Online memorial project faces criticism

  • 2002-03-07
  • TBT staff
TALLINN - The latest step in Estonia's desire to create a digital society has caused controversy, with many asking if the country's online revolution has gone too far.

Both Estonia's first online memorial Web site Puha Rahupaik ("sacred place of rest" in English), opened this week, and its creator Toivo Jarv have become the subject of heated debate.

Jarv gave the site a boost by making the first entries in the online cemetery his own deceased relatives. The next entries were a number of late Estonian celebrities.

However, the widows of Estonian composer Raimo Kangro and Juhan Viiding, a poet, demanded that the photographs of their husbands be taken off the Web site immediately, saying it was dishonest to put the pictures on the Internet without their permission.

Jarv obeyed. But he insists Puha Rahupaik is not strictly an Internet cemetery, but simply a place people can visit to remember public figures they feel a connection with, as well as late relatives and close friends.

"Would it look offensive if I laid flowers on the grave of a celebrity, even though that person never knew me? And if I put flower images on the Web to honor that person, would I become a criminal?" asked Jarv.

"It's sad how people's memories vanish after a single generation passes away," reads the introduction to the Puha Rahupaik Web site, at "So let this be the place to remember those who have left us forever."

He hoped that the site would become a place to bring together family memories. "Many young people nowadays don't know a thing about their great grandparents, especially if they are buried abroad," said Jarv.

The world's first online cemetery, which can be found at, charges a maximum $15 to open a memorial with photos and text data. Rahupaik initially offered to place one entry with up to three photos, one picture of flowers and a short text for between $40 to $100, depending on the placement of the memorial.

It added that the first 50 entries were free. But since March 2 it has been announced that all entries will be free of charge. It was never meant to be a business, Jarv said.

At the time of going to press, the Web site had 15 entries.

But the new Web site has proven popular in some quarters. Pille Runnel, a media and communication specialist from Tartu University, wrote in Eesti Paevaleht that this particular strain of Internet browsing is a natural mix of age-old burial traditions and pop culture.

"An online cemetery is somewhat more personal, bringing last rites to the desktop. A person can visit an online memorial any time," wrote Runnel.

But one problem facing users of Puha Rahupaik is that it offers only a five-year service. After that time period, they may suddenly find that they will no longer be able to virtually mourn their loved ones.