Development of Estonia’s Administrative-territorial Division and Organisation since 1990s (Part I)

The situation concerning borders of local governments was complex in Estonia during the re-establishment of local governments in the early 1990s. Although the wish to change the borders of administrative units existed in many places, the proposals, in principle, differed much. In some places, people had a mind to re-establish their rural municipality within the official borders of the 1920s while somewhere else within the borders established with the 1939 municipal reform. The latter option was still dominant. Occasionally it was even proposed to establish a rural municipality within the borders of a former successful collective farm or state farm since, during the Soviet era, the borders of village soviets had been increasingly adapted to the borders of collective and state farms which maintained the local social infrastructure. With hindsight it was a good thing that the issue of borders was not addressed in more detail in the early 1990s, considering especially the confrontations the reform caused 10-15 years later. The border issue would certainly have turned attention away from much more significant issues concerning local self-government.

Still, the above administrative reform expert committee often had to address the border issue. The general opinion of the committee was that before any boundary markers could be relocated, local self-government has to be actually re-established in the whole country and any disputes over borders can then be solved by equal legal subjects – self-governing administrative units. However, steps were taken to abolish the giant agglomeration of Kohtla-Järve that together with Narva and Sillamäe supported the provocative idea of the autonomous oblast (Russ. province) of North-Eastern Estonia violating the integrity of Estonia as a unitary state. In 1990, Kohtla-Nõmme was granted the town rights in Ida-Viru County. In 1991, the city rights of Jõhvi were restored and it was once again the centre of the county. In October 1991, Ahtme was granted the city rights, and Sompa, Oru and Kukruse were granted the town rights but the decision was repealed already in 1993. That year, the Riigikogu adopted a law on changing the administrative composition of the territory of Kohtla-Järve revoking the rights of the town of Viivikonna as an independent administrative unit and merging its territory with the city of Kohtla-Järve.

Significant changes in the administrative-territorial organisation of Estonia took place in 1993. The Riigikogu took a decision on 11 March 1993 “On separation of rural municipalities of Kernu, Saksi, Kaiu and Kiili from rural municipalities of Nissi, Kadrina, Juuru and Saku, and on re-establishment of rural municipality of Torgu” establishing five new rural municipalities. Since the 1992 Constitution did not provide towns then the Riigikogu granted the towns of Abja-Paluoja, Karksi-Nuia, Narva-Jõesuu, Põlva, Räpina and Võhma the city rights, and the city of Narva-Jõesuu, formerly a town under the jurisdiction of the city of Narva, became a city in the composition of Ida-Viru County. The same decision gave the Government the right to take decisions on granting other towns the city or rural municipality rights pursuant to the application of the local council of each local government in question. The Government decided on 25 August 1993, pursuant to the proposal of the interested local councils, to grant the towns of Kehra, Lihula, Loksa, Püssi and Saue the city rights but grant the towns of Aegviidu, Järvakandi, Kohila, Kohtla-Nõmme, Lavassaare, Märjamaa, Pärnu-Jaagupi, Tamsalu (in 1996 applied for and was granted the city rights), Tootsi, Võsu and Vändra the rural municipality rights. The towns receiving the rural municipality rights could use the words “town”, “town council” and “town government” in their administrative activities and on their symbols because of a curious situation where there existed two rural municipalities of Kohila, Märjamaa and Vändra.

On 9 March 1994, the Riigikogu adopted the Organisation of Paldiski Local Self-government Act dividing the territory of the islands of Suur-Pakri and Väike-Pakri, and the Pakri peninsula between the rural municipalities of Padise and Keila, and the city of Keila within the boundaries determined by the Government considering economic expediency, historical administrative-territorial organisation and hearing the opinions of the local councils involved. In accordance with the same Act, the territory of the city of Paldiski was merged with the city of Keila in the capacity of a city district. After the local election on 20 October 1996, the city of Paldiski regained its status as an independent city.

On 22 February 1995, the Riigikogu adopted the Territory of Estonia Administrative Division Act Article 5 of which finally provided again that Tallinn was the capital city of Estonia (it had been provided previously in the constitution of the Estonian SSR). Various proposals concerning the capital city were made in the interim. The most curious among them was undoubtedly the draft law submitted to the Riigikogu on 17 January 1994 providing that the island of “Ruhnu be the capital of the Republic of Estonia …”.

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