Estonia demolishes its Soviet monuments amid war in Ukraine

On Tuesday August 16, Estonian security forces were deployed in the Russian border town of Narva to allow the removal of several monuments to the glory of the Red Army. The government, which has been at the forefront of supporting Ukraine, is determined to cleanse the national memory. At the risk of pointing out the Russian-speaking minority.

« You’ll see, this fall, special activity will be here. “If this provocation of one demonstrator does not need to sum up the wishes of others, it explains the electric situation that reigns halfway between Narva, the third city of Estonia, on Sunday, June 7, the so-called “Trough” monument. , on the border with Russia, and its coastal part of Narva-Jesuyu, 15 to the north. km away, also located on the Baltic coast. The mayor, Kadri Raik, has come to visit fifty people who alternate between good and bad weather at the foot of this Soviet T-34 tank. More than 90% of the people speak Russian, and almost a third are Russian citizens. In a city with, the first city councilor came to reassure his citizens: he always voiced that this monument should stay in place, and he wants to preserve its position well. But, the next day the tide would have changed.

Since the beginning War in UkraineOn February 24, relations between the government and the Russian-speaking minority became a little more tense. The administration, led by the more assertive and media-friendly Kaja Kallas, is at the forefront of supporting kyiv. The country has always feared its neighbors to the east. Estonia, which joined NATO in 2004, has been scolding its European partners for being too soft on Russian aggression since its first artillery attack this winter. But Tallinn’s authorities are not only active internationally. They chose this moment to get rid of a complicated file: numerous monuments to the glory of the Red Army still remain on the Estonian landscape, especially in the eastern part of the country. It is even worse to refer to all Russian-speaking citizens – minorities alike 24% of the population – still attached to it.

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For years, the Estonian government has maintained a cautious stance on the issue. But the war in Ukraine changed the situation. The day after Narva’s mayor arrived at a Soviet tank, the prime minister made a trip to the capital in front of cameras and residents of Narva demanding that it be removed as quickly as possible. A week later, security forces, faced with an adjournment by the municipality, intervened to secure the withdrawal, under direct government supervision.

About 200 km east of Tallinn, the city of Narva faces Russia. More than 90% of people there speak Russian. © FMM Graphic Studio

A painful memory of 2007

However, the administration’s task promises to be substantial, firstly because of the number of monuments associated with this massive memorial sweep, estimated at between 200 and 400 across the country. Remove, move or replace? The question arises for everyone. Each response participates in drawing the line between what the current power considers to be part of national history and falling into the propaganda of a foreign power.

For Tallinn, the issue is also security. Kaja Kallas recalled this when he arrived in Narva: ” What is important is that in Estonia we can provide security, and I am not only talking about external threats here, but also internal security. […] All these monuments must be removed precisely to ensure public order, before tensions and anxiety reach a cost-prohibitive level. Everyone in Estonia can understand the hint.

Chapter marked the young state. We are in the spring of 2007: the new government, strengthened by a great victory in the elections, decides to move a monument to the Soviet dead, known as the “Bronze Soldier”, to be located in the center of Tallinn. Suburbs of the capital. Two nights of clashes between Russian-speakers and Estonian police resulted in the death of one person, the injury of nearly 150 people and the looting of many businesses in the city. The move also angers Moscow. The day after the statue was moved, Estonia hit the country’s key administrations with a massive cyber attack attributed to Russia.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas visited Narva in person and announced that many Soviet symbols would be removed from public space.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas visited Narva in person and announced that many Soviet symbols would be removed from public space. © RFI / Marc Etcheverry

Under the gaze of Moscow

The ongoing movement of the Narva tank has not gone unnoticed by its eastern neighbours. Russian TV channels are following the case closely, and the Kremlin has already made it known that it considers the withdrawal “a scandal.” Nevertheless, the controversy fit perfectly with the “anti-Nazi” rhetoric that had been at work in Ukraine since the beginning of the war: ” They are fighting history, and common history, removing monuments to those who saved Europe from fascism. “, in early August, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned.

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A rhetoric that matured in the minds of some tank defenders. ” The tank symbolized the victory of the Soviet nation against Nazi Germany and its alliesForty-year-old Vasily begins, having traveled extensively in Europe before settling in Narva. The Estonian regime has committed a brutal act of disrespect to at least a quarter of its population. ». and ” It certainly violates all moral and democratic values “, includes a person who goes so far as to qualify for” behavior “in” The new Nazi ».

But could Moscow cause trouble in eastern Estonia? According to Cristina Callas, an expert on integration issues at the University of Tartu, this is unlikely. If the academic recognized that it would take a hundred extremists to commit violence, the rest of the Russian-speaking population would not follow. ” Sedition is one thing, starting a civil war is another. Because there is nothing homogenous about the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia. ” You have a generation gap between young people born or raised after the fall of the Soviet Union and their parents who knew that time. A majority of young Russian speakers recognize Estonia as their only country, while older ones refer to Russia as their country. “Motherland“.»

Withdrawal of Soviet relics from public space is a double or nothing for the current administration. The context of the war in Ukraine, rejected by the majority of Estonians, offers an opportunity to settle accounts of the past. But this same environment warms even the most serious mind. This is why the question of the moment is central and even dividing university departments. Therefore, Mati Heidmets, a distinguished professor at Tallinn University, regrets that the government did not wait for the end of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. To solve this problem. Especially as the country faces other emergencies, including soaring inflation — and even a record one for the euro area.

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But no matter what, the executive wants to move very quickly. ” The brutal war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine has taken us away from cooperation in Estonia. [entre pays] During times of conflict, tolerance for Soviet symbols, the Red Army, and glorification of Russia is much lower than in times of peace ” sums up Christina Callas.

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