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Opinion digest: Rail Baltic through Pärnu instead of Tartu no disaster

Protests against the Rail Baltic project, Tallinn, Apr. 22, 2017.
Protests against the Rail Baltic project, Tallinn, Apr. 22, 2017. Source: (Rene Suurkaev/ERR)

Nils Niitra, journalist at daily Postimees, wrote in a recent opinion piece that the rising civil society with all its ranting and shouting surrounding Rail Baltic did not represent the majority of Estonians, and that the proposed route was far from being a disaster for the country.

Niitra wrote that he had been contacted by a “concerned citizen” skeptical of the Rail Baltic project who had told him that it hadn’t been the aim of critics to completely sink the new railway, but that they were now worried it might really happen, seeing as the noise surrounding it had become scarily powerful.

Postimees’ opinion editors published pieces both of critics and supporters of the project, Niitra wrote. Lately supporters had been exposed to aggressive comments, and social media was full of similar attacks. There likely were already plenty of people who couldn’t say what they wanted for fear of being labelled.

This wasn’t the civil society he had expected. “We waited for a civil society for 20 years, now it is a reality. But this isn’t the kind of civil society I expected,” Niitra wrote. Ranting and threatening, people attacked everything that went against their own convictions. After he had published a statement in favor of the project, a commentator had asked if it was really possible that someone supported it who didn’t get paid to do so. Niitra’s comment: “Yes, it is.”

Populist parties then got their own thing going, and went and protested against Rail Baltic. It was the style of our new times to always be against something, and only then to come up with arguments to back it all up, Niitra wrote. Sometimes these were rather funny, as in usually sensible people suggesting that a railway line was cutting the country in half, and that it damaged the fauna of West Estonia, a line of argument that reminded him of the first objections to the railway in the 19th century, when people claimed cows wouldn’t give as much milk anymore because of it.

Opposition to Rail Baltic was split up into different camps. One was moderate, where only the choice of route was disputed. This camp again was divided into different groups, one of which would like to see the route lead through Tartu, and one of which debated how exactly the route through Pärnu should be drawn. And then there was the lot that was simply against all of it, for the sake of being against it.

While in reality, the vast majority of Estonians was neutral and just looking on. The screaming minority simply stirred up enough of a din to make people think they were the majority. 

The question, according to Niitra, is not in the feasibility studies, which could be made to side with any position required. The question was whether or not Estonia needed state-of-the-art connections to other members of the European Union, flights as well as the railway.

Of course people could fight over whether or not there would be interest in a train to Berlin, but it was really much more important that Estonia needed modern connections to its neighbors in the union, as in Latvia, Lithuania, and also Poland.

Though he lived in Tartu, he didn’t believe that the new railway going through Pärnu would amount to a regional policy disaster for his area. Pärnu needed this railway just as much as Tartu. “Let the train go to Tartu at a speed of 160 km/h and to Pärnu at 240 km/h. Everybody wins.”

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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