DAY 49, BUS 2: Käina, Hiiumaa

12 June 2018

Our destination today was the town of Käina on the island of Hiiumaa, the second largest island in Estonia. It has between 8 to 9 thousand inhabitants and for the short summer season the numbers can triple. After a warm welcome and lunch, we were entertained by a concert performed by the local school children and words of welcome of the Mayor.

After that there was a ‘citizens discussion’ where issues raised included: the imbalance between the work available, the way it is arranged and care responsibilities. Many of the young people to have work, must leave the island and indeed Estonia and are not available to directly help with care of their elderly. For those who stay, the long hours and the increasing pension age also makes their care responsibilities very difficult to manage. While there are some care supports available for elderly and people with disabilities through the social services, and while there was some improvement in these services, they were still far from adequate. Low pensions was again raised and the feeling was that you must work till you are ready for the coffin. Decreasing population, the island loose about 1000 inhabitants every five years, was also highlighted. It was also highlighted that high-level university education was no guarantee for a job in Estonia.

The minimum income, when available, is 140 Euro a month and case by case additional supports can be available. Plastic factories on the island are a source of relatively stable and good employment. Tourism, but the season is very short, was also seen to benefit the local community. Good humour, and there was plenty in evidence, was considered an important survival strategy on the island.

People were very happy that we choose to come with the bus to their island. They were very interested to know about experiences in other countries. They were proud to sign the bus and the petition. On the journey back to the harbour one of our hosts took the time to give us more information and to tell us many more stories about the island.

Leaving the island, it was clear that investment in, rural and more balanced spatial development, must get more attention in our National and EU agendas. That the ‘work first’ approach that we are so addicted to in Europe, creates crazy unintended consequences and that instead we need to think and invest in more wholistic societal development terms. Adequate, accessible and enabling minimum schemes can be an important part of the investment needed to revitalise communities. One of my colleagues expressed the idea that new ways of working and the use of new technologies could be a great source to combine the need for economic activity and the benefits of living on such a beautiful island. We were also reminded that Estonia is a rich country and has the means to solve its problems if more attention was given to social development. We were glad we could bring ‘Europe’ to the island for atleast a day and left feeling fortunate we had the opportunity to see this island and to meet some of it’s people.