NARVA — From the window of his office, Vyacheslav Konovalov, Deputy mayor of the third largest city in Estonia, you may see the customs post located at the bottom, surrounded by a high lattice fence.
Here, near the centre of Narva, ending the EU, and if you drive a few hundred meters across the bridge over the river, you will find yourself in a provincial Russian town Ivangorod.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the border there existed more on paper, but since Estonia was very distanced from Russia, joining in 2004, in the EU and NATO.
Ice-front, which appeared in the relations between East and West in recent years, negatively affects the Narva because of hope crisis-stricken provincial town on the economic Renaissance is largely associated with trade and investment from Russia.
“Tallinn may behave arbitrarily strict, but we were not interested to quarrel with our neighbours”, — said Vyacheslav Konovalov.
Many local customized politically quite skeptical, it refers to sanctions against Russia and Western critics of Vladimir Putin.
While in Estonia the deployment of NATO troops, including Danish soldiers, which are expected in the country later this year, is supported, in Narva treat this differently.
“We have people reacting to news about foreign military with less optimism,” diplomatically recognized Vyacheslav Konovalov.
Narva is situated about 20 kilometers East of the capital, Tallinn, on foot you can reach in less than three hours, but in many ways it is like traveling from one country to another.
On the outskirts of the pretty broken of the main streets of Narva, named after the Russian national poet Alexander Pushkin, we meet the pensioner Olga with a small truck.
Olga is waiting for the party shoes, which will soon come across the border because it provides a boost to their pensions, selling clothes and shoes in the local market.
“We live at the expense of goods from Russia. When Estonia for us the last time you did something?” — asked Olga, who doesn’t want to tell his name.
Friends with Donetsk
More than 90% of the population of Narva is Russian — like Olga, only 4% of the 59 thousand of the inhabitants speak the home language.
Big gap, economic and spiritual, between Narva and other regions of Estonia as well as the high concentration here of Russian-speaking population, has caused some concern: will this put to sleep a provincial town to become a place of unrest and in the worst case of the conflict — the same kind that we saw in the Crimea and in the Donbass.
Ironically Donetsk, the epicenter of the conflict in the East of Ukraine, is the Ukrainian sister city of Narva, and in display cases in the corridors of city hall are exhibited the various gifts and Souvenirs from million city suffering from war.
A BORDER TOWN FOUNDED BY DANES
• Narva was founded in the 13th century during the Danish rule.
• During the Northern war in 18th century Sweden and Russia fought for control of the Narva.
• The city, the former in the period between the two world wars a part of independent Estonia, was almost completely destroyed during world war II.
• After world war Narva had moved a large number of Russian industrial workers.
• Today Russians make up 83% of the population of Narva, Estonia — 4%.
(Sources: Narva.ee, JP)
Twinning gives city Council headache. Because the self-proclaimed, Russia-backed Donetsk people’s Republic has applied to the Estonian town for moral support.
After much deliberation, had found a way to avoid the dilemma.
“We told them that you are friends with the city of Donetsk in the country of Ukraine. If they themselves believe that it is now not about them, we can’t help”, — explains Vyacheslav Konovalov.
While the official Estonia is one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine in Europe, in Narva to the problem are more restrained.
“People in Donetsk have become hostages in the conflict between the different forces”, — said Vyacheslav Konovalov, when trying to explain the causes of the war in the East of Ukraine.
He says that neither the Deputy mayor nor the overwhelming majority of his countrymen, there is no desire to go down the same path.
“I’m a hostage to become don’t want, I don’t think they want to become and many others”.
Although the mentality in Narva more Russian than Estonian, on the other side of the river prefer to settle comparatively few.
“Here and pensions and a standard of living above than in Russia. And while this is so, the desire to become part of Russia”, — noted the Deputy mayor.
Life on the edge
Narva — outskirts of Estonia, the concerns of the population are not only economic but also national issues.
“It’s hard to bring the city to foreign investors, when everyone asks: “Well, Narva’s next?” — says Konovalov.
While Estonia as a whole has become quite economically successful in Narva reasons for optimism are few.
Because after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the industry in the city has ceased to exist, in particular, a textile factory, which in its heyday employed more than 10.000 workers, and the factories that produced spare parts for the Soviet army.
That is why many, especially young people, voted with their feet and moved to the capital, or in the more prosperous provincial town, and many people in General prefer to leave Estonia and move to the West.
The population of Narva in the Soviet times amounted to 90,000 people. Now this city in the East of Estonia remained at less than 30.000, in the town Hall believe that the real figure is even less, because some of them have maintained their registration in the city, although in reality a long time do not live in it.
Wages are on average 30% lower than in Estonia in General, so that many people of working age from the region are leaving and leave in Narva only pensioners.
Despite more than 25 years of existence of independent Estonia, Russian-speakers still represent a kind of parallel society, efforts aimed at their integration, can hardly be called successful.
“They are a state within a state”, — said Mall hellam (Mall Hellam), Director of the NGO Open Estonia on the Russian-speaking minority:
“It is a region where Estonia could do more.”
In Narva, people seem to ignore them and do not understand.
“The political attitude of Narva extremely negative”, — said Vyacheslav Konovalov.
But may is coming and change.
In the autumn of last year, the Estonian government is dominated by the Centre Party, which traditionally supports Russian-speaking.
The new President of the country, Kirsty Kaljulaid (Kersti Kaljulaid) also included the issue of respect for the Russian minority in its programme as one of the most important, emphasizes Mall hellam.