TALLINN - The controversial Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn has sparked a power grab within the Estonian government, which aims to prevent local councils from controlling the nation's statues. While Prime Minister Andrus Ansip wants the Soviet monument to be removed from the city center, Tallinn's Mayor Juri Ratas believes that for now, the statue should remain where it is.
Under current law, Ansip is powerless to order the statue's removal, as it is controlled by the Tallinn City Council.
However the PM has instructed the Ministry of Justice to draft a change in the law that would hand control of all monuments to the national government.
"Right now, all the monuments and matters connected with them are solely under the jurisdiction of local governments, and the law does not provide any stipulations that specify the involvement of the national government," Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Ivi Papstel said. "The aim of the draft is to provide that possibility to the government, not to transfer full power of such matters to the state."
She said the ministry was still in the process of drafting the law change, and expected it would be ready for Parliament to approve in several months. Ansip told reporters that the aim of the bill was to stop local councils from erecting or removing statues of national significance.
"They want to put up a monument to Peter I in Narva. To me, a person brought up in Tartu, the erection of such a monument is insulting, as Peter I ordered the city razed to the ground and its inhabitants deported," Ansip said, without mentioning the Bronze Soldier at Tonismagi.
However, he has previously said that the statue should be removed.
The monument has been the site of ongoing controversy for several years now.
While Russians believe it is a symbol of the defeat of Nazism, many Estonians 's the prime minister included 's believe it is a symbol of oppressive Soviet occupation.
The monument and the park surrounding it have been cordoned off and under constant police supervision since early May, when Bronze Soldier protesters clashed with Russians at the site. Others vandalized the statue with globs of paint.
Ratas, a member of the Center Party, said he believed the matter should be more widely discussed before a decision was made.
"One must always have the support of the majority before taking any action," Ratas told The Baltic Times. "We have acted accordingly. I have met with representatives of many interest groups, and have received a lot of different opinions."
On Aug. 22, the Council will host a roundtable of interest groups and government bodies to discuss the issue.
Even some members of Ansip's own Reform Party disagree with his stance.
Leader of the Reform Party's Russian caucus, Sergei Ivanov, said the party's Russian-speaking members did not believe the statue should be removed.
He said that, rather than relocate the statue, which purportedly sits atop the grave of a Soviet soldier, steps should be taken to change the monument's meaning for all Estonians.
"With the mechanisms of internal democracy within the Reform Party we are also trying to bring our stance to the governing board of the party," Ivanov told a Russian language newspaper. Meanwhile, another Soviet monument in the regional city of Haapsalu was vandalized over the weekend.
Police said that 12 stones commemorating Red Army soldiers were overturned at a memorial site. An investigation into the matter was underway.