TALLINN - Toomas Hendrik Ilves was forced to make his first major decision as president when he last week vetoed a bill that would have forced the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument. The decision was considered inevitable 's the bill that sought the statue's removal was deemed unconstitutional. Its passage through parliament was read only as a populist play ahead of an increasingly divisive election.
Despite the never-ending drama surrounding the Bronze Soldier, voters are yet to be swayed by the issue, Tartu University political analyst Professor Vello Pettai said.
"I don't see that this issue is hitting voters very much. Politicians perceive that voters are highly concerned, but the average voter would say that it's not the crux issue," Pettai said.
Rather, average voters are more concerned about basic social issues such as pensions, kindergarten places and salaries.
"There seem to be no hard issues in this election. The slogans are so bland and general, the parties are promising everything to everyone," Pettai said.
The Bronze Soldier issue was forced back into the spotlight on Feb. 15 by the opposition party, the Union of Res Publica and Pro Patria (IRL), which pushed a bill through Parliament that sought to ban the public display of structures which glorified occupying forces.
It would have given police the right to order the removal of any structures which fuel hatred or cause violations of public order. Further, monuments which glorify historical personalities responsible for mass killings of Estonians 's namely, Soviet leaders - would also have been banned.
An amendment to the bill specifically ordered that the Bronze Soldier in Tonismagi park be removed within thirty days of the law coming into effect.
The chairman of the parliamentary legal committee, Reformist Vaino Linde, said the public interest in the removal of the statue outweighed the possible constitutional violations inherent in the bill.
The bill was passed with votes from the Reform Party, which was forced to support IRL to save face. Until last week, Reform had been leading the charge to remove the Soviet monument.
"As an opposition party, IRL submits bills all the time, but many aren't expected to pass. But it was not astonishing that this bill passed, because Reform felt it would lose votes if it caved on this issue. Reform was caught in a hard place," Pettai explained.
However, the bill was considered by legal experts to be flawed even before it was passed. According to analysts, it contradicted the Constitution and questioned the separation of powers between legislators and the judiciary. Ilves had little choice but to send it back to Parliament for further amendment.
"These parties were simply grandstanding in front of the election," Pettai said.
Ilves criticized IRL and Reform for ignoring the bill's flaws. He said the parties were aware of its constitutional contradictions, and knew he would be unable to promulgate it.
"Some politicians were impelled by their wish to use the Bronze Soldier to draw attention to themselves rather than coming up with working solutions, Ilves said.
He called on politicians to settle the issue level-headedly.
"War graves are no place for day-to-day politics," he said.