Parnu, the summer capital of Estonia

  • 2000-07-20
  • Kairi Kurm
PARNU - A summer resort in southeast Estonia at the mouth of the Parnu River is called the "summer capital of Estonia" because of its white sand beach and health spas. The Parnu government is also planning to turn the town into year-round conference site.

"Summer is how Parnu sells itself," said Romek Kosenkranius, Parnu government spokesman. "Although the town is most active during the summer time, health resorts are popular with Finnish and Estonian tourists year around."

With a population of 50,000 people, Parnu is the fifth biggest town in Estonia. In the summer, there are even more people in the town because of the huge number of tourists and Estonians vacationing there.

Finns love it

According to Kosenkranius, more than 300,000 tourists stayed overnight in Parnu last summer. In 1998 their number reached only 220,000 because of bad weather. According to a survey done by the Development Board of Parnu town government, 60 percent of the foreign tourists come from Finland.

There are also many tourists from Sweden, Germany, Latvia and the United States.The number of Russian tourists is very small, although the town was a popular summer resort with the Russian and Jewish intelligentsia during the Soviet period.

But the history of the town as an internationally recognized health resort goes back to the middle of the 19th century when the first bathing establishment was built.

The town itself was first mentioned in 1251 A.D. There were two separate towns on each bank of the river until the year 1920.

In Parnu in 1850, students were taught in their mother tongue for the first time in Estonia in the school opened by Johann Wolde-mar Jannsen.

Transport is the biggest issue

Parnu has had an important role in the economy of the country since the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was a Hansa town on the waterway to Novgorod.

Almost half of all the registered commercial companies in Parnu are active in wholesale and retail business, but the biggest employer in the town is still the state government with its education, health care and social welfare institutions. Almost one quarter of personal income tax comes from health care enterprises and government institutions.

Some of the biggest enterprises in Parnu are furniture and ski producer Viisnurk, metal goods producer Rannila Profiil, fish processing and canned fish producer Maseko, meat processing company Parnu Lihakombinaat and a textile producer, Parnu Marat.

Parnu's biggest export partners are Finland, Sweden and the Ukraine, while the biggest import partners are Finland, Germany and Sweden.

The biggest exports in 1998 were livestock and foodstuffs (28 percent), metal and metal products (23 percent), textile and textile products (17 percent) and timber products (13 percent). Almost 40 percent of the imported goods in 1998 was metal and metal products.

"The biggest concern of the town government today has been to turn the companies in the so-called industrial town of Parnu into an environmentally friendly businesses," said Kosenkranius. "The Parnu River used to be very polluted by the enterprises lying on its coast, but now it is in a much better shape."

The other big objective of the government is to keep trucks out of the town. This task required moving the popular river harbors in the center of the town nearer the sea. Reldor, one of the harbors in the center of the town, is accusing the town government of hindering their business in the name of town planning. The town owns about half of Parnu harbor.

"The town government is solving the conflict by selling its shares in enterprises like the bus company Parnu ATP, the heating company Parnu Soojus and the mud bath establishment Parnu Mudaravila. The town is selling its shares in the harbor in order to show that the decision was not based on its businesses."

Parnu has already sold its shares in road company Parnu Teed. According to Kosenkranius, roads are the second biggest concern of the government of Parnu.

"The town is looking for investments in the social welfare of the town," said Kosenkranius. "An ice hockey association is planning to establish a big sports hall with the help of private investments. We are also planning to build a conference center. Our famous artist Mark Soosaar has come out with the idea of establishing an art museum."

Soosaar, head of the Chaplin Art Center, is one of the organizers of the annual International Documentary and Anthropological Film Festival. He is also organizing the annual international nudes exhibition "Man and Woman" in Parnu.

Other popular entertainment events in Parnu are the Parnu Jazz festival, David Oistrakh classical music festival and the water festival Watergate.

"An investor will come to the town only if he knows his investments are profitable, and the town government is here to help to carry out these investments," said Kosenkranius.

Kosenkranius also confessed that the government is planning to cut the administration costs of the town and make the management of public business more friendly.

"It's just a matter of attitude. Every public official is representing the town government and should thus be able to help citizens instead of shaking them off their shoulders," said Kosenkranius.

Soosaar is very dissatisfied with the administration of the town. "Parnu is in a very big crisis because the adminsitration is not capable of administrating the town. The general planning foresees leaving the express train out of town and letting the Via Baltica move through. To my mind, the general planning of the town is out of order," Soosaar said.

He also said it is ridiculous to dismiss environment protection specialists and conservationists in a town which has several 400-year- old buildings and many parks.

"Decreasing the number of public officials on account of these people means that they are in someone's way."

Soosaar said the town has enough places for conferences and needs a big hall for congresses and concerts instead.

"Our hotels and restaurants are capable of hosting and feeding 1,500 people at once. In order to keep them busy all year around, we need to establish a big congress hall."

But Soosaar said he loves his hometown.

"It has a naturally advantageous position, an interesting history and an even more interesting future," he said.