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Acting “before than after” the problems

Although poverty and migration aren’t issues yet in Haapsalu, the challenge is the social integration of Estonian and Russian population. International cooperation and good practices in social and technical fields are the keys to achieve this goal and prevent future conflicts.

Personne interviewée : Ingrid Danilov: Mayor of Haapsalu, Estonia.

Par Estelle Mairesse

Table des matières

Ingrid Danilov: Mayor of Haapsalu, Estonia.

Haapsalu is member of the Association of the Estonian Cities (AEC), a voluntary union established in 1920 for representing the common interests and arranging co-operation of cities and rural municipalities, and which main goal is to ensure the development of local governments belonging to the AEC.

Population: 11,966 (2006)

Territory: 10.6 km²

Location: only a hundred kilometres away from the capital, Haapsalu is a seaside resort town located on the west coast of Estonia (Baltic Sea).

Principal financial activities: the city is a tourist town thanks to its geographical situation that represents a good potential to develop tourism by offering excellent opportunities for leisure activities. Haapsalu is indeed at the 5 or 6th position as tourism town.


Political Party:

Management period: 1st mandate as mayor, since January 2007

Before being Mayor, Ingrid Danilov was working during four years in town administration as Deputy Mayor. This experience helps her currently to manage as mayor.


In your opinion, which are the three main challenges of the social cohesion in your city and also in your country (as member of the association of Estonian cities), and why? Please classify them under a priority list.

Estonia entered in the European Union three years ago. As a quite young member, the country does not have so big problems with immigrants at local and national levels, yet. The state is not rich enough to attract people as other European states. For this reason, immigration is not yet a problem for us, for example.

Nevertheless, the country has some problems inherited from the soviet period. Indeed, we cannot forget that Estonia belonged during five decades to the Soviet Union and today it has consequences. During this time, lot of Russian people immigrated to Estonia to live and work. They represented a very important labour force. When Estonia got independency in 1991 with the Soviet Union collapse, the Russian army left but people did not: today proximately 20% of population of Estonia are Russians. During the Soviet time they had a certain and even the leading position in society, but today they have lost their status and now they feel insecurity, specially the elder people. This is the challenge for Estonian Government and for all local municipalities to integrate Russians to the society. Estonia is so small, our society is small, we must keep together and we have to activate and integrate these people back to the society.

The other part of problems has been caused by large changes in Estonian society during the last 15 years. The economy of Estonia grows very fast and all society develops very quickly but not everyone can take the responsibility to adapt oneself to new life. Especially the old people are very vulnerable group and dependent of others. One of the current challenges is giving them information, especially about the town administration, because they are not able to do it by themselves. To integrate better in society these both categories of people is one of the main government tasks. In short, the main challenge is to get one society and not different groups. People have to feel safe in Estonia. To keep the state and the nationality as a whole is essential for the social cohesion.

The second question is how to manage to make people’s life better. This item is directly related to the first point, its consequence and its cause at the same time. Integrated people have more chance to live better by finding work and giving them better life conditions facilitates their integration to society. The effort has to be concentrated especially on families with children. Indeed, giving education to young people and also allowing them to specialize after graduation will permit to integrate them at the beginning of their life and not to create more exclusion.

The poverty issue is not still on the table. Nevertheless, while under the Soviet time, everybody was equal in terms of resources, nowadays differences in income occur. Society becomes more and more divided between rich and poor people. The State and the local authorities must be alert with that and need to help people with more difficulties in order to maintain the current well being.

At these both social problems, we can add a more technical problem. But it is also important because it has a great importance about people life conditions. Even if Estonia has quite good conditions of social care (schools, hospitals, etc.) efforts could be done to improve some others public infrastructures. Railways are quite a problem still and roads as well. As Estonian people get richer and richer, they buy cars and State and the local authorities have to manage the problem of parking them and making road conditions better. For example, the main road, between Tallinn and Tartu, a university city, is under discussion to make it more safe. Government has to find solutions to solve difficulties due to the very active traffic. The daily conditions are at stake with this day life problem.

In your opinion, how can the decentralized cooperation and the regional dialogue between European Union and Latin America and Caribbean or another region solve these problems above quoted?

At the Local Authorities Forum between European Union and Latin America-Caribbean, some people asked me the reason of my presence. I admit that it could be curious to count with a country that has not a certain interest today in cooperate with such countries. But, the proposition of the French Embassy to participate of this event made sense for the Board of the Association and also for me. Our reflection was the following: if today, Estonian cities do not have already such acute problems like in Latin America (poverty, homeless, etc.) it is not excluded that it can happen later.

For this reason, it is better to act “before than after”, in a preventing approach instead of a curing one. This forum is the right place to get informed and represents a good opportunity to get knowledge about good practices. We can consider that I am the spokesperson of my association. After this meeting, my role is to transmit the gathered information to the colleagues in order to move on, discuss, and make some decisions about the interest or not in cooperate with other cities, regions or associations. The question of the immigration and the integration of the immigrated population will certainly be one of the future issues to deal with.


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