Border guard celebrates 30th anniversary

A member of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) at the Estonian-Russian border. If Mr. Riisalu had his way, such professionals would be superseded by recruits straight out of training.
A member of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) at the Estonian-Russian border. If Mr. Riisalu had his way, such professionals would be superseded by recruits straight out of training. Source: Police and Border Guard Board

The Estonian border guard authority celebrates its 30th anniversary this week, with a meeting at the authority's former headquarters on Toompea, in Tallinn seeing current and former personnel recall how unarmed guards watched over the border point at the dawn of Estonian independence, having to flee from Russian OMON men.

Authors Anu Raudsepp and Ingrid Mühling presented a book marking the event and tracking the authority's checkered history, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported Wednesday evening.

Back in 1991, when the first border control points were established as Estonia moved towards restoration of its independence, the fledgling authority lacked equipment and firearms, with the first self-defense gear being truncheons.

Outgoing Soviet-era Russian border guards in the town of Rakvere gifted, or rather bartered with, their replacements, in order to obtain their first firearms, the body's first Director-General, Andrus Öövel, recalled.

"Essentially, we exchanged them for radiators, which we promised to uninstall from the checkpoints. This was probably some sort of moral alleviation for them, to be able to leave their weapons behind, but take the radiators with them," Öövel said.

In the beginning, the unarmed guards were accompanied by armed militia, who sometimes had to recourse to shooting out the tires of cars whose drivers had ignored an order to stop.

Even more seriously, border control points at Luhamaa on the Estonian-Russian border in the southeast of the country, Murati, on the Latvian-Estonian border in Võru County, and Ikla, on the same border in Pärnu County, also saw OMON offensives, the report said.

Heiki Suomalainen, who was a police lieutenant and senior officer at the Mustvee border post on the shores of Peipsi Järv, said that they had had to make an on-the-spot, fight-or-flee decision in those situations.

"In half of the cases, we legged it into the forest; in the other half, we stayed put. We did the first of these when we saw we had a chance of making it. When we realized we wouldn't, we toughed it out," Suomalainen said.

As if that were not enough, on one day in July 1991, an individual brought a bomb into the commandant's house, which then detonated. At the time, the door was unguarded.

"[The assailants] couldn't fit it under the stairs," border guard veteran Peeter Klausen recounted.

"If it had ended up under the stairs, it would have caused more damage. The wall was damaged, and the bomb blasted the windows out and the door off," he went on.

The border guard was merged with the police over 10 years ago to create a single, unified body, with the somewhat unwieldy English name of Police and Border Guard Board - in Estonian, the Politsei- ja Piirivalveamet - or PPA for short.

Marking the 30th anniversary and the long journey border guarding in Estonia has made since then, the PPA published of the history of the authority, by Anu Raudsepp and Ingrid Mühling - the latter having started her career with the border guard.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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