Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 103

Thousands of mostly Russian trade union members demonstrated on May 25 in the city of Narva in northeastern Estonia–an area heavily settled by Russians from the interior of the Soviet Union during the occupation period. Billed as the largest demonstration held anywhere in Estonia since the restoration of independence, the participants protested against government plans to restructure industrial and energy plants in that region and to lay off redundant manpower. Relicts of Soviet industry, the plants earmarked for those measures, are unprofitable and overmanned, consume state budget resources and require severe restructuring to open the way for private investment. The local trade unions, however, resist the measures, citing the region’s already high unemployment rate of 15 to 20 percent–a record among Estonia’s regions.

The protest action in Narva dovetailed with the Center Party’s continuing filibuster against the adoption of an austerity budget in the national parliament in Tallinn. The Center Party of former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar calculates that its populist economic proposals would help make inroads into the country’s Russian electorate. The demonstration in Narva proceeded peacefully and the trade union leaders behaved responsibly. Those leaders, however, described the social situation in that region as “on the brink of social conflict.” That brink might be crossed if the region’s distinct mix of social and ethnic problems is stirred up (Postimees, May 25; BNS, May 26).