TALLINN - The Estonian cities of Narva and Tartu are locked in a bitter dispute over plans to erect a statue honoring the Russian emperor Peter the Great. The statue controversy has become the nation's second divisive debate over Russian-themed monuments, with Tallinn's Soviet Bronze Soldier memorial still an unresolved issue.
The Narva City Council last week pushed ahead with its preparations to install the Peter I statue, which would cost an estimated 26,000 euros and stand in the center of the city's renowned fortress park, Pax Bastion. Narva is a northern border city with Russia, and is almost completely native Russian speaking in population.
City Council chairman Mikhail Stalnuhhin said the statue would depict the Romanov emperor as a simple man, free of regalia, and would reach a height of 2.2 meters.
Stalnuhhin said it would be the first of many monuments to "outstanding people" who are linked to Narva, and indicated that another statue was planned to honor Konstantin Pats 's the controversial president who froze Estonia's democracy in the 1930s.
On Aug. 24, the Narva City Council voted in favor of granting Stalnuhhin the power to push ahead with negotiations with Russia's Yuri Dolgoruki Foundation, which may supply half the funds to build the monument.
Narva, the northeast border town that links Russia to Europe, is more Russian than Estonian in its culture, language and history 's and some argue, in its allegiances.
If it was posturing for a fight, Narva has found a sparing partner.
The city of Tartu is angered by the concept of honoring Peter the Great on Estonian soil. It was Peter I who conquered Estonia in the 1700s, destroying Tartu in the process, and subjecting the nation toÂ two centuriesÂ of Russian empirical rule.
Tartu Mayor Laine Janes said Narva should reconsider its plans, and said the whole city council was united in its opposition.
"I do not consider it reasonable to erect a monument to Peter the Great as a hero," Janes told The Baltic Times.
"It is especially cynical that the monument could be erected in a town whose population was severely repressed and deported by Peter the Great. In my opinion, Narva should carefully reconsider its plans before implementing them."
"At present, we should concentrate our total attention and effort to the commemoration of our fight for freedom, and the victory in the War of Liberation in 1920, and with the erection of respective monuments. I sincerely hope that such a monument will be opened by the year 2008."
Even Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has weighed into the debate, calling Narva's plan "offensive."
"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.
However, the PM is currently powerless to interfere with Narva's plan, as city councils retain control over monuments.
As previously reported in The Baltic Times, Ansip has instructed the Ministry of Justice to begin drafting new laws that would allow the government to over-ride city councils if their monuments are deemed offensive.
The draft law is expected to be prepared within months, and will be presented to Parliament for consideration.
If passed, the law would also give Ansip the power to remove the Bronze Soldier, which he considers equally inappropriate.