Opinion: Estonia's border and the price of voters' trust

Mirjam Mõttus.
Mirjam Mõttus. Source: Private collection

The Estonian government set a price on the trust of its citizens, slapping a price tag on it of less than half a million euros. This is the savings they hope to achieve by not buying land along the border from its owners, but rather using it via easement, said Mirjam Nutov in a comment on Vikerraadio.

Let's start off by recalling how the construction of the border strip affects landowners, and what prince is being offered to them for the sale of their land. The border strip affects total of 286 units of land owned by 126 owners.

The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has already asked landowners for ten meters of land for the construction of the border strip. They are already in possession of this land, and all transactions have already been completed. At the end of last year, however, the PPA announced that ten meters was nonetheless not enough, and that they would need another 20-30 meters of land.

For landowners, that means cutting an average of 0.8 hectares (2 acres) from their land. In addition to an incentive of €1,000, the PPA would pay landowners an average of €0.70 per square meter. Based on some quick napkin math, that would mean that someone would receive a total of €5,600 plus the €1,000 incentive for a 0.8-hectare piece of land.

Money and cost

These calculations and numbers were valid prior to the new government [which was sworn into office on April 29]. The new government, under the lead of Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE), floated the idea that they wouldn't even buy the land from people. Instead, it would be taken into use via easement, i.e. be used compulsorily for the purposes of guarding the border.

This means that the person would have to allow the PPA to use their land and can no longer do anything with it themselves. In exchange, the landowner would receive compensation. On what grounds, and what compensation, has yet to be specified. As the goal is to save money, one can imagine the likely size of the compensation.

With this move, the government hopes to save about €1 million on the construction of the border strip. This is the size of the amount allocated from the €320 million budget for transactions connected to expropriation.

On that note, €570,000 of this amount has already been spent, in connection with various land-related transactions. In other words, the actual savings at this point would be below half a million euros. This is nothing compared to the total border construction budget. The cost, on the other hand, would be no more or less than the landowners' trust in their government.

'They're real clever'

I talked to about a dozen landowners whose land falls within the area of the border strip under construction. A couple of men seemed pretty pleased in light of this new information; they had already long since concluded negotiations, the ink had dried on their transactions and they already had the money in hand.

It's another matter altogether when it comes to those whose transactions were not yet complete. The information that it was a minister of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) of all parties whose idea it was to start using rural folks' land via easement stunned even the most talkative of men.

"What did they think, that they're real clever, that they're going to start paying me rent and start using this land and will then tax me for it too?" one farmer blurted out.

That was an EKRE voter.

This was the party that came to the rural people during the elections with its promising rural program one of the central tenets of which was to halt the decline of rural life and deserting of villages.

EKRE's program included a promise that rural residents would continue to be ensured access to schools, kindergartens, primary medical care, functional emergency services, police, internet connections, and banking, communications and retail services. But also the promise that paved roads would eventually reach every village.

Thus far, all of the aforementioned has tended to take a step backwards in rural areas, but that has not been a cause for despair for local natives. Their own land has always been the ace up their sleeve, providing them with the confidence and courage to continue getting by.

One landowner can't understand at all how the minister of finance can act this way at all — a landowner has earned their land with hard work! Now they are hoping that if they really do have to give up part of their land for the border, they could at least renovate their home or enjoy their old age even just a little bit with the money earned from it.

Seto separatism

Nonetheless, it isn't outcries or dirges coming from the other side. On the contrary, you can all but physically feel the Seto separatism springing up at the other end of the line.

An otherwise kindhearted old lady, an accomplished [Seto] Mother of Song, promised rebellion, saying that the people would surely come together and think of something. And without any further thought, she introduces the first plan — she would start strewing nails and iron spikes all over the road!

Not on her own land, of course; she would strew them all over other property, and let the Border Guard start trying to figure out whose nails kept causing their flat tires. She isn't interested in whether or not this is a reasonable plan, or what would come next; she just couldn't begin to fathom this kind of robbery, as she called it.

Ultimately resounding were promises to never vote for EKRE or anyone else again. Their trust in their government as citizens of the Republic of Estonia had just been sold out — and all for less than half a million euros. And what is a country without its loyal citizens?  


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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