Estonia removes Soviet-era monument, citing public order

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Estonia’s government said Tuesday it has decided to remove a Soviet-era monument from public space in the eastern border city that sits in the Russian-speaking part of the Baltic country, a move the prime minister said was the reason for its demolition. It represents a threat to public order.

“No one wants to see extremists and hostile neighbors creating tension in our homes,” Prime Minister Kaja Kalas said, the move following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.. “Russia will not afford the opportunity to use the past to disrupt the peace in Estonia.”

Callas said he did not want to give Russia a chance to “open up old wounds”.

Outside Narva — Estonia’s third-largest city with a large Russian-speaking population — a replica T-34 tank with a red Soviet star sits at a monument commemorating Soviet soldiers who died liberating Estonia from Nazi Germany in World War II.

A replica of the Soviet tank will be moved to the Estonian War Museum in Vimsi, north of the capital Tallinn, Estonian broadcaster ERR said.

The city, whose 57,500 residents are mainly Russian-speaking, sits on the Russian border about 210 kilometers (130 mi) east of Tallinn and is separated from the Russian city of Ivano-Frankivsk by the Narva River.

The entire memorial was being dismantled on Tuesday and “the program will be carried out respectfully, for example, flowers and candles placed on the memorial will be taken to the cemetery, not thrown into the trash,” Interior Minister Laurie Lanamets said on Tuesday, according to the Baltic News Service. Estonian broadcaster ERR said demolition was underway.

Photos posted on the ERR website showed the Estonian military and heavy machinery moving the monument after removing flowers and candles from the site.

The mass grave of World War II victims in Narva will receive a neutral grave marker and remain an iconic site in their memory, Callas said.

Foreign Minister Urmas Rensalu said in a government statement that Russia “wanted to use monuments commemorating criminal merchants to create tension in Estonian society.”

On August 15, the city council in Narva decided to remove the monument, and soon after, crowds gathered around the monument to protest the plan.

Given the current situation, it is difficult for Narva city authorities to ensure public order,” Lanemets said in the same statement, calling it “a big and complex problem.”

A total of seven Soviet-era monuments in Narva will also be removed, the government said on Tuesday.

Estonia, which shares a nearly 300-kilometer (180-mile) border with Russia, has taken a hardline stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Estonia decided to ban issuing tourist visas to people from neighboring Russia From entering the northern Baltic countries as a result of the war in Ukraine. The European Union, of which Estonia is a member, has already banned air travel to Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. But Russians can still travel to Estonia by land and take flights to other European destinations.

Since gaining independence in 1991, the former Soviet republic of 1.3 million people has been embroiled in disputes over the status of Russians, most of whom came to Estonia during 50 years of Soviet rule.

In 2007, the relocation of Tallinn’s so-called Bronze Statue, another Soviet war memorial, from a city park led to days of rioting. One person died and more than 1,000 were arrested, with Russian-speaking Estonians claiming the removal of the monument erased their history. The statue was later moved to a military cemetery.

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