Thousands of protesters turned out along the banks of the Emajõgi River in Tartu on Saturday to speak out against the planned billion-euro pulp mill and in favor of protecting the river that runs through both the region and Estonia's second-largest city itself.
According to the organizers of the event, over 4,500 demonstrators participated in a human chain formed around the banks of the Emajõgi in support of Tartu City Council's proposal to terminate the national designated spatial plan for a billion-euro pulp mill planned to be built along the river.
The human chain, which was formed at 12:00 EEST on Saturday, stretched from Kroonuaia Bridge upstream to the Victory Bridge downstream, and also included the Freedom Bridge and Tartu's iconic Arch Bridge in the city center.
Main organizer: We are not tied to special interest groups
While a number of political parties were physically present with representations along the banks of the river on Saturday afternoon, event organizers stressed that Saturday's protest itself was strictly apolitical.
"We are a voice from among the people, and are not connected with any other group," said Paul Volmer, one of the main organizers of the event, adding that it also lacked ties to any political special interest groups. "We support the decision of the City of Tartu and the municipalities which calls for the termination of the national designated spatial plan. We've got their backs and support them as long as they remain of the same position as that of the people.
Among those to deliver speeches at the event were politician Ene Ergma, Tartu Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform), Tartu Municipal Mayor Jarno Laur (SDE), poet Kristiina Ehin, children's author Mika Keränen, and Luunja Municipal Mayor Aare Anderson (Pro Patria/IRL).
Laur noted that people formed human chains in Vorbuse, Kärkna and elsewhere in solidarity as well. "We are not against anything; we are in favor of a clean Emajõgi River!" he said. "The river must belong to the people, the frogs, the fish and birds. It is not a garbage dump!"
Saturday's protest also included musical performances by a range of artists including Ivo Linna, Tõnis Mägi, and Lenna Kuurmaa. The band Winny Puhh likewise sailed up to the makeshift stage on top of a boat of their own, satirically shouting "Long live progress! Long live the government! Long live the pulp mill!"
"The Emajõgi is going to be filled in and paved over, and a new highway will be built that will take us to happiness!" Winny Puhh singer Indrek Vaheoja sarcastically shouted to the cheering crowd.
Despite being rejected by Tartu City Council over two months ago as well as challenged in court last month, the Estonian government is continuing to move forward with a national designated spatial plan for a billion-euro pulp mill planned to be built by Est-For Invest.
Editor: Aili Vahtla