Double Interpretation of History and "The War of the Monuments": Estonia's Case I

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

Double Interpretation of History and "The War of the Monuments": Estonia's Case I


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


The War of the Monuments: Estonian Case II See page 9

"Monument is the permanent structure, building, erections, etc made at the place to mark the memory of a historical event, action, place or person, etc" (1)

Introduction

Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn (in the original: Tallinna vabastajate monument) was unveiled in the Tallinn city center on September 22, 1947, on the third anniversary of the liberation Tallinn from the German occupation. It was the very first Soviet monument in Estonia and it was erected to commemorate the memory of the dead Soviet soldiers, who was buried on the Tonismae Square (former Liberator's Square) on April 14, 1945. Through the Soviet-era the hole complex--the so called Bronze Soldier, i.e. the Monument, the Eternal fire (lighted in 1964) and the Tonismae Square--formed the Second World War memorial; from 1993 to 2007 it was officially called the Monument to the Second World War Victims (in the original: Teises Maailmasojas hukkunutele).

After Estonia regained its independence in August 1991, the composition of the Estonian nation drastically changed: in one day Russians living in Estonia turned from the predominant majority into one of the ethnic minorities. According to the official data, in 2007 there were about 920.000 Estonians and 345.000 Russians in Estonia, thus 25.6% of the total population of Estonia were Russian. (2) For the Estonia's Russian-language people the Bronze Soldier and the Tonismae Square was the place to honor war-victims; also Estonia's Russian used to celebrate there the Victory Day.

Double Interpretations of the Second World War history

The 2007 April events broke up Estonia's national groups into two opposing powers. The reason of the split was directly related to differences in the Second World War understandings resulting in dissimilar reaction to the decision to move the Bronze Soldier from Tallinn city-centre to the War Cemetery.

Estonians tend to consider September 1944 (the month the Soviet Army and the Soviet Army Estonian Corps came into Estonia) the continuation of the Soviet occupation of their homeland. Russians, however, perceive it as the victory over fascism--in this case, on Estonian land. Thus the Bronze Soldier for most of Russian-speaking minority representatives symbolizes the freedom from fascism and for most Estonians--new soviet occupation and peoples' mass deportations to Siberia.

The government's intention to rebury the Soviet soldiers' remains and remove the monument to the War Cemetery, were not properly explained to Estonian Russian-speaking minority, and looked extremely provocative on the eve of the Victory Day, May 9, which Russians and war veterans (including ethnic Estonians who fought in the Soviet Army Estonian Corps) used to celebrate by this monument. Here is another point of misunderstanding between Estonians and Russians, as Estonians celebrate the victory over fascism on May 8, like most Western countries.

Public opinion

Double standards exposed in the course of these events could have been overcome if the society's opinion and the government's program of actions had been better prepared.

It is noteworthy that initially the government stepped forward with a gracious gesture stating that the monument won't be removed until the Victory day. At the end of March 2007 the prime-minister Andrus Ansip said that by 9th of May the monument will be surrounded by a metal fence in order to avoid any possible provocations. (3)

More to the point, on the April 25, that is a night before the notorious events happened, the prime-minister said in his interview to the Russian-broadcasting Radio 4 that both on the 8th and the 9th of May the Bronze Soldier will be standing where it stands. (4)

On the eve of the April events sociologists carried out several surveys examining people's opinion of the monument's future. …

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