percent of people in Narva are Russian citizens and they are not the ones who could take to the streets or demonstrate, they know they are Russian citizens living in Estonia and the world is changing around them. It is different for people who have no citizenship [alien's passport], they can travel with ease in both directions.

So when we speak about these monuments or street names, the protest moods come from a relatively small portion of the population, maybe 15-20 percent, another 20 are strongly supportive of the state. The remaining 60 percent are silent Russians, who are not that different from fellow Estonians in that they are conservative and unwilling to speak out. They discuss issues at home in the privacy of their kitchens and less on social media. This is a heavy silence.

In any case, renaming streets, of course, is not the most important thing right now; the future of the city is.

In your 2014 book "My Narva," you described a generation of young Russian Estonians who were proud and protective of their country in the 1990s, but were later disillusioned and swayed by Russian propaganda.

I am writing a sequel now, "My Narva, ten years later." It will not be as personal, but I will write about my experiences of the tank removal and Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

My take on the tank story is that by the end of July, there was only one way to remove the tank and it was all too nerve-racking, inflated, people were calling me up from, you name it, Võru County [in southern Estonia] asking about the tank.

It was a very difficult time for me personally. Of course, a tank is a war machine etc. But I also knew that as soon as the ministers left Narva [after a "perfect police operation"] I would be left alone talking to the locals, and if they needed hope, a hope in their future, then I am not the one...

I received a message with a photo attached today [pulls it up on her cell phone]. This building is not far from here. [The spray-paint graffiti on the wall reads in Russian: "Raik, get out of here."]

Katri Raik in Narva. Source: Kristina Kersa

Is this new?

It seems to be from September or October... I learned about it at Christmas time, basically, in this way.

It will take time to restore a friendly relationship between Narva residents and the state. People in this city are very skeptical. After the tank removal, only the minister of education (not the prime minister) paid a visit. The state launched construction of one Estonian school and one Estonian kindergarten in preparation for the transition to all-Estonian education (investing a substantial €50 million).

On ERR's morning show after the tank removal story, the host asked how you planned to regain the trust of your Russian voters in Narva who called you a fascist and the trust of Estonians, who thought you were somewhat "venemeelne" [Russian-minded]. And how about you? What needs to happen to restore your trust in them?

My dream, for which I work every day, is to give people in Narva hope and faith in the Estonian state, in my Estonia. This year, for the first-time our Narva Christmas Village has drawn Estonians from all over Ida-Viru County, with 9,000 visitors in total; this is very important to us. Narva is indeed Russian speaking and is, perhaps, more like Russia, but the moment people start to come and look for themselves and see that people here speak a little bit of Estonian, and it is friendly, things start moving. It is naive to speak in those terms, but this hope is important now and it is starting to vanish.

I am not running for the Riigikogu this time, even though I believe it is the job of a politician to participate in parliamentary elections. I will work from here. From the new government I expect a little more trust and understanding that changes take time, and that we have many questions and even more challenges.

There are several topics that need better understanding at Toompea. Firstly, Narva cannot comply with solar energy expansion or build wind parks; this is critical to discuss now. How should we meet those green objectives? It is also an issue of national security.

Why can you not meet them, given that Narva is building the two factories you mentioned that are in line with our green goals? 

Even the construction of new industrial buildings must comply with certain regulations. We cannot fully utilize solar energy here as those renewables are not permitted in the region to the same extent as elsewhere in Estonia, resulting in higher construction costs and, once again, in less environmentally friendly manufacturing in Narva. For example, wind farms cannot be built, it is forbidden, they interfere with radars and as such with our defense objectives.

Secondly, we really need a quick connection to Tallinn (with only three trains per day now); this is essential. Managerial positions in Narva are mainly filled by Russian specialists, primarily from St. Petersburg, whose visas are soon to expire, and these cannot be renewed, which means we need to attract specialists from Tallinn or elsewhere; this lack of mobility is a significant impediment.

Lastly, the transition to all Estonian education in Narva needs to be addressed by the incoming minister of education as soon as possible.

When you talk to investors, for instance, to utilize the EU Just Transition funds, what are their most common worries?

It is the location, Narva's proximity to Russia.

It is alright, I go on saying, it has always been the case, but we have strong electricity here, great logistics in the Port of Sillamäe and a railway, and we have people ready to work in factories: and Narva is Narva.

Our industrial tradition is really a major bonus, even though it is difficult to motivate people to work in the oil shale mining industry. Pollution has significantly decreased, as have lung disease cases, but people are not happy doing dangerous work and risking their health, even for €3,000 per month.

Corruption is another worry; whether we got rid of it and whether dealings with the city government are transparent in all stages of startup, detailed planning and so on.

A major administrative IT reform is also in the works, which is a difficult but necessary task (for example, we now have three bookkeeping accounts, rather than one), so that the next generation of city officials can achieve results much faster.

What about Narva's legendary textile industry? With the compulsory separation of textile waste and the prohibition on its dumping or burning, changes are looming; it is only a matter of time before Estonia requires a recycling sector.

We have a little textile business already in Narva, and Reet Aus [a fashion designer, who advocates for textile circular economy and recycling] will be in Narva to discuss her ideas. This is interesting; she says that we have the necessary start-up equipment. Honestly, I sometimes feel like I am the only one motivating people here, so this is encouraging.

With limited time remaining to utilize the Just Transition funds, what are your next steps, what projects do you plan to implement?

I have smaller dreams too, which are nevertheless very important! For example, we are thinking about a position of a children's writer at the art residency, so that even our youngest would know, that Narva is where they live, Narva is their home and Narva is Estonia.

And as concerns major improvements, these really hinge on railway links to Tallinn and other major cities; it is critical for development in the entire region, not just Narva.

What has been the problem so far?

What is the problem... is that electrification is now taking place on the Tartu-Narva-Tallinn track and our part is taking too long. I hope that Elron is ready to send a couple more trains our way soon; it is really a matter of will and setting priorities.

I read anecdotes in your 2014 book about how not to get treatment in the Narva hospital, and you showed your incorrectly treated arm injury in 2022, again, as evidence of that. Was the situation really so dire for so long?

To begin with, the total investment in healthcare infrastructure in Narva since the early 1990s has been €4 million, so the problem is serious. We have some funds from several EU foundations and are deciding whether to renovate an existing hospital building [from 1976] or construct a new one, or both.

The historical Jugendstil hospital still partly in use cannot be renovated and operated as a hospital any longer, as it does not meet the necessary technical requirements. It will become an administrative building with lecture rooms, pediatric and Covid-19 units.

More importantly, we intend to start up medical schooling in Narva already this fall, to address the problem structurally. The University of Tartu and the Tartu University Hospital (the largest healthcare provider in Estonia) would have to expand their medical training to establish a college in Narva, where students could enter directly after high school.

This is also important for keeping our youth from leaving the region.

Is the partnership with Tartu already certain?

Not yet. The Tartu University Hospital prefers to take patients to Tartu. This is in their best interests as a company. We are now trying to work it out with the government and the university...

We need a proper emergency room (ER) in Narva; transporting our patients to Tartu isn't really feasible.

The last Estonia-trained specialist was hired by the healthcare institution in Narva decades ago; we have new Russian and Ukrainian doctors working here, but the last doctor with a degree from the University of Tartu was hired in 1985.

Maintaining Narva's reputation as an optimistic city that has hope, has a future is essential!

Is it easy to motivate people to get involved in politics in Narva? You said previously that people should learn to travel the distance to Tallinn to make their voices heard.

Yes, I think locals could be more active in visiting ministers and ministries in Tallinn.

Do you see people participating in local labor movements in the same spirit as they did during the Kreenholm strike of 1872, or the one that followed it, that involved nearly 8,000 workers when the Kreenholm industry was shutting down? If Narva were to win European Capital of Culture 2024, could cultural workers in Narva organize themselves similarly to people of Tartu?

Narva will not demonstrate for anything now; it is very clear. People are afraid. Following the tank story, such demonstrations are no longer imaginable. For example, Narva power plant workers would not risk losing their next pay right now... Okay, I shouldn't contradict myself.

What helps is to have more people from Narva in the Riigikogu who would remind people about Narva and Ida-Viru County once a week. These should be locals who understand the challenges and, importantly, are representing different political views, not just a single party's line.

Which party is that? [KR laughs] After your return to Narva, SDE and Center have been in power; people are now leaving SDE, returning to the Center, and then leaving Center once again.

In all seriousness, no political parties are currently active in this region, and to be honest, Isamaa and the Reform Party have nothing to do here right now; people do not understand their politics.

Indeed, many Russian speakers are backing Center again.

Is this the response to the removal of Soviet-era monuments?

No, this was in August; it is an old story now. We are facing a slew of new challenges now. The Estonian school in Narva and teachers being laid off are much more contentious issues.

The former principal of a Russian high school in Narva, who was recently laid off, blasted you for promising Singapore-like development for Narva but neglecting to engage with previous governments and listen to people's concerns.

This was before the war. I used the Singapore metaphor for our 2021 development strategy, as we had a genuine opportunity for growth in Narva by attracting engineers and IT specialists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, this is no longer an option, of course. This was 2021.

What also added to tensions is that I fully support the transition to all-Estonian education in Narva. This was not my idea and the SDE had a different perspective on the transition, but it is Estonia's official policy.

I am sure, however, that Narva needs a modified approach; this is not avoiding the task of implementing the transition or saying that it is impossible. Narva is on board with everything that happens in Estonia and, certainly, we are going along with the transition to all-Estonian language education.

The transition (in kindergartens) begins in Narva in 2024, and I believe it has to begin with language immersion or half-immersion, i.e., half the day in Russian and half the day in Estonian.

Moreover, there are currently two school principals and five kindergarten principals who do not speak sufficient Estonian (and this is a political concern for us).

You have first-hand experience teaching Russian students in Estonian in Narva, how does it help you now?

I worked briefly at a school and know that it is possible, but also that it is a very difficult task for teachers. Children's language levels vary, so teachers will have to be teaching in separate groups based of differences in language skills.

It is possible when it is done properly. It is not okay to simply shift the languages and rename the schools, we really have to pay close attention to the quality of Estonian-language teaching and speak realistically about immersive and half-immersion techniques in kindergartens. I believe that children should learn their mother tongue, Russian, as well as Russian culture. This is what needs to be discussed in Toompea in terms of transition strategies in Narva.

In the law about Estonian language education, there are two possibilities to introduce an exception, so the half-immersion strategy that we are advocating for is a realistic solution.

From a legislative standpoint, are you saying that what you describe is easy to implement?

Yes, but not straight away; we need to talk it through with the incoming minister.

Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) is visiting the end of January, and I will, of course, speak with him about it, hopefully we will work out the details together or at least map out a broader discussion.

Education is not a game and doing anything that is poor quality or is substandard is not acceptable.

Your book "Viimane Lahke Maja" (The Last Homely House) from 2020 is a historical-cultural travel guide to Narva. What is this book and what are you working on next?

This is an audacious project, to say the least! I edited and translated original sources from seven or eight different languages, including Latin, English, Danish, German and Russian.

It is rather unusual to talk about the history of a place through literature but that is exactly what the book does. Each chapter tells a story through collection of excerpts from novels, poetry or memoirs; here is my favorite one, on Kreenholm [opens the book]. It includes maps of historical locations that show in red what remains and in white what does not exist anymore. For each chapter I wrote an introduction, added archival images and a list of references.

Kreenholm District in Narva, ca 1915. Source: Estonian History Museum's collection of photographs

There was a time when I dreamed of the new Narva College building, now it is standing there; my next dream is to revive the Kreenholm district. Here are the two historic buildings, the Georg factory and the old spinning factory [points it out on the map in her book], which we want to turn into cultural quarters first. One half of it will host private sector, hotels and restaurants, and the other dedicated to art and culture. 

This entire area is quite large (about 30,000 square meters) and is now closed off. We have €15 million from the state for the development of it as an important heritage object, so the planning is in progress and is slated to be ready by 2026.

The old spinning factory in Kreenholm, built in 1858 along the riverbed of the Narva River (1914). Source: Estonian History Museum's collection of photographs

Kreenholm, Joala Canal between Joala and Georgi factories. Source: Estonian History Museum's collection of photographs

Indeed, my book "The Last Homely House" could very well serve as a travel guide... It is from my parliamentary times, I found it a little tedious, so I composed this book. Honestly, writing is my anti-stress strategy; it is very important to me.

At the moment, I am writing a local chronicle of the 16-17th centuries, which is really complicated, and a sequel to "My Narva," a bit like the musketeers story years after.

Even though erecting monuments is old-fashioned, if you could restore the legacies of three women important for Narva, who would they be?

There should be a monument to Kreenholm workers, 60 percent of whom were women and children. In fact, there is already one in the closed Kreenholm area, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the strike.

I am also trying to uncover stories of women's lives and write a history of Narva in this way. I just started with this. Ainu, a female Finnish volunteer disguised as a man, for example, took part in the amphibious landing of Estonian forces during the Battle of Utria on January 19, 1919, which resulted in the liberation of Narva.
Catherine II is important for Narva, and there will be a chapter on Kreenholm strikers. While Amelie Kreisberg is the most well-known, there were many others. 

There was a woman known as Katri the Witch in the 17th century, and another Katri lived here in the 30s, just before the war, she was an influential religious person whose opinions were respected... I even discovered Katri Raik, who used to live in Narva. Complete coincident, I have nothing to do with her!

Is it a common name?

No, not at all.

What other major urban developments are taking shape in Narva?

Next ones to be ready, this spring, are the Town Hall building and the Stockholm Plaza adjacent to it, which have been under construction for a decade.

Renovated Narva Town Hall (right) next to Narva Collage building (left). Source: Angelina Ivanova

Stockholm Square in Narva, design 2021-2022, currently under construction. Source: KOKO Arhitektid, winning work of the architectural competition

Personally, I like Kreenholm, but I can see why people want the old Narva back. For the time being, we have created a virtual reality exhibition that gives an experience of the old town, which will be available for tourist in the new Town Hall this spring, but we have also initiated a detailed special planning of the old city's main road, albeit only one side of it.

The old city of Narva. Source: Carl Sarap/Estonian History Museum's photography archives

Rüütli tänav in the old city of Narva. Source: Estonian History Museum's collection of photographs

So there might be once again a beautiful 18th-century stroll from the riverbank to the Town Hall, with 16 historical buildings rebuilt to their original shape.

After the destruction of 1944, the city of Narva was hurriedly rebuilt without an plan ["khrushchevkas" were built right next to the Town Hall].

This is the longest planning project we have, requiring two years for detailed planning and while working on it, we will see whether investors are interested in pursuing it further.

The city has always been the third largest in Estonia and many Estonian families have ties to the place, so the Old Narva is of interest to many here and abroad.

After seeing Julia Aug's play "Narva, the city we have lost," you said that, as a historian, you had reservations about it, what were they?

I would prefer a more objective portrayal of the events. For me, and I realize that what I am saying is karmic, but this is yet another instance of Russian chauvinism. The play depicts the history of Narva as being 300 years old, suggesting that the city's story began with Peter the Great, which is not true. For example, during the second act, postcards from the Czarist era were read aloud on stage, making me wonder why postcards from Estonia's independence period [1917-1920] were not also included.

Ingrid Rüütel, an Estonian anthropologist and folklorist, said that it troubled her to see the complete Russification of the area where the earliest Estonian settlements were discovered, meaning Narva and Ida-Viru County.

This is another example of it. Many Russians in exile who have fled from Putin's regime yet have this vision of a big Russia; they dream of a big Russia. It is simply not true that Narva has a 300-year history or that it began with Peter the Great.

What about your plan of establishing the "Petrovsky Institute"?

Even before the war, I had difficulties persuading people about the importance of something like "Petrovsky Institute" [which would have ties to the University of Helsinki "Aleksanteri Institute"], and now, after the war broke out, it is not going to happen.

Even the starting point of our Old Narva virtual tour, which begins with a detailed tour of a single house, has been changed. It had to start with the house of Peter the Great, which was demolished in 1922, but I proposed changing it to the Town Hall.

Everything about Russia is painful right now, even in historical terms, and this also pains me as a historian, but this is the reality we live in.

However, we are also going too far with it... Have you heard the one about my dress on June 23?

Yes, on the same morning show you also said that social media criticized the colors of the dress you wore on a national holiday.

It wasn't just on social media; the editor-in-chief of Postimees [Estonia's largest daily] made this specific remark.

Normally, a Facebook comment would have little weight, but this one quickly made its way to major national news outlets. [Hõbemägi comment was: "Mida räägivad vene lipuvärvid Narva linnapea kleidil? Ma tahaks eksida, aga.../What do the colors of the Russian tricolor on the dress of the mayor of Narva say? I would like to be mistaken, but..."]

Now we have come as far as discussing whether the interior color scheme of the new Town Hall building deviates sufficiently from white, blue and red [shows a photo of the staircase's handrails and adjacent wall in light blue with red and blue thin decor lines]. When we start to question such things, we have clearly gone too far.

And still, Helgard Haug, the director of the Rimini Protocol's "100% Narva" said that to her surprise, the documentary theater production revealed that many Russian-speakers experience lack of Russian culture in Narva.

My take is that we have to allow children to learn their mother tongue, both in kindergartens and schools, also in the future, not merely as a transition measure. Russian culture and Russian language have a place in Narva, and I am sure in 50 years people in Narva will speak both Russian and Estonian, more Estonian than now, of course.

Will people speak some sort of a dialect by that time?

The two languages have already started to mix.

Our Christmas Village this year was supported by the Nordic Council and many different cultures, including Estonian, Russian and Nordic traditions, mixed very well. I am not concerned about losing Russian culture in Narva.

I am not wondering whether Narva is losing it, but rather how it will be different.

I do not know. If we had met a year ago today, January 14, the situation would have been very different. The war began on February 24, when we gathered under the Estonian flag in Narva, 12 minutes earlier than in Tallinn, as Narva is Estonia's easternmost city, and you could tell by the expressions on people's faces that half of them had read the morning news and half had not.

People in Narva understand what war is; they have a vested interest in what happens in Ukraine, as many families have relatives living in both Ukraine and Russia.

They also follow the situation in more detail; Russian, Ukrainian and Western news, Euronews and BBC in Russian, Estonian news, you name it. There is clearly a connection between what is occurring in Ukraine and life in Narva.

Everyone was opposed to the war at first, but as Putin's propaganda intensified the support for it grew. These changes are complex and happen in a matter of months. We stay focused here on daily tasks, managing the energy crisis and employment issues, as well as filling the city with theater and music.

Vaba Lava has recently been in the spotlight with the Rimini Protocol's international documentary production "100% Narva," which has caused a stir in Narva and abroad. What is your relationship with this theater?

OK, when I first moved to Narva in 1999, I assumed I knew everything there was to know about how life should be here; what people should do. I had the highest competence, so to speak, but after 22 years of working for the region, I now have the feeling that I do not fully understand everything.

I think it was Vaba Lava's mistake to think that if they come from Tallinn and bring culture, it must be the culture that everyone here likes. I had serious disagreements with them at the time.

Things are very different now, Vaba Lava really engages with the local public, not only by staging theater productions like "Narva, the city we have lost," but also organizing concert and children's events.

Narva voted on the Deed of the Year, this year for the first time, and surprisingly, it was Vaba Lava's "100% Narva."

Rimini Protocol's "100% Narva." Source: Dmitri Fedotkin

Although, the departure of the 3,5-meter-tall Lenin statue from Narva Museum to Tallinn sparked even more controversy than the "100% Narva" production.

No, we could jokingly say that in Narva only three people in total were interested in Lenin's departure: ERR's journalist Jüri Nikolajev, working for Tallinn, he asked most about it; the second was the local journalist Ilja Smirnov (daily Põhjarannik); third is my political opponent Aleksei Jevgrafov (Center). He uttered the famous phrase that Lenin is in the hearts of Narva children.

It was not a story in Narva at the time; it was a story outside of Narva.

This raises the question of what makes a story for Narva; I know people in saunas are mostly discussing the bridge. The closure of the bridge and the potential disconnection with Russians is far more serious for them.

30 years is a long time, but things have been going on for 80 years, and I cannot change them in a year. What matters is that we all take the right path of change, Narva, the Estonian people and the government. Narva must be regarded as a part of Estonia in that way.

"Is Narva Estonia?" This question never made sense to me, but now it comes up again. Of course, and you know it – Narva is Eesti.

And why should it not? What is Narva historically speaking?

This city was always at the crossroads between two words: Eastern and Western. This is the character of the region that has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt and has always been multilingual and multicultural.

In the 17th century, for example, one of Narva's six city council members had to be English, as the English community was very important and trade with England was strong.

Narva has always been a cultural meeting ground due to its geographical location. This historic fact we cannot change, it is the history of this place.

Even after the relocation of Ukrainian refugees, which was a game changer for many other cities in the region, the population of Narva is still in decline. Why is the city still shrinking now? Are people still packing suitcases daily to leave Narva and never return?

This is mostly due to the large number of the older generation people [30 percent are of retirement age] who arrived here in 1970s-1980s and are now passing away, while the younger generation is leaving for Tallinn, Tartu or anywhere else where there is more youth culture, events and jobs.

So, is there hope for Narva? That's why I wrote the Singapore story, but the war has cancelled all of it. If we had met a year ago, I would have still given you a Singapore pep-talk about the thriving industrial and educational hub.

Why not now? You were talking about the two large plants coming to Narva and the city is once again the focus of international attention.

Yes, although it's good practice to ask why these journalists are here, are they merely here to ask me whether I'm afraid?

If not for Trump coining it, I would like to say let' make Narva big...

Narva, however, has to be believed in, cared for and loved, and "choosing the best for Narva" tagline is a matter of principle to me. Narva is not some unfortunate city on the outskirts that brings nothing but troubles and disappointment; Narva should be seen as an opportunity.

Because the city and its archives have been destroyed multiple times, historical research is complicated, but why is contemporary socioeconomic research lacking?

Yes, we often discuss what the residents of Narva think about different topics, but little work has been done about it, and what we do have is often too small to be representative or statistically valid.

It is, however, important to revitalize and develop the region, e.g. making Narva appealing for domestic and international tourism. The more people from Põlva and Võru counties [southern Estonia] come and see for themselves that there are no bears walking the streets of Narva, the better.

We are in Estonia's third largest city, Narva, discussing the differences in worldviews between other Estonians and the people of Narva, just as 30 years ago, and perhaps even more so today. You explained this difference recently by saying that the feeling for history [and history is a feeling] has been too distinct for too long now. You said that this is partially due to the lack of recent history books published in Russian in Estonia.

Yes, I invite you to visit a bookstore and see for yourself what books about Estonian history are available in Russian. You will most likely find a single €50 history brick, and nothing else. It is extremely difficult for local Russians to ever understand Estonian perspectives in this way.

What is missing in our bookstores?

We bring about the topic of Russian-speakers in Narva only when there is a problem, a security concern. It is clear to me that a Russian reader will not believe a history book written by Mart Laar, but it is also true that many Estonians do not "believe" that Russian culture has been part of Estonian society since the Middle Ages [I mean, Russian merchants]. By the end of the 19th century, there were already 50 percent of Russians living in Narva and 50 percent of Estonians. This is a historical condition of this region, and both sides need to understand it better.

Many Estonians were indeed surprised to learn about Narva and the tank, or rather, as Kaarel Tarand [editor-in-chief of Sirp magazine] put it, to learn about tanks in the hearts of Narva residents. You are from Tartu, Estonia's intellectual capital, and you came to Narva as an Isamaa party member advising on the transition to Estonian education in Russian schools; why is it so difficult for Estonian intellectuals to see Narva the way you do?

Many people reached out to me during the tank period, but the situation escalated fast and few were willing to discuss it publicly.

I think it became difficult to express oneself openly at that time... Even though I felt bad, four days after the tank removal, on August 20, I went to a reception in the Rose Garden of the presidential palace in Kadriorg. 90 percent of people I spoke with were expressing support, but I was ripped to shreds in the media at the same time.

Now that the dust is settling, what do you think of your decision not to stand for the Riigikogu elections?

I have a lot of work here at the moment. However, there is also a citizens' campaign to express no confidence in me at the moment [718 undersigned as of January 14], so my work here is not always well received. I seek to minimize political corruption and local politicians are likewise mistrustful of me.

By the way, while we are discussing culture, identity and history, there are much more mundane aspects of the city council's job and things that the mayor should handle, potholes and snow removal. I am dealing with citizens' questions during my monthly live sessions [on Youtube].

I am considering having such sessions for Estonians from everywhere in Estonia, and with English subtitles, "Uudised Narvast/News from Narva", you should tune in!

I look forward to it!


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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