LIHULA 's Prime Minister Juhan Parts visited Lihula on Tuesday in an attempt to shore up disgruntled rural support after his government had ordered the removal of a WWII monument depicting an Estonian freedom fighter dressed in a German soldier's uniform.
Parts said the order to dismantle the monument in September had been one of the most complex decisions his government had to make since coming to power in March 2003.
Speaking before an audience made up mostly of schoolchildren at the Lihula High School, Parts offered his apologies for the negative emotions that the dismantling of the monument had caused. At the same time he said the monument's removal helped to secure Estonia's independence, as the bronze bas-relief had put the Baltic country in a negative international spotlight.
"Estonia does not live in a vacuum," he said.
The prime minister stressed that Nazism was a crime against humanity and that symbols used by the Nazis were not characteristic of Estonia's cultural traditions and history. "Nor would they be adopted as their own by those who lost their lives fighting for Estonia's independence," Parts said.
The head of government said the fight for Estonia's independence has to be kept apart from Nazism.
The audience in the hall of the Lihula school mostly consisted of pupils and teachers, with a limited number of residents showing up.
There were no incidents during the visit to the rural municipality in the northwestern part of the country. According to several reports, there were, however, police reinforcements on standby not far from Lihula during the prime minister's trip.
The unveiling of the privately funded monument in a local cemetery on Aug. 20 this year as well as its dismantling less than a fortnight later echoed widely both at home and abroad.