esmaspäev, detsember 08, 2008

what's the matter with kohtla-järve?

The other day I asked a typically boisterous friend about her hometown. Noh, kus sa oled pärit?

"You mean, like, where I was born?" she answered. I replied in the affirmative. Then she grimaced, and blurted out ... "Kohtla-Järve."

The funny thing, is that I have seen that look of "please don't kill me because I am from Kohtla-Järve" before. Last summer, another friend similarly confessed her origins, with the same startled hesitancy.

I have driven through Kohtla-Järve. In the Estonian psyche, or as much of it has rubbed off on me about how eestlased view the place, Kohtla-Järve is one of these Soviet labyrinths of apartment blocks, poverty, and Russophones, where if you ask for milk in the store in Estonian, you might get carbonated water or eggs. Since there are no water parks or medieval buildings, it is undeserving of a visit, and so nobody goes. But when I drove through, it looked pretty normal. Why, they even had their own Selver.

Intrigued, I pulled our friend aside and asked her why she made "that look" about her hometown. She at first denied having made a look, but launched into a long tale of a small village called Järve that had blossomed into a Soviet factory town home to "Homo Sovieticus" -- Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Kazaks, Koreans, and every other nationality under the sun of Stalin that had been uprooted and replanted on conquered Estonian soil.

With little connection to the actual place where Kohtla-Järve was located, the logic went, its first and second-generation residents cared little for its upkeep, and "the city" -- actually a grouping of several, geographically distinct islands of settlements, went downhill after 1991, hit hard by the collapse of the Soviet state-planned economy.

The population censuses from the second half of the 20th century tell the story of Kohtla-Järve's rise and fall. In 1934, there was no city of Kohtla-Järve. In 1959, the city claimed 40,000 residents. By 1979, KJ was home to 87,000, and in 1989, 92,000. Today, 20 years later, around 44,000 people live in Kohtla-Järve, one fifth of whom are older than 60. How low will Kohtla-Järve go? I don't know, but I expect Pärnu to to replace Kohtla-Järve as the fourth largest city in Estonia -- after Tallinn, Tartu, and Narva -- within a few years.

According to our knowledgeable and very young friend, who -- surprise, surprise -- has no intention of returning to her hometown, KJ is dominated by an aging class of Keskerakond politicians and little old ladies who adore Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar and represent reliable votes in parliamentary elections [indeed, KESK won 55 percent of the votes in Ida Virumaa, compared to rivals Reform, who garnered only 15 percent support in the March 07 parliamentary elections].

That may represent her political interpretation of Kohtla-Järve's political life, but it does not seem like a sustainable dynamic for the future. Eventually, Kohtla-Järve's geriatric voting class and the politicians they favor will pass from this Earth. And then what? Sadly, neither of our Kohtla-Järve-bred friends will be there. Nor will KJ native and former Estonian Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland. Like so many Kohtlakad [or whatever you call residents of that city], they have simply moved on.

30 kommentaari:

Andres ütles ...

Kohtla-Järve has no history, that is the issue. It just rose from almost zero and isn't exactly an architectural treat like Sillamäe. It was put up to feed the industry, but modern times came, Russia wasn't a big partner anymore and techniques became more efficient (less man-power hungry).

Another example of that kind of a history is a place called Aseri in Ida-Virumaa, just off the Tallinn-Narva highway. Once a place of over 4000 people who were needed to keep a huge brick factory operating has now shrunk to 2000 people of mostly Russian descent or pensioners. The ghost towns of Soviet industrialism...

Jim Hass ütles ...

Perhaps KJ will become an artist colony when cheap rent attracts young folks without strings to other communities.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

There is one family I've got to know from Kohtla-Järve. Their car has still the estonian sign. They are a father and mother and two boys. Their family name is German. They speak Russian as mother tongue. They settled in Germany during the late 90s. The boys became Germans and are very estonian in behavior, quiet, not talkative. They are all very disciplined sportsmen and need no motivation from outsiders. One son is serving in the german army now. He is one of the best training partners to think about. People from Kohtla-Järve.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

here is a photo of him and the related post

Doris ütles ...

It's strange how before - read: in the Soviet times - J6hvi had become a bit of a "poor younger brother" to Kohtla-J2rve but now J6hvi is growing and being deliberately developed to become an alternative centre for Ida-Virumaa. The reversal of fortunes is almost palpable in the air but as far as I can tell, J6hvi's ethnic composition is about the same as Kohtla-J2rve's: predominantly russophone. Not that it matters that much: in J6hvi, almost everyone is bilingual.

Inner monologue ütles ...

No history determines bad outcome? OK. Take Reston, Virginia then. No history whatsover, but the place is spic and span.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Jim, well said. And with the economy like this, the entire coutnry has no choice but to become one happy artist colony. It already kinda is too.

nipi ütles ...

Image of Kohtla-Järve is 'kohtlane'.
Joking, but yes. Jõhvi developed mostly due to the county administrative center status. Actually could be more logical Narva for this, but Narva is at the border. It could not be an issue as example, Valga is also on the border.

In NY state ütles ...

Well, the description of Kohtla Ja:rve is what my parents have been saying about the US my entire life.

It's a rootless place with everyone ready to pick up and move to another neighborhood/state at the first hint of a better paycheck. Consequently, five years later everything has changed and nobody ever remembers nothing.

Kristopher ütles ...

Looking at the Google map, all I can say is wow, that's a lot of railroad track for one town. Maybe it can be the first Estonian city to go car-free or they can give tourists rides on the train.

There must be nice parts to K-J. There is a Kohtla-Nõmme, I wonder if it is anything like Nõmme.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Inner monologue ütles...
No history determines bad outcome? OK. Take Reston, Virginia then. No history whatsover, but the place is spic and span.

Below is a link to Reston Virginia...I am not seeing the similarities

http://www.northva.com/reston/townctr.htm

Andres ütles ...

No history determines bad outcome? OK. Take Reston, Virginia then. No history whatsover, but the place is spic and span.

It doesn't determine bad outcome, but it's certainly harder to get people to care about the place, I imagine. And if people don't care then they just leave as soon as they can when shit hits the fan, leaving the elderly and immigrant populations to witness the demise of the town.

Andres ütles ...

It also probably depends on the where the planned urban area is situated and who you populate it with. Low-skilled Russian miners probably didn't have everything it takes to run a fine town at Kohtla-Järve. But Mustamäe turned out pretty okay in my opinion.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Martasmimi - no similarities?!

My point exactly. Want similarities?

Bring in the Russians.

You get your similarities no time.

Muah-ah-ah.

Inner monologue ütles ...

.. But Mustamäe turned out pretty okay in my opinion...

This is called 'lowered expectations.'

Andres ütles ...

I'm not exactly getting your point. Lowered compared to what?

Giustino ütles ...

I am not a fan of planned communities. What is the benefit of living in Reston? You are only 10 minutes from two golf courses!

Both the planned Soviet developments and the US planned cities of the 1950s and 60s have a "Jetsons" feel to them. But that time has come and past.

Kristopher ütles ...

Reston is pretentious. But it does have trails. I used to ride the W&OD every weekend back when Fairfax was still kind of rural.

A good example of a planned community is Columbia, Maryland, on the other side of DC. Routinely places in the top ten places to live in the country.

I also think planned communities get a bad rap because a lot of them were built in the 1960s and architecture was terrible then.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Point being - Mustamae is not pretty. It's just "OK" or "normalno" like Russians like to say.

Nobody really expects it to be "wow-pretty", right? So, that means, people keep their expectations low. That's all.

Andres ütles ...

Well, it's not an architectural treat but as far as the planning goes, it's pretty nice in my opinion. Just change all the houses but keep the planning. A reasonable amount of green areas, nice metropolitan arterial roads like Sõpruse pst, Mustamäe tee and Tammsaare tee, an environmentally friendly trolleybus network. I think the planners did quite well, and not by the lowest standards. It wasn't their fault that all apartment blocks had to look boring and grey in Soviet times.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Inner monologue ütles...
Martasmimi - no similarities?!

My point exactly. Want similarities?

Bring in the Russians.
I see you point...

I live 50 miles east of New York.
We have a store called Marshalls here.. a favorite of mine and other Petrone family members (Epp). It seems lately that every time I go there I hear people speaking Russian. The other day there must have been 3 different families.
We live in a very diverse area with a major university but there seems to be a growing Russian population...Perhaps they are from other countries like Ukraine or Georgia.
I will make sure that they don't build anything....

Inner monologue ütles ...

martasmimi

2-3 families ...

What you need is to be overwhelmed, say, in Merikan context, that would be, uh, s let's say 10, 20 million lower class russians in metro NY area alone. Then you get the taste and understanding Estonia. You'd become a "nationalist." Or even, as russians say, "fascist", because you'd be bemoaning the loss of order.

Martasmimi ütles ...

We have a bit under 9 million people in New York City and around 19 million in the metro area...

...20 million Russians is a lot of Russians ..no matter what class they are.

People here have their issues with the rising hispanic population.
It seems that our well educated middle class has two or three (or less)children and other groups have many children. Now we are being overpopulated by large low income families.
This is a world wide problem. I encountered several people who felt the same thing was happening in Italy when I was there two years ago.
I guess this a bit off topic.

Giustino ütles ...

Elame Mustamäel, korter on aus ja hea ...

Mann ütles ...

What a discussion! =D (Epp told me that I should look it up)

Jup, Kohtla-Järve was built in a place where a town wasn't supposed to be growing. It's off the major highways, in the middle of nowhere, built to serve an industry that almost fell apart in 90's. It is artificial, it's kept going artificially.

50+ years ago its citizens were brought together from all over the soviet union. Out of my 4 grandparents only 1 is ethnic Estonian, others are from Ukraine and Siberia. They don't have a strong sense of belonging (like people that are born here might feel). And on top of it all, it is not planned to be a community.

I am not saying that none of the people living in Kohtla-Järve feel like they belong in Kohtla-Järve, just like I am not saying that all ethnic Estonians feel like they belong in Estonia, but I am do saying that if you put thousands of people with no roots together, it sure means something. They don't feel responsible for the well-being of the town, they don't feel like they need to guard it from somebody. Anybody.

Many of them are there because they don't have anywhere else to go or they're just used to it, used to being there.

And I'm one of them.

No, I don't plan on going back, but I do vote every time there is an election going on, hoping that one day, ONE DAY!, the power of Keskerakond is over, at least in that town. It does no good to it.

The population is getting smaller day by day. The number of students in the school is getting smaller day by day. In some bizarre way, it's becoming... alienated, if you know what I mean.

But the good thing, though, is that there still are people that care. I know, I visit them frequently. There are teachers that put their souls into bringing us up and they still do, although they tell quite frequently that it's getting more and more difficult. It is difficult to work hard on something if you don't feel like there's a team behind your back. Many of them already work part-time somewhere else or have at least thought about leaving.

Okay, I'm going into this long philosophical mumble again... Better stop now =)

kriips ütles ...

I'm from Lüganuse, quite near to Kohtla Järve... and currently living in tiny town of Star NC, USA which has had a history in some ways similar to Kohtla Järve... not long ago it was a booming town with a big Textile mill. But as all the manufacturing has moved out from USA to China and elsewhere, the Mill closed, people lost jobs... and left.
What do you do, when you have children to feed, but the infrastructure is not sustainable? How do you stay in a place that - even if you feel like you belong - does not support your basic needs for affording shelter and food? There are those who stay from a sense of deep belonging... those, who have managed to get to a point where they can sustain themselves and maybe reinvent themselves. and those who are too poor to even find other alternatives.
Plopping down factories in the "middle of nowhere"
creates quick profits and "unintentional" communities with no sense of history. (now, I don't believe in intentional communities either unless they take time to develop and layer over time in places like Kohtla Järve or Star.)

I guess I just want to say that the people of the place have only so much power and vision to rise from the ashes. Somehow I got the feeling reading these comments that kohtlakad are to blame for the town going down... I think Kohtlakad are feeling lost and tired and are just trying to survive. They need vision and funding...
I'm working for a nonprofit called Central Park NC the goal of which is to revitalize the small mill towns in the central NC area. I can't tell you enough how difficult it is to reinvent a new economy for a town that was devastated, has lost hope and doesn't trust the people who come in from outside with new ideas. But they are coming around...
I know, I'm rambling....

just to throw some information out there here are some links to check out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star,_North_Carolina
http://www.storyofstuff.com/
http://www.starworksnc.org/blog/main.html

Andres ütles ...

Woow, and we laugh at our "towns", but that's a town of 800 people. Even Estonia's smallest town Mõisaküla has over 1000 people. < /completely irrelevant facts>

Reeli ütles ...

Both of my parents are from near Kohtla-Järve, small villages called Kohtla-Nõmme and Aa and I spent most of my childhood there, visiting my aunt in Kohtla-Nõmme or my grandmother in Aa and my uncle's family in Kohtla-Järve (all Estonians, but with excellent Russian skills of course).

I didn't pick up any Russian from my childhood, but I am somehow nostalgic about Kohtla-Järve and the surrounding area in a peculiar way. I still go there and Kohtla-Nõmme quite often and feel like this is the one haven for me in Estonia, where true peace can be found. Just fe kilometres out of KJ, the nature is so wild, the ash mountains so unique, the Aa beach away from the crowds so unspoiled and rocky...I enjoy spending my vacation there more than for example, the ever-crowded beach of Pärnu.

I also drag my friends there, take them to all the sightseeings in the area like Valaste and Ontika and Toila and we usually stay at the Saka Cliff hotel, but I also take them to KJ, so would they see what it's all about. This summer, we had the most fun eating in a small cafe next to the old "Pobeda kino"...

I feel the kind of freedom there that I have not experienced elsewhere. Perhaps it comes from the fast that the "babushka" at the local R-Kiosk barely understands me or that the Russian youngsters are fun to observe or that everything is still so "Soviet" that it's ridiculous.

It depresses me as well, of course, but mostly when I read the news about KJ and Keskerakond and... When I'm there myself I only feel this kind of magnetic attraction, maybe understandable only to someone who has also spend a great deal of their childhood there, but never actutally felt the gloomy (?) perspective of living there.

And yes, my uncles and aunts still live there. Grandmother decided 10 years ago that she has had enough and left her small house near the beach and moved to an apartment in Paide...I still feel sad about this as well. So this was my point of view. KJ will always have a special place in my heart.

PS: Kohtla-Nõmme, only 7 kilometres from KJ is now famous for the "Kaevanduspark-muuseum", but it' s also a small green village with a big park and mostly Estonian population, quite different from KJ, I would dare to say.

ontark ütles ...

I don't know if you know this, but up until 1991, Jõhvi, Kiviõli and Püssi were part of Kohtla-Järve. I can only quess that your statistics of 92,000 residents counts these towns aswell, that aren't included today.

The real problem with Kohtla-Järve is, that it is not really a single town/city, but a group of settlements. It comprises of 7 districts about 30 km away from eachother. That makes the population of the biggest ones (Ahtme and Järve) only 20,000. An industrial town full of Russians and pensioners, with no future plans will just fall. It is even off the Tallinn-Narva road, noone will pass by. For an average Tallinner, KJ is what they think of when someone says Ida-Virumaa, it is a place where everyone wants to stay away from.

Giustino ütles ...

I don't know if you know this, but up until 1991, Jõhvi, Kiviõli and Püssi were part of Kohtla-Järve. I can only quess that your statistics of 92,000 residents counts these towns aswell, that aren't included today.

I was aware of it but didn't want to bore you with details. Either way, the city has lost a large number of people (compared to Tartu, which has grown during the same period.)