Ivangorod, Narva strengthen old ties, though crevice remains

  • 2004-05-27
  • By Sergei Stepanov
NARVA - Five years ago, during the funk that followed Russia's catastrophic financial crisis, things in bankrupt Ivangorod got to be so awful that a group of residents sent a petition to Moscow asking for permission to secede from the Russian Federation and annex to Estonia.

Town residents went months without receiving salaries and pensions, while on the other side of the border, in civilized Narva, life more or less continued as usual. More than ever before, that crisis made clear where the border between civilizations lie.
Nowadays Ivangorod residents are probably glad the Kremlin didn't grant their wish, but a single trip across the Narva River, which divides the two cities, can serve as a bitter reminder of the huge gap in living standards. And with Estonia now a EU member, Ivangorod is keen to take maximum advantage of proximity to the union's eastern border.
Thanks to Danish finance, the town's main problems - water supply and sewage treatment - have been solved. The EU's TACIS program helped start reconstruction on the city's railway station, bus station and the main highway.
"If there is an opportunity to change the infrastructure of the city with help from the West, one must use it," said Ivangorod Mayor Nikolai Kolomeitsev.
Two industrial projects set to begin this year will provide 200 new jobs, while the construction of the new port in Sillamae could, according to Kolomeicev, utilize some of Ivangorod's abandoned industrial areas as customs warehouses.
To be sure, Ivangorod's ambitions go beyond infrastructure. The city is participating in a joint project with Narva-Joesuu, an Estonian resort town near the mouth of the Narva River, to develop sea tourism, an idea that was rejected by the town of Narva.
Nearly two-thirds of Ivangorod's budget revenues come from a local distillery, and this year the town hopes to receive about 40 percent more in taxes from that one company after it launches a pharmaceutical production line based on spirits.
The turnaround has been tangible. If several years ago Ivangorod was last among the 29 towns located in Leningrad Oblast in terms of budget revenue per capita, then today it is among the top 10.

Until 1991, Narva and Ivangorod lived one life despite being located in different Soviet republics. Many residents of Ivangorod worked in Narva, and vice versa. The local economy was so intertwined that some enterprises provided their staff with apartments on the other side of the river - a phenomenon that would later lead to the separation of many families.
Economic ties between the two cities were cut when the international border appeared along the Narva River. Since then, bilateral relations have been based more on cultural cooperation. EU-sponsored programs for international regional cooperation never had much affect, and in 1998 the water and sewage systems - the last thread connecting the two towns - was severed. Narva, which has a population of 73,000, was forced to disconnect Ivangorod from its network due to the huge debt from the Russian side. (Eventually, however, Narva was able to receive the debt through local courts.)
Today about 11,600 people live in Ivangorod (Jaanilinn in Estonian), about one-third of whom are pensioners. The town has two secondary schools along with an art school, a sports school and a music school.
About 400 companies are registered in Ivangorod, and almost half of them are in the trade business. Industry, however, continues to languish, as the local branch of the St. Petersburg-based Poligrafmash, a stationery producer, was recently closed, and the city's boiler equipment factory is undergoing insolvency procedures.
However, other industrial sectors are slowly developing. For example, the Narva water power plant on the Russian side has become an auxiliary electricity supplier for St. Petersburg. There is a fish breeding farm that grows salmon to supplement the Narva River's fish stock, and one company is specializing on medicine production and fish feed.
The linen factory is back to work, and a distillery is one among a number of new enterprises.
The Ivangorod administration does not expect a miracle in their relations with Narva. Both before and after Estonia's EU accession, the neighbors' meetings are limited to scientific reports, the signing of declarations and pleasant conversations over coffee. An aura of pessimism dominated meetings between bureaucrats.
The Narva administration wants to cooperate with Ivangorod on a number of projects, from a new bridge to help regulate the flow of transit and traffic to an aquapark right on the border.
But Ivangorod Deputy Mayor Aleksei Shanin said there were no plans for the construction of a new road and railway bridge at the border, despite Estonian claims that they are necessary for boosting and improving transit.
"We will live like we used to. We did not get substantial economic benefits from being Narva neighbors and neither we will in the near future after Estonia's joining the EU. Long-term forecasts are difficult to make," said Shanin.
Indeed, the Narva/Ivangorod relationship is one built primarily on the connections between their residents. Narvans like to shop in Ivangorod thanks to the lower prices, a fact that has forced Ivangorod's competitive shop owners to establish the corresponding level of service for their Estonian neighbors.