Ida-Virumaa and its largest city Narva of nearly 60,000 inhabitants has been rather prominent in local and international media these past few years. predominantly, this has been because of the 2014 events in Ukraine: many a Western journalist has been seeking for another Donbas and Crimea both in Narva and the Latvian region of Latgale. Even so, the Daugavpils and Narva reality has proven otherwise, and one may understand the displeasure in locals regarding such focus.
But even in our local media, in Estonian and Russian, we are mainly hearing of how depressive the area is though in our 25 years of regained independence Ida-Virumaa and her cities have undergone quite a change, internally and externally. Doubtless, Ida-Virumaa still holds a vast untapped potential for development. The options for it just need to be sought out.
Basically, ten cities in Ida-Virumaa have been hit with the same problems as the innumerable monocities in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe. The crises have emerged for various reasons from the production of low competitiveness to dilapidated equipment in former mega plants to overly high production costs. That, in turn, has led to outflow of working age population and qualified workforce from such regions which has afterwards become a brake on economic development, as lamented by lots of entrepreneurs.
Alas, the narrow profile of monocities has plagued Ida-Viru County with a persistent problem of unemployment with its sad consequences for local life. Among other things, it shrinks the tax base and requires large subsidies from state budget (to say nothing of all the social problems included). Listening to some city leaders in Ida-Viru, one may mistakenly conclude that the problems are mainly the central government’s fault who does not sufficiently subsidise the local governments though during the past decade Ida-Virumaa has been favoured in this regard compared to other periphery on Estonia.
It’s the «teach the people to fish rather than give them a fish» issue, as instead of government subsidies the region needs a thoroughly formulated vision for the future – in the long term. Here, we can feel positive about the discussion about it freshly up in the media, including a opinion festival held in Narva this last Saturday with lots of ideas tossed around about what to do.