Discussion at culture ministry finds Tartu Holocaust exhibition offensive ({{commentsTotal}})

The members of the Estonian Jewish community met with the Ministry of Culture representatives on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing Tartu Art Museum's Holocaust exhibition.

According to representatives of the community, the videos that are part of the exhibition have offended many people and give a false impression of the Holocaust.

“It’s sad that the exhibition has affected the reputation of Estonia internationally. Unfortunately, the optimal time to prevent this happening was missed when the exhibition was put together,” the chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish community Alla Jakobson, said.

Representatives of the Jewish community collectively agreed that the history of the Holocaust cannot be regarded with irony. The community is sure that the right solution will be found.

The culture minister Urve Tiidus said that the reactions of the Jewish community are understandable and what has taken place, is very unfortunate. “Everyone has something to learn from this situation: the museum and its advisory committee of experts. However, understanding depends on everyone's own intentions and educational level,” Tiidus said. “The commemoration of the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity should not be the basis for offensive interpretations.”

The Tartu Art Museum had previously reported that it stopped exhibiting the Polish artists’ problematic videos and will only show them accompanied by the curator’s commentary to those who are interested. But the Jewish community is not satisfied with the compromise that has been offered.

On Tuesday, Tiidus said that the reaction and ensuing debate in society in relation to the exhibition leads people to ask where the boundaries of art lie.

“I hope that the Tartu Art Museum takes the opinion expressed by the Jewish community very seriously and decides whether, given the context, the videos presented as part of the exhibition have exceeded the boundaries of contemporary art. For me personally, this seems to be a matter of being able to empathise,” Tiidus said.

On Wednesday, the Islamic community in Estonia also voiced its support to the local Jewish community in connection with the provocative exhibition.

"We are of the opinion that Estonia has always supported people from different backgrounds, and their peaceful coexistence. It is important that the ethnic divisions in our society would not deepen and all relations would be based on trust and mutual understanding," Ildar Muhametshin, Mufti of the Islamic community of Estonia, said in a letter that was addressed to Tiidus.

Many Estonian politicians have already denounced the exhibition, including parliament's deputy speakers Jüri Ratas and Laine Randjärv, and former foreign minister and now MEP Urmas Paet.

“Tartu Art Museum should take into account the concerns voiced by the local Jewish community, as well as many Estonians, and make changes to this exhibition, as it hurts too many people. It is clear that if the descendants of the victims of these 20th century crimes against humanity feel offended, then the museum should quickly take this into consideration and put a brake on an offensive exhibition. I believe that the victims and their surviving loved ones deserve an empathy from the modern Estonian society,” Paet said.

After the uproar, the director of Tartu Art Museum, Rael Artel, admitted that the videos have been disapproved by the local Jewish community. "Therefore we decided that the videos will be exhibited only by the visitor’s request and will be complemented with curator’s commentary. We apologize for everyone, whose feelings this exhibition has upset. Certainly the aim is not to insult, but reminiscence the painful events in history. We wish to invite the visitors to think about crimes against humanity in Poland, Estonia and all over the world and discuss how everyone could contribute to the world so that such events wouldn’t ever happen again," Artel said. She refused, however, to remove the videos.

Editor: S. Tambur

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