Martin Mölder: On going from the town to the countryside during summer

Martin Mölder.
Martin Mölder. Source: Lauri Varik

The real Estonia can be found more in rural areas, than in the city, political scientist Martin Mölder writes, and since the Estonian people, language and culture are more deeply rooted in the countryside, maintaining further and stronger ties with the land would be worthwhile – rather than treating the countryside as a place simply for rest and recuperation.

Writing in Vikerraadio's "Päevakommentaar," Mölder notes that in summer time in particular, clearing out of the city altogether in order to stay in the countryside, is still standard activity in Estonia.

Some people have their own summer residence, or visit or stay in those of friends or relatives; others might travel to festivals and events, Mölder continues, adding that the Nordic summer is such that it invites one to become a part of it. 

This is certainly not the case in the city, however.

Among the jungle of concrete, glass and asphalt to be found in town, the seasons tend to merge one into the other, while the summer is much more unpleasant than it is out-of-town.

In an Estonian context, the "city" means, of course, first and foremost Tallinn and the suburbs that surround it, somewhat strangely still referred to as "villages" in many cases. 

The effect can be found to a far lesser extent in Tartu, Estonia's second city, and its environs.

However, the bulk of the rest of Estonia is "the land", meaning the countryside (the Estonian term "Maa" means both land and countryside-ed.). Town and country are both cultural and spatial terms at the same time.

While wealth and power in Estonia are certainly concentrated in the city, Estonians have long been a predominantly rural people. This has been the case throughout history, and it is largely still the case today.

Estonians are probably not a significant exception here. Urban life and national culture do not sit well together in modern-day Europe. 

Apparently, the people, for whom a sense of nation as a deeply rooted cultural category forms a part of their identity, are more likely to be found in the countryside than in the city. 

However, cities, and especially capital cities, are often places where national identity merges or diffuses. Immigration plays a key role here.

Naturally this is also the case in Estonia. Perhaps even more than we would like to recall. 

As a result of the Soviet occupation, Tallinn became a city where over half the population was of Russian ethnicity.

While the proportion of Estonians thereafter steadily grew, after the restoration of independence, in the present day and as a result of "new" immigration, Tallinn is once again becoming a city where Estonians are in the minority. 

Socially speaking, the city is a completely different living environment than is the countryside. This is also reflected in people's world view and values.

In short, there is more of Estonia in the countryside, than in the town. The Estonian people, their language and culture are more deeply rooted in the countryside. 

When a city person goes to the country during the summer, he or she is likely also going on a cultural trip, deeper into Estonia. But this also depends on where he or she goes, as well as with what attitude.

If we are talking about simply traveling to a festival, or to a summer home, then the real rural Estonia is probably not very apparent there. 

The festival and summer home are but extensions of the city, an open-air "club" for city people, a private retreat away from town, but actually still a part of the city.

However, there are most likely still people living in the neighborhood of the party place or summer home who do so on a permanent basis; it is their real home, and they may have lived there all their lives – and will do so to the end of their days.

There are certainly such people.  If we ever get to the stage of there being a "last Estonian", he or she will likely be living, unnoticed, next to the city-dweller's summer home or festival area, rather than being a visitor from afar. 

They certainly wouldn't be living in the city. 

The dwelling-place of the "last Estonian" will be somewhere in the forests of Hiiumaa, or in the rolling hills of Võru County.

Should life in the countryside die out, then Estonia as a nation would also weaken. Summer entertainment or a vacation does not a rural way of life make. 

That life on the land includes those people who are born and die there, children who grow up there and never move away, and their parents, who find work and earn a living there. All this is, however, becoming increasingly rare and increasingly difficult. 

The focal point of Estonian life has been moving away from rural areas for several decades already. There are fewer and fewer public services in these areas, less and less of the state. 

There are no hospitals. There are no kindergartens and schools for children to attend, and no new jobs for the parents. These are to be found in the city, but you can't commute into the city, because realistically, there is no public transport to reach it.

Owning a car, especially for a rural dweller whose income is lower than that of a city person, is becoming more and more expensive.

Life has shifted from the countryside to the city or its environs; power and money are concentrated in the city. Decisions get made and people's behavior and attitudes are shaped by the city, and from the perspective of urban life, according to its needs. Rural life and rural people, their interests and needs will likely remain more and more distant and incomprehensible those in the town. 

I hardly need remind you how such a divide has already manifested itself in Estonian politics. City people do indeed often head for the countryside, but they frequently no longer have any real contact with the way of life there. While rest and recuperation can be had there, those grandparents and antecedents who may have once lived in the country full-time have already passed away, while their children and grandchildren have moved away from these rural areas.

Just this summer, if you find yourself drawn from the metropolis to the countryside, why not remind yourself about all of this. Preserve, or create anew, real connections with the country. 

Why not also dream of actually going to live there one day, in so doing creating a life and a home for your children there. The city will always remain the city, but it need not be all-encompassing and omniscient. One might also consider how our futures might be in the countryside, rather than surrounded by the soulless emptiness of a small concrete cube, in a jungle of glass and asphalt.


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Editor: Mrijam Mäekivi, Andrew Whyte

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