Education Minister Jaak Aaviksoo praised a citizen's initiative that saw the opening of a relief plaque honoring late Russian president Boris Yeltsin in Tallinn today, while several other ministers were more reserved about Yeltsin's record.
"Citizens have realized that only the lord God knows how life would have gone on in Estonia had that man not come out of a building 22 years and three days ago, climbed on top of one of the adversary's tanks and said that the Russian people were taking their destiny into their own hands," Aaviksoo said at a Cabinet press conference today.
"That was the moment that actually sealed the fate of the putsch," said Aaviksoo, who was in Paris that week in 1991. "When people make historic decisions, we must be capable of crediting them."
Aaviksoo is the only one of three government ministers who spoke at the press conference to attend the opening. The others were Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu and Minister of Social Affairs Taavi Rõivas.
Reinsalu said that the most important thing about August 20 was "that the Estonian people regained freedom because of their own policymaking and will, not the will or preference of any one politician."
"But Yeltsin did act like the man of the hour during the January 1991 events in Vilnius, and we're clearly standing on the same side of the font lines in this case," said Reinsalu.
Reinsalu said that it should not be forgotten that Yelstin presided over the Chechen war and other matters that could be considered examples of Russian imperialism.
"He was a major politician with positive influence for Estonia at critical moments. But his biography contains pages that certainly deserve to be denounced," said Reinsalu.
The plaque is being unveiled today on the outskirts of the Old Town in Tallinn. Yeltsin's widow is due to attend.