Erik Gamzejev: Discovering Ida-Viru County

Põhjarannik editor-in-chief Erik Gamzejev.
Põhjarannik editor-in-chief Erik Gamzejev. Source: Põhjarannik

Estonia is huge. This is what you think every time you hear how many people get excited over the fact that they have visited Ida-Viru County for the first time ever and discovered how interesting of an area it is, writes  Erik Gamzejev, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Põhjarannik.

It's as though they were explorers who had finally reached the Kamchatka Peninsula and shared selfies of their voyage. It is somewhat funny that even 27 years after Estonia regained its independence, there are so many people here who have never had a reason to visit Narva, Estonia's third-largest city, or Kohtla-Järve, the country's fifth-largest. Just like many residents of the aforementioned cities have never set foot in Haapsalu, Viljandi or Paide.

But this can be explained by the fact that they have just lacked personal ties to these places. In various areas, one mostly tends to visit their own relatives and friends. If you don't have any in Narva, then you don't really have any reason to go there, as is the case regarding the rest of Estonia from Narva residents' point of view. The capital of Tallinn, sure, many work there, or study there, or go shopping, or to the zoo, or the port or the airport. But what to do elsewhere? Thanks to differing linguistic, cultural and information spaces, there haven't been many summer performances or festivals that would speak to everyone the same way.

In that regard, this summer is revolutionary for Ida-Viru Couny — the abundance of large events taking place here is extraordinary. The alternative culture festival "Voice of Mountains" only just ended at the mining museum in Kohtla-Nõmme. Later this month, the music festival "Baltic Sun," organised by Oleg Pissarenko, will be taking place in Narva for the first time. August will see over ten thousand people travel to Narva for the New Theatre production of "Nightingales of Kreml" at Kreenholm. The Narva Opera Days take place at the beginning of September, and the second half of September will see Helen Sildna launch "Station Narva," a music and city culture festival in Narva, which is aspiring to be selected a European Capital of Culture. At the same time, Narva will be crowned the autumn capital of Estonia. In the meantime, President Kersti Kaljulaid will try to use her presence and work in the area to give a boost to Ida-Viru County. At the end of the year, the Free Stage Building will be completed in Narva, expected to become a creative centre for various theatre groups.

All of these undertakings should help create ties between Ida-Viru County and the rest of Estonia. People who have personally been to Narva and had positive experiences there want to return there as well. A lot of stereotypical, black and white attitudes become more vibrant, which all of Ida-Viru County with its diverse and contrast-rich living conditions in fact is. Among athletes, this has already been happening in connection with the Narva Energy Run, for example, which has been organised for eight years running by Mati Lilliallik.

The great benefit of this large-scale event has been, among other things, the fact that it has managed to involve both athletes and locals alike — whether running, walking, volunteering or just cheering on the sidelines. The Narva Energy Run has developed a very positive image among Estonian- and Russian-speakers alike.

How can the same be done for the other cultural events coming up in Ida-Viru County? Of course it is in itself a good thing that people from elsewhere in Estonia have more reasons to visit Ida-Viru County as a result. At the same time, however, we shouldn't forget to make an effort to ensure that these festivals attract as many locals as possible as well — that these events aren't just by and for visitors, held at an exciting new location for a change.

Ida-Viru County and Narva in particular are currently the focus of an extraordinary amount of attention from the rest of Estonia. It would be worth local government leaders to take some time and figure out how to best take advantage of this favourable time for the benefit of improving local living conditions.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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