TALLINN - The Soviet monument in the Vanapark park of the southwestern Estonian resort town of Parnu has been removed and the square dug up, while both the flowers and the paving stones are also gone, the regional Parnu Postimees writes.
The monument is in a safe place waiting for the time when its new location is ready. The remains that were buried in Vanapark will also be reburied in the same place.
According to the director of the War Museum, Hellar Lill, a few dozen coffins' worth of remains had been unearthed by the afternoon, while altogether 66 people are said to have been buried there. It is not certain whether there was a deceased person in each coffin.
"Our previous excavations have shown that the official data from the Soviet era generally do not match reality," Lill said, adding that when excavating the Otepaa war grave, for example, no remains were actually found at all and the layers of soil showed that it had never been disturbed before.
The remains found in Pärnu will later be reburied at Uulu cemetery, where a grave marker will also be installed. The memorial and remains will be kept in a safe place before the reburial. The reburial likely will not take place this week, while it may take more than a day to even exhume the remains.
The saga surrounding the Soviet monument in Vanapark and the possible war grave has been going on for a long time. There are no official records of burial there. It is said that in 1945, the remains of 66 people who died in various places throughout Parnu County over the course of the whole war and even before that were brought to Parnu and buried in a mass grave in the middle of the park.
The sign made by the sculptor Juhan Raudsepp was placed there in 1958. According to Lill, the monument was not even placed in line with the coffins. According to Lill, it was a common practice during the Soviet era to bury those who died in war in a public space instead of a cemetery in order to create a monument with a burial place.
"It was a purposeful, cunning tactic that has worked. While war monuments without a burial place have been easily moved, the sanctity of a burial place prevents relocation," Lill said. "However, the place of the dead is in a cemetery and there is nothing strange about reburial."
In 1997, the then minister of culture declared the memorial a cultural and historical monument and it was taken under national protection. Only 10 years later, by the decision of the then minister of defense, the protection of war graves was also applied to the monument, with which it also received international protection.
In 2010, the city government proposed to the state to move the marker from the park, but both the Ministry of Culture and the National Heritage Board were against it precisely because of the aforementioned protections.
In the following years, various organizations and individuals have repeatedly approached the city government with the proposal to remove the memorial. In turn, the city government has appealed to the Ministry of Defense, but without success.
This year, at the outbreak of Russia's war in Ukraine, the city government again initiated a request for relocation, and this time the minister of defense decided in favor of relocating the war grave, entrusting it to the Estonian War Museum, which has the relevant experience.
According to Teet Roosaar, the media adviser of the Parnu city government, the citizens' reaction to the relocation of the monument and the unearthing of the remains has been calm. Moreover, the Vanapark monument has not been important in the celebration of anniversaries related to World War II. "The veterans of World War II have taken flowers to the Alevi cemetery memorial, not the Vanapark monument," Roosaar said.