May 9: Europe Day for some, Victory Day for others (3)
While the European Union celebrates Europe Day on May 9, in Russia it is Victory Day. This collision of holidays affects Tallinn, where pro-Putin activists of the group Nochnoy Dozor have called for a march through the city center.
Colliding memorial days
Based on the acts of military surrender signed by the Germans in Reims and Berlin on May 7 and 8, 1945, these two days have been celebrated as Victory in Europe Day ever since. When the act signed in Berlin entered into force, it was already May 9 in Moscow, which is why the Soviet Union chose that date to celebrate Victory Day.
While Victory Day remained very important in Russia, it lost its meaning in the former Soviet republics that joined the European Union. Instead, the three Baltic States, together with the rest of the EU, now celebrate Europe Day on May 9.
In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly also introduced a day of remembrance, given the somewhat cumbersome name “Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War.” Estonia now remembers the victims of the war on that day.
Remembering the victims of the Second World War
Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna (IRL) laid a wreath at the Maarjamäe memorial in Tallinn on Sunday. In his speech, Tsahkna expressed the view that the Second World War hadn’t been Estonia’s war at all, but that the Estonian people had been forced to fight on both sides.
Before the war, Estonia had been an independent republic. Those not voluntarily fighting for the USSR were hoping to restore the country’s independence after the war. As Estonians fought in the Waffen SS and some of their units committed war crimes, the way they are remembered here is often seen as highly controversial.
This isn’t limited to those who fought on the German side: While the Russian community generally thinks of the Soviet troops as liberators, to Estonians all their arrival signified was the beginning of another and much longer phase of occupation.
March of the Immortal Regiment in Tallinn
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was mainly the Russian minority in re-independent Estonia that kept up the tradition of celebrating Victory Day on May 9.
The traditional Victory Day parade in Moscow has in recent years been followed by the March of the Immortal Regiment, where hundreds of thousands march through the center of Moscow, carrying photographs of ancestors or other relatives who fought in the Red Army during WWII.
First organized on the independent initiative of Russian citizens in a town in Siberia, the event, which has garnered the support of the Kremlin, has spread to other cities both across Russia and Russian population centers elsewhere in the world, including Washington, New York, and Toronto.
This year’s march in Tallinn, organized by pro-Putin NGO Nochnoy Dozor (“Night Watch”), attracted approximately 200-300 participants, which was less than expected by event organizers, and took place without any major incidents, reported City Center Station Police Chief Kaido Saarniit to ERR’s online news portal.
While the city did not grant a permit to close Filtri Street, the main road leading from Tallinn Bus Station to the Defence Forces Cemetery of Tallinn, where the Bronze Soldier memorial to WWII’s Soviet troops is located, the march took place along this route anyway, escorted by police to ensure road safety.
Tallinn police reported that the rest of the day was relatively peaceful as well. Police escorted two intoxicated individuals to sobering centers, and law enforcement officers also gave warnings to a few drivers, indicating that flags they were flying out of their vehicle windows were sticking out of the vehicle far enough as to cause safety concerns.