TALLINN - A regional court in western Estonia has ruled in favor of returning a controversial World War II monument removed from Lihula to its owners. The memorial, which depicted an Estonian freedom fighter in a German SS uniform, was disassembled a year ago after raising considerable consternation both at home and abroad.
The Laane Country Court has since tracked down the monument's owner, the daily Postimees reported.
After several weeks of examining evidence, judge Aita Rajavere ruled that the memorial stone must be returned to veteran Ants Teder.
The engraved plaque, however, will be handed over to the Lihula local government.
Since its removal on Sept. 2, 2004, police have kept the monument in an undisclosed location.
Although the government initially ruled that the memorial was state property, since it was erected on state land, the court recently discovered that, by law, the monument belongs to those individuals who paid for it.
Since both the Lihula local government and Teder were able to produce a purchase and sales agreement, the court ruled that the monuments' two parts - the stone and the plaque - must be returned to each.
Prosecutor Indrek Kalda said he wasn't planning to file an appeal.
Upon orders from former Prime Minister Juhan Parts, police forcibly removed the freedom fighter monument - just two weeks after being erected - while over 300 locals gathered in opposition, many throwing stones at the demolition crew. Although the project's crane operator was injured and several police vehicles were damaged, officials managed to fight off the crowd and finally carry away the monument.
"The Estonian government does not consider it appropriate to build monuments that may be interpreted as an attempt to commemorate totalitarian regimes that had once occupied Estonia," the government's official statement read.
The state has since been discussing plans to re-erect a more appropriate monument that honors the nation's freedom fighters. No such memorial, however, has yet been agreed upon.