Bronze statue fight escalating in Estonia

  • 2007-01-25
  • By TBT staff
On Wednesday, the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, passed a resolution asking Estonia to halt its plans to remove a Soviet-Era Red Army monument in Tallinn.

"The Federation Council is highly concerned over the adoption of the law on the protection of war graves in Estonia," the Russian news agency Interfax quoted the document as saying.

The law foresees the removal of the WWII era monument and grave of Soviet soldiers to another location. The current location, also the site of a trolleybus stop in a busy part of Tallinn, is considered by the Estonian government as a bad place for the monument to be located. And despite a member of the Constitution Party proposing to move the trolleybus stop, and a local Russian businessman offering to buy the land under the monument from the government, the government is holding firm on the law and their plans to move the monument.

"Defiant plans to rebury the remains of Soviet and anti-Hitler coalition soldiers from mass graves and to dismantle monuments to victims of World War II have been drawn up in spite of public opinion, decisions by municipal authorities, and the will of relatives of those killed," the Federal Council document said.

The Federation Council statement was released on the same day as a rally outside of the Estonian embassy in Moscow, where an estimated 2,000 people gathered to protest Estonia's plans to remove the Bronze statue at Tonismagi in Tallinn.

The leader of the Nashi (Ours) movement, Vasily Yakemenko, told the media present that if the bronze statue of a Soviet soldier in Tallinn is removed, then Nashi activists will start going to Estonia and take turns standing guard on the monument's former site garbed in military uniform.

While the Russian Federation Council claimed that tearing the statue down would create more divisions in society, the Estonian Prime Minister defended the decision and said just the opposite.

"What respect are we talking about if crowds keep treading on the grave, hold rallies, drink vodka or wait for a trolleybus there? This goes against Estonians' idea of the place of eternal rest of the dead," he said.

The prime minister added that the bronze statue of a Soviet soldier at Tonismagi in Tallinn has become a monument which is dividing the nation instead of uniting and consolidating it.

Despite fears that the issue will be used as political capital for extremists in Russian politics and could possibly lead to a situation where economic sanctions are placed on Estonia, Estonia remains cool on that prospect.

"If sanctions are imposed we'll have to accept it, but trade with Russia makes up only a tenth of the Estonian economy which is an insignificant part," Russian news agency Interfax quoted ambassador Marina Kaljurand as saying.

The ambassador at the same time said she hopes that adoption of laws on war graves and banned structures will not worsen Estonia's relationship with Russia.

"I hope the Russian side is ready to hear us out and show understanding for our position," she said adding that Estonia's domestic legal acts are based on international law and not directed against any country.

The bronze statue of a Soviet soldier at Tonismagi in downtown Tallinn whose possible removal has triggered a spate of Russian accusations of support for Nazi Germany has become a symbol of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, she explained.

"Today it is for the majority of the Estonian nation - and I'm speaking not only about ethnic Estonians but about all our fellow citizens - a symbol of the Soviet occupation," Kaljurand said.

The diplomat underlined that Nazism never has been and is not being glorified in Estonia. "It is our duty to do everything possible for Nazism never to rise again," she said.