TALLINN - The cornerstone of Tallinn's Victory Monument was laid in place Saturday, marking the beginning of construction and the end of an ongoing debate over the cost and design of the memorial.
The ceremony was attended by Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, Parliament Speaker Ene Ergma, Mayor Edgar Savisaar of Tallinn, and the leaders of various political parties, all of whom contributed party emblems into a time capsule that was then embedded in the cornerstone.
The event shifts the 99.3 million kroon (6.3 million euro) monument out of its conceptual phase and removes any room for further debate.
"There is no reason for us to deliberate if it was the artists, the engineers or the government who got the upper hand. I'm glad that we're laying the cornerstone for the monument to the victory in the War of Independence, the monument that symbolizes the most important victory in Estonia's history," Ergma said.
Aaviksoo, who has played an active role in the realization of the Victory Monument, expressed similar sentiments of unity.
"The cornerstone's been laid now. Let us gather again at Harjumagi Hill to inaugurate the monument, to redeem our debt of honor and come to the end of the path that has drawn out to a period of 87 years," the minister said.
The monument, an initiative of the Defense Ministry, had sparked controversy over both its design and its cost.
The Estonian public has been divided over the monument's aesthetic integrity, with both heated criticism and impassioned praise flooding local media over the last year.
Further still, many questioned the government's decision to splurge on the testament to Estonia's War of Independence, especially with the economy in recession.
The monument's final price tag, which was announced on Sept. 11, fell within the 100 million kroon (6.4 million euro) target set by Aaviksoo. Yet the monument's large budget had provoked heavy criticism, previously resulting in calls for the project to be scrapped or shelved.
In response, Aaviksoo defended the monument's cost by appealing to the public's patriotism.
"A heavy price has been paid for freedom. The memory of all those who paid that price must find a place in the Victory Monument. Costs for the Victory Monument must be treated separately from everything else," he said.
Further criticism has been anchored on the claim that the defense ministry should be more concerned with spending to bolster national defense in light of the recent Russia-Georgia conflict.
Of the 99.3 million kroons spent, about half originates from the defense ministry's annual budget, while the remainder comes from the government's contingency reserve of 140 million kroons.
However, Aaviksoo insists that his ministry's contribution will be paid back into its budget next year, and thus the monument won't come at the expense of defense spending.
The monument is due to be inaugurated on Nov. 28, the 90th anniversary of the start of the War of Independence.