Tallinn Airport has responded to criticism from an MEP over its removal of a photo gallery of women who oppose the Alexander Lukashenko regime, citing security concerns. The exhibition, from the Fotografiska gallery in Tallinn, had been in place for a month-and-a-half until its removal, and was scheduled to stay to year-end. Fotografiska has now canceled a deal with Tallinn Airport which had seen it exhibit other displays at the venue.
Margot Holts, head of communications at the airport, which is a state-owned enterprise, said an apolitical stance was one of its watchwords.
Holts said: "We do not display political exhibitions and advertisements on the airport's premises.
"The exhibition is part of the Fotografiska promotional space, which invites passengers to discover photo exhibitions. The exhibition provoked a response immediately. There are known cases where photos were found on the ground or had been turned around," Holts continued, according to BNS, adding that in all other regards, the airport supports the Estonian state in its stance towards Belarus.
The European Parliament had awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Belarusian women who fighting against dictatorship, and it was an exhibition on these people which is at the heart of the controversy.
Relations between Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the EU and west as a whole have nose-dived since the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko just over a yaer ago, while the recent influx of illegal immigrants from elsewhere, most notably Iraq, into Lithuania and from Belarus has been condemned in Estonia and beyond as a type of hybrid warfare on the part of the Lukashenko regime.
Holts also noted security and safety requirements at the airport, meaning tensions ought to be minimized.
"The safety of passengers is paramount," Holts said.
A Ryanair civilian airliner en route from Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, was effectively hijacked by the Belarusian state in late May, and forced to land at Minsk airport. A leading opposition figure in Belarus was one of the passengers, and he has been incarcerated ever since being seized from the plane.
The exhibition, entitled "The Future of Belarus Fueled by Women", is a "Fotografiska for Life" special exhibition created in cooperation with the Belarusian platform SHKLO, BNS reports.
Fotografiska annuls contract with airport
Fotografiska gallery itself is in the Telliskivi Creative Hub, and the organization had a permanent contract with Tallinn Airport which enables it to display exhibitions on its premises, which it had done multiple times already, BNS reports.
Margit Aasmäe, Fotografiska founder and CEO, confirmed the decision was made by the airport, calling it regrettable and adding that the agreement with Tallinn Airport had been scrapped.
Aasmäe told ERR News Friday afternoon that: "We can confirm that the decision to remove the exhibition from the property came from Tallinn Airport. Whatever the reason, It's sad. We at Fotografiska will continue to stand for democracy, freedom of speech and diversity. We are open for cooperation to give the exhibition a new space. Today, our cooperation agreement with Tallinn Airport has ended."
Reform MEP and former foreign minister Urmas Paet also hit out at the decision, which he said had been made with undue haste.
"I am very unpleasantly surprised by the decision of Tallinn Airport, which belongs to the Estonian state, to take down, in an expedited manner, the photo exhibition on Belarusian women opposing Lukashenko's dictatorship," Paet told BNS Friday.
"Against this back-drop, Tallinn Airport … finds that the exhibition introducing and supporting Belarusian women who are opposed to dictatorship is no longer suitable for the airport's gallery. I do not know from whence such an order came for the exhibition to be taken down in such a hurried manner, but it is incomprehensible and wrong," Paet went on.
"It is shocking that the hybrid war against the Baltic states and Poland, initiated by the Lukashenko regime, has already been successful in Estonia, in such form," he added, saying that the best move for all parties would be to quickly reinstate the exhibition.
Paet stated that he had seen photos and statements of support for those opposing the Lukashenko regime "at several airports".
This article was updated to include comment from Fotografiska CEO Margit Aasmäe.
Editor: Andrew Whyte