Pro-Ukrainian Rally Lives Under Shadow of Another Occupation
'In the Ukraine, I think the whole future of Europe will be decided,' said MEP Tunne Kelam, speaking at a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Tallinn
Roughly 200 people were demonstrating outside the Russian embassy in Old Town on Sunday, expressing their support for Ukraine and opposition to the invasion of the Crimea by Russian forces, shadowed by its second-floor balcony.
On June 21, 1940, another mass demonstration was overseen on Pikk Street from that very platform. From that spot, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet and Joseph Stalin’s “right-hand man”, Andrei Zhdanov, and local communists Johannes Lauristin, Neeme Ruus and Karl Säre, waved to a pro-Soviet crowd of protestors.
This event, among others, marked the beginning of the Soviet occupation of Estonia after the country allowed troops to be based within its borders in a “Mutual Assistance Agreement” in 1939.
“This is a demonstration of solidarity,” said Kelam, addressing the crowd on Sunday's protest. “It’s very clear that if we appease in Ukraine then we are at risk too, as a neighbor of Russia,” he said, referring to Zhdanov’s appearance in Tallinn and the balcony on which he once stood.
“This is serious. In the Ukraine, I think the whole future of Europe will be decided. Ukrainians have already shown with their lives that they want to live in the European rule of law. If Europe is strong and prepared to defend its values, we can win. There’s hope for the future.” Kelam said.
Ivari Padar, a Social Democrat MEP, was also present during the demonstration, as was Eerik-Niiles Kross, member of the IRL faction to the Tallinn City Council and a candidate for the EU Parliament.
“For an Estonian citizen, this is the obvious place to be," said Kross, who is also the Vice-Chairman of IRL. “It’s clear by now that there is a military invasion, an attempt to annex part of Ukraine is going on by Russian forces. I’m somewhat relieved that the US State Department has also qualified it also as an aggression and an annexation. It was a bit unclear how the western world was qualifying it to this point."
Kross said that although the Prime Minister Andrus Ansip’ government is scheduled to step down on Tuesday, he saw no reason for that plan to change. National coalition talks will proceed, he believed.
“I don’t think we should let at any time for the Russians to influence our internal political processes,” Kross said. “It’s important that we do that independently. Timing-wise, it is a tricky period. But the President’s (Toomas Hendrick Ilves) National Defense Council is meeting, and all the key government ministers are attending.”
The demonstration was not without incident. Several scuffles broke out at various points, some of which seemed powered by “liquid courage”. An individual who showed up with a St. George’s ribbon, as was someone with Nazi regalia. A fight broke out when a gentleman decrying the loss of Estonian territory codified by the recent Russian-Estonian border agreement had his sign ripped out of his hand by another. In all of the situations, the local police quickly ejected them from the area.
"It’s clear if the Russians get away with it, as they usually do, with their aggressive foreign policy steps, this would gravely undermine the security of Europe," Kross said. "It actually resembles the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 (by Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia). Even the justification – to protect a national minority is the same. And as you remember, Western powers decided then that they were not willing to use force, and allowed Hitler to get away with it. And we know what happened because of that.”