The War of the Monuments: Estonian Case II

By Belobrovtseva, Irina; Meimre, Aurika | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The War of the Monuments: Estonian Case II


Belobrovtseva, Irina, Meimre, Aurika, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

While in the case with the Monument of Bronze Soldier relocation (April 2007) the War of the Monuments divided the population on the ethnic grounds in general, in the second case the reasons of the split are far more complicated and diverse.

The fact is that Estonia was one of the first Russian provinces (from 1721), which became independent after the War of Independence (1918-1920) with Germany and Soviet Russia. After the Tartu Treaty was signed on March 2, 1920 Estonia started to think about commemorating the dead. During the following twenty years a whole list of monuments opened up on the Estonian land. In the country's capital, Tallinn, next to one of the city's schools appeared one of the most Romantic monuments dedicated to the memory of the teachers and schoolboys killed in the War of Independence. Another monument was built on the territory of the War Cemetery. Both monuments had been damaged during the Soviet times: The first one had been dislocated, and were re-erected only in the 1990-ies, and the second one had been destroyed.

In the 1930s there were plans to construct in the Tallinn city center the biggest monument commemorating this, perhaps, most important event in the history of the Estonian people. Several project competitions, starting from 1931, did not yield satisfactory results, and in 1940, the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union, thus the idea itself was abandoned for a very obvious reason.

Several years after the independence was reestablished, in 1997, the Parliament was discussing the plan to re-erect a more appropriate monument that honors the nation's freedom fighters. In their note to the people the MPs said: "The erection of gigantic monuments reaching the very skies is probably not very close to an Estonian's soul; at the same time the construction expenses will likely be more than modest." (14) The director of the Estonian Heritage Society Agne Trummal said the same: "It shouldn't be gigantic. The times of 20-30 meters high monuments have gone." (15) Yet the subsequent competition in 2000, again, yielded no results.

The Present Monument's Project

The results of the very last competition (March 2007) were presented to the public in August 2007, that is several months after the Bronze Soldier had been relocated. It is noteworthy that Estonian people of art were surprised in an unpleasant way, as the monument planned was gigantic and the anachronism itself. The monument's project represented a 28 meter high dolomite stela (at present the material is changed in favor of glass) standing on a high base crowned with a cross. There was a circle in the center of the cross with the Estonia's border etching and the inscription: "The War of Independence 1918-1920."

More to the point, the project demanded a partial destruction of the supporting walls of the Ingermanland bastion listed in the UNESCO world heritage (as the Old Tallinn as whole). This is against the [Regulations of protection of the Estonian Heritage, which has the law status. According to this bill any structures directly adjusting to the monuments to the past must be proportional, and must not obscure the monuments to the past from viewers. It is also forbidden to build any structures that hide the Old Town (the Upper Town, the Lower Town, and the Liberty Square) from spectators' sight.

An Estonian historian of art, Heie Treier made a comparison of monuments and approaches to their construction in Latvia's capital, Riga, the British Kent and Tallinn. In Latvia there is a plan to commemorate the victims of the Soviet occupation. The only thing that makes it similar to Tallinn's monument is the location: One of Riga's central squares. In all the rest the monuments are different. In Estonia the competition was sponsored by the Ministry of the Defense. The competitors were to fulfill 23 articles and 149 subparagraphs. The first prize won the image of a war order. …

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