Tallinn erupts in deadly riot, Bronze Soldier removed

  • 2007-04-28
  • Staff and wire reports
The controversial Bronze Soldier monument was removed from downtown Tallinn April 26 after a night of heavy rioting in which one man was killed and over fifty injured.

"On the basis of the recommendation of the crisis commission, the Government of the Republic that held its extraordinary meeting decided at 3:40, in the interests of national security, in accordance with Article 8 Section 2 on the Protection of War Graves Act, to remove the grave sign situated at Kaarli puiestee 13 to the Defense Forces Cemetery," a government spokesman said.

The current location of the monument has not been disclosed.

The violence broke out on the night of April 26 after skirmishes between police and several hundred people, mainly Russian-speaking youths, gathered Thursday afternoon and evening to protest exploratory excavation work at the site of the controversial Bronze Soldier monument.

The victim, identified by the government's crime commission only as Dmitry, born in 1987, was admitted to the Regional Hospital of Northern Estonia with stab wounds and later died during surgery. The crime commission initially reported that he was stabbed by another male who was admitted with injuries at the same time, but later said the killer was not in custody and that the second man's involvement had not been established.

Police say a criminal investigation has been launched.

BNS reports that at least 44 rioters and 13 police sustained injuries during the unrest. At least 300 arrests were made.

Tallinn residents woke up Friday morning to find dozens of shop windows smashed, as well as a heavy police presence.
Most of the vandalism occurred after midnight, after police first using light and sound grenades and later resorting to teargas canisters, dispersed protesters from the Tonismagi area, near the monument.

After being pushed onto side streets, crowds estimated to number around 1,500 's mainly teenagers or those in their early 20s 's began a rampage, smashing shop windows, looting kiosks and overturning bus shelters. The worst hit areas were those in the vicinity of Vabaduse square. Television showed images of a kiosk in front of the Kosmos cinema first being looted and later set alight while bystanders took photos with mobile phones. Tatari street also sustained heavy damage. Reports said that the Woodstock bar on that street was torched, though a nearby resident said no signs of fire were immediately visible Friday morning.

Buildings on Endla street were also heavily effected. There rioters smashed nearly every ground floor window as well as second and third story windows in the first block leading from the site of the monument site.

Tallinn's historic Old Town was not spared. Shop windows on several streets were broken, and a jewelry store on Viru street appears to have been looted.

Damage is estimated to run into the millions of kroons (hundreds of millions of euros). The crisis commission has proposed that government funds be used to cover some of the cost.

City authorities have banned the sale of alcohol in shops after 2 p.m. effeective until May 2. Reports say that many of those who participated in disturbances were drinking, and many of the commercial establishments looted were those that sold alcohol.

The Bronze Soldier monument, erected in the late 1940s as a memorial to Soviet soldiers, has been a source of controversy since the collapse of the USSR. Local veterans groups and many Russian-speakers view the monument as a tribute to those who liberated Europe from fascism, while many Estonians find it an offensive symbol of their nation's decades-long occupation by the Soviet Union.

After tensions erupted over the monument last May, the government announced plans to remove the monument, and the remains that lay buried beneath it, to a war cemetery, a move that has been harshly criticized by Russia.