Sour Taste Lingers in Some Camps in Wake of Kirill's Visit (21)
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves's decision not to meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church drew criticism from some quarters, while Kirill's own itinerary on June 14, a day on which Estonia mourns victims of communism, fell under fire for being politically incorrect.
Writing in Eesti Päevaleht, the daily's editor-in-chief Urmo Soonvald said Ilves's decision not to meet Kirill I, Primate of Moscow and All of Russia, was "stubborn." Ilves traveled to Slovenia instead that weekend, despite, said Soonvald, strong urging from diplomats and politicians. Soonvald advanced a theory that the Slovenia trip had been scheduled by the President's Office after the dates of Kirill's visit were known.
Kirill did meet with Prime MInister Andrus Ansip, Speaker Ene Ergma and Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.
"In Russia's official and unofficial hierarchy," Soonvald wrote, "Kirill is one of the most influential people, linking tens of millions of people with each other and indirectly to the political elite. He has his own past, with both lighter and more reddish overtones, and his idea of human rights has been much disputed. To be sure, he is no paragon of democracy but everyone who has reached such a lofty position has certain deeper shades."
"It seems the president doesn't like dealing with Russia and Russians," he said, concluding: "I think the president gave away a chance to take a small step closer in Estonian-Russian relations."
Social Democrat MP Jevgeni Ossinovski struck a similar chord, saying the president should have met Kirill but set his personal interests higher than those of the state.
"I think the president should have met the patriarch similarly to the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament," he told Delfi, saying that Kirill headed a religious organization with 150 million adherents, nearly 200,000 of them in Estonia.
For some, Kirill's visit to the controversial Bronze Soldier statue on June 14 was counted as a deep faux pas. Although the Estonian government cast it as a general World War II remembrance, the statue remains a rallying point for those who believe Estonia was not forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, or that if it was, it was a necessary move to defeat fascism.
The first day of Kirill's visit, June 14, coincided with the anniversary of one of the worst deportations in Estonia's history, of much of the elite opposed to the Soviet occupation.
According to Postimees, the date was a coincidence. "No one planned it specially that my first official visit to Estonia started on the day the Estonian people remembered the victims of deportations," the patriarch said on Friday. He added that deportations affected almost every Estonian family and that these sorts of crimes caused also suffering to millions of people in Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and in many other countries. He said he hoped that "nothing like this would happen in the future."
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story failed to provide important context to a quotation. It specifically referred not to the fact that the patriarch was attending a ceremony honoring war dead but to an image - not included in our story - depicting some of the youth wearing Soviet military uniforms, which could be considered to be the same uniform worn by those who rounded up men, women and children for deportation on June 14, 1941.