Coalition grants €45,000 for memorial to Baltic German war crimes baron

Roman von Ungern-Sternberg (1885–1921)
Roman von Ungern-Sternberg (1885–1921) Source: Wikimedia Commons

More than €40,000 has been allocated by the government to a newly-founded NGO which wants to build a statue to Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, a controversial Baltic German nobleman who grew up in Estonia. The money has been allocated from the "protection money" the government gives out every year.

Von Ungern-Sternberg reportedly held both anti-semitic views and wanted to establish buddhist-based theocratic states in both Mongolia and Transylvania, in present-day Romania.

The three coalition parties are this year providing their "protection money" (Estonian: Katuseraha) to an NGO called Ungern Khaan, established by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) youth wing Sinine Äratus a month ago, to the tune of €45,000.

Roman von Ungern-Sternberg (1885–1921), grew up in Estonia and became one of the leaders of anti-Bolshevik "White" forces in the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923.

Daily Postimees reports (link in Estonian) that von Ungern-Sternberg was a committed anti-semite, whose soldiers slaughtered many Jews fleeing a war noted for its barbarity committed by both sides.

Von Ungern-Sternberg also wished to establish a Buddhist theocracy in Mongolia, which had been invaded by China in 1919, and in Transylvania, which became a part of Romania in late 1918.

NGO: Von Ungern-Sternberg a neglected figure

However, board member of the Ungern Khaan association and Sinine Äratus ("Blue awakening") member Feodor Stomakhin says that von Ungern-Sternberg has been a neglected figure up until now.

Stomakhin said: "The baron is a unique figure and one of the brightest individuals from Estonia, whose struggle against both communism and Chinese expansionism receives little attention in modern-day Estonia."

The NGO's website says much the same thing, Postimees reports, and says the monument, be it a statue or some other memorial, would introduce him and what they call his colorful character to the public.

The NGO, founded on November 8 in Tartu, says that all the €45,000 would be used on the installation; its website says that it has also received private donations.

'Protection money' scheme attracts criticism again

"Protection money" gets doled out towards mostly by four of the five elected parties each year – Reform has rejected it as a type of corruption – and is seen as greasing the wheels for the main state budget which passes the Riigikogu in December for the year ahead.

Typical recipients of "protection money" include local government projects, sports facilities, associations and NGOs, and churches.

This year, all three coalition parties have issued their project money jointly, to the tune of €6.4 million, while the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) has apportioned €300,000 for its own protection money destinations.

Other protection money recipients from the list have led to criticism, including the largest single beneficiary, an NGO founded in August to oppose abortion, which held a rally in August and which is getting €141,000.

The volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) is getting less than half that sum – €70,000 – from the coalition.

Feodor Stomakhon told ERR Tuesday he got the idea for erecting a memorial to von Ungern-Sternberg a long time ago, after reading the novels of Russian historical fiction writer Victor Pelevin.

EKRE MP historian: Von Sternberg an interesting figure

Historian and EKRE MP Jaak Valge told ERR that von Ungern-Sternberg was undoubtedly an interesting figure who stands out from history, and that, together with scant attention paid to the contribution of Baltic Germans in Estonia, makes his commemoration justifiable.

Valge said: "I am of the opinion that just as we appreciate [explorer Captain Fabian Gottlieb von] Bellingshausen, although his connection with Estonia is relatively little beyond it being his country of origin (Von Ungern-Sternberg was born in Austria but spent his childhood in Tallinn and other parts of Estonia -ed.), maybe we should explore and value the legacy of more Baltic Germans."

Valge noted that while von Ungern-Sternberg played no major part in the drive for Estonian independence – Estonia's War of Independence (1918-1920) ran concurrently with the Russian Civil War and was effectively one theater of it, since red forces from the fledgling Soviet Russian state invaded the country and nearly made it as far as Tallinn – he and Estonian freedom fighters were battling a common enemy.

One of the last actions of the war, however, involved Estonian and Latvian forces fighting against the Baltische Landeswehr – the armed forces of the Baltic German nobilities of both countries – whom the two Baltic states' forces defeated at the Battle of Cēsis (Estonian: Võnnu) in June 1919, subsequently driving those Baltic Germans who remained out of both countries.

Jaak Valge added he was not the person behind the €45,000 protection money sum, but said he was not opposed to the proposal either.

Feodor Stomakhin added that exactly where the proposed monument would be is not known yet, referencing potential sites on Hiiumaa and in Tallinn, and neither is the exact form it might take.

Univeristy of Tartu historian: Baron did not influence Estonian history

Von Ungern-Sternberg did not influence the history of Estonia, nor did he play a special role in the history of the world, associate professor of history at the University of Tartu Ago Pajur told ERR's Novaator portal on Tuesday.

Von Ungren-Sternberg wanted to unite Russia and Mongolia into a single state and to restore the Qing Dynasty to the Chinese throne, recreating the state of Genghis Khan.

During his five-month occupation of Outer Mongolia in the 1920s, von Ungern-Sternberg imposed order on the capital city Ulaanbaatar by fear, intimidation and brutal violence against his opponents.

In June 1921, he invaded eastern Siberia to support supposed anti-Bolshevik rebellions and to head off a Red Army-Mongolian partisan invasion. He was defeated and taken prisoner by the Red Army. After a show trial, he was found guilty and executed in September 1921.

Pajur said von Ungren-Sternberg's activities took place far from Estonia and did not influence Estonian history. 

"We don't really know how serious he was about [building an empire], how much he had just the blood of an adventurer, how much he was a salesman who could promote his ventures and get attention. At least in his time, he was undoubtedly quite an exceptional figure," said Pajur. "He was undoubtedly a colorful personality, I don't argue against that."  

Karl Sander Kase, head of the Isamaa youth association Res Publica, said von Ungern-Sternberg achieved his goals with the help of mass murder and torture. 

Pajur said there was little doubt that the mass executions, torture and bloodshed characterized the Russian Civil War, so they would not have bypassed von Ungern-Sternberg either.

 In his opinion, Pajur said: "There are many more dignified persons in the history of Estonia, of whom no monument has ever been erected and who would certainly deserve it much more than von Ungern-Sternberg. I see no reason why we should start erecting a memorial to him in the Republic of Estonia today."


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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