EDF chief: May 9 uniform removal order should never have been given

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EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem talking to AK Tuesday. Source: ERR

An order given to conscripts in the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) to come to a Tallinn barracks in civilian attire on Sunday was done so in error, and should not have been made, EDF commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem says.

Sunday, May 9 was Soviet victory day, with members of the public marking the event at the nearby military ceremony.

Lt. Gen. Herem told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Tuesday that: "In 2008 and thereafter, according to the threat assessment at the time, this action would have been consistent. In today's situation, however, I think this is overdoing things, and a ban on wearing uniforms should not have been made."

While conscripts of a signal battalion based at the Filtri tee barracks were due to turn to on Monday, those arriving ahead of time on the Sunday were instructed to wear civvies.

The rationale by the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Priit Averkin, was to avoid a situation where the presence of EDF soldiers near a Soviet war memorial, being attended by largely Russian-speaking residents who mark the day, could have been taken out of context and used for propaganda purposes.

The military cemetery is adjacent to the barracks; the "Bronze Soldier" statue, which forms the focal point of the day's events, was relocated there from its original home on Tõnismägi in April 2007, an action which sparked several nights of rioting and looting in central Tallinn.

Lt. Gen. Herem added that: "I have talked to the battalion commander about this and emphasized to him that no such order should be given today or tomorrow, where the situation remains the same," he added.

Isamaa MP and former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, who raised the issue Monday, told AK that: "In the Republic of Estonia, it is the police who ensure order, protection and also ensure it at such events. This is a task for the police. The uniform of an EDF member does not have to disappear when ribbons of St. George appear."

Reinsalu was referring to the orange-black ribbon – traditionally thought to represent gunpowder and fire – which adorns both many present-day official Russian, Soviet, and Imperial Russian medals, and unofficial civilian expressions of support such as on May 9.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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