TALLINN - A carpet of red carnations was laid at the feet of Tallinn's Bronze Soldier monument as thousands of Russian-Estonians commemorated May 9, the anniversary of the end of WWII. Only meters away, a small group of Estonians shouted in protest, demanding that the statue, as a symbol of the Baltic state's Soviet occupation, be removed.
"Estonian people should not forget that this soldier occupied our country and deported our families," said protest leader and Pro Patria Union member Juri Bohm. Police were prepared for violent clashes over the May 9 anniversary, based on their experience in the past. Last year protestors hurled red paint over the Bronze Soldier. This year, police were dispersed in patrols across the city to ensure public safety. In Tonismagi Park, where the main celebration was being held, protestors were howled down by Russian commemorators before they could gather momentum. The scene soon grew chaotic as protestors where pushed out of the crowded park. Bohm agreed to be ushered into a police car and removed for his own safety.
Meanwhile, others tried to resolve the issue peacefully by petitioning, unsuccessfully, outside the Tallinn City Council to have the statue removed. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said the statue had become an issue that bitterly divided the community."The end of the second World War did not mean the end of occupation," Ansip said during a press conference on May 9. "One occupation was replaced by another. [But] the Bronze Soldier has one significant meaning. It signifies somebody's grave. This is the reason it has not been removed."
He added that for some Estonians, the monument also signified an "occupation which lasted for half a century."The Constitutional Party, which issued a statement in support of Russian-speaking Estonians, condemned moves to have the Bronze Soldier removed. "There are numerous monuments in Europe symbolizing the victory over Nazism, erected in honor of those who liberated European nations," a party statement said.
"In Austria, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, France, Hungary and many other countries such memorials are under the protection of the state and nowhere are they regarded as symbols of occupation."At the memorial site, 16-year old Michael Vlassov and his school friends gathered to pay tribute to their relatives who fought and died in the war. The park was thick with commemorators all day, most of them clutching flowers, some swigging spirits and dancing to songs. Those bearing medals were handed flowers and given kisses of thanks. "It's a great day for all nations. Our grandfathers were at war to protect us and ensure our future," Michael said. "The protesters are silly. This is a great memory for all soldiers."