European Small Islands Federation

Archive for Estonia

Congratulations Estonia


100 years ago the peace talks between Soviet Russia and the German Empire collapsed and the Germans accupied mainland Estonia (but not the islands). The Estonian National Council Maapäev issued an Estonian Declaration of Independence on 23 February, 1918. It was read to the people from the balcony of the Endla Theatre in Pärnu at eight o’clock in the evening but not until next morning, Estonia was publicly proclaimed as an independent and democratic republic. It was the 24 February 2018.

There was not yet a happy ending, however. Next day, German troops entered Tallinn. The German authorities recognised neither the provisional government, nor its claim for Estonia’s independence, counting them as a self-styled group usurping sovereign rights of the German-Baltic nobility.

Imperial germany was crushed in the First World War and Estonian was free from 1920. With  the outbreak of the Second World War, Estonia was invaded first by Soviet and then by Germany and then by Soviet again, who made it a Soviet Union until 1991.

Estonia is a strange country: they sing a lot, they don’t go to church, there much more women than men (100/84) and they have 800 islands more than hitherto believed. The official number of Estonian islands now stands at 2,355 if you count islands in lakes.

This is one third more than previously believed and due to improved survey methods showing that Estonia has a total of 2,355 islands and islets, instead of the previously held 1,521.

However, only 318 of these are larger than 1 hectare, or 10,000 square meters.

Agnes Jürjens from the Land Board says improved technology allowed researchers to succesfully map small, previously unaccounted for islets and holms. “In addition, the ground has risen in northern and western Estonia, and the changing water level, as well as storms, can also alter the coastline,” she explained.

The news might come as further blow to neighboring Latvia, which has a famously low number of islands, officially at 1, and that too is man-made. Latvia did issue claims to Runö = Ruhnu at the beginning of last century, but the island, which lies closer to Latvia than Estonia, was added to Estonia in 1919.

One way to reach Estionian islands is on the ice roads used in winter. It is an unusual “fixed link” and a beautiful experience.


Estonian administrative reform


Estonia has an administrative reform in progress, where local municipalities with populations under 5,000 must merge. If they do it voluntary they get financial compensation, if not, government can inforce compulsory mergers. There are some exceptions, though: small pelagian islands with local authority (Ruhnu, Kihnu, Vormsi) can stay self-governing in spite of that their population is less than 5,000, if they wish and submit reasonable arguments for this to the government by the beginning of the next year. It seems they will.

– “Independence is a sweet word, but the questions is if these small municipalities have enough administrative capability,” says Elle Puurman from Wormsi, active member of the ESIN board.

The Ministry of Finance’s map of possible future mergers of local governments across the country paints a motley picture of a country full of parishes too small to remain independent under the stipulations of the new administrative reform. Those who go willingly in merging with neighbouring parishes will be rewarded handsomely for their cooperation; those who don’t will be forced to merge anyway come the new year.

According to the latest round of administrative reforms, the new government-mandated minimum population required for an independent administrative unit is 5,000, although the suggested minimum population is actually 11,000 residents per local government. Extra effort made in meeting the latter number will be rewarded as well — in addition to the 100€ per resident already to be paid out to merging parishes, any local governments formed by merger to newly surpass the 11,000-resident mark will be awarded an additional 500,000€ merger grant as well.

The grant, however, is only available until January 1, 2017, after which any remaining parishes not meeting minimum size requirements will be forced into merging regardless.

In certain situations, such as with parishes with much smaller neighbours, the new stipulation all but requires that the small parishes all merge with one another and possibly with their larger neighbour as well, as that is the only way to guarantee that all of the parishes involved would meet the 5,000-minimum requirement.

This is the case in Hiiumaa, for example, where the island’s largest parish, Hiiu parish, would only need the addition of one of its neighbouring parishes to surpass the 5,000 mark, but no two remaining parishes combined would be able to meet the requirement as well.

The parishes of Saaremaa are similarly planning to merge into one big parish, with the exception of the neighbouring island of Muhu, which, like Vormsi, can take advantage of an exception that will be made for small maritime islands that do not wish to merge local governments with any island or mainland neighbours.



Pictures: Kihnu lighthouse

Kihnu – the women’s island

Mare Matas

Gifted photojournalist Sebastien Leban shows wonderful pictures from Kihnu, Estonia, on Aljazeera’s site