Riigikogu debating possible pro-Russian war symbols punishment

A Riigikogu sitting in progress.
A Riigikogu sitting in progress. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Riigikogu is currently debating penalizing the open display of insignia, such as the notorious 'Z' symbol, which announce the bearer's support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The orange-black St. George's ribbon may also be caught by the amendment.

The activity comes ahead of May 9, marking the end of World War Two in the Russian Federation and also marked by some of Estonia's Russian-speaking minority.

Both coalition MPs and ministers, and opposition MPs, believe that such insignia should be factored into existing legislation on war propaganda, and a bill currently at the chamber seeks to do just that, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday.

While the Penal Code currently provides for up to three years' imprisonment for creating war propaganda, the proposed legislative amendments would include a clause regarding the insignia used in support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though the draft legislation does not reference the exact symbols.

While the most prominent symbol to have emerged to date and as a display of support for Russian forces in Ukraine is the "Z" roman letter, the law may cover other symbols, including the previously used St. George's ribbon.

Isamaa chair Helir-Valdor Seeder said: "It is precisely because these can change over time, and the context can change. There is the letter Z, the St. George's ribbons, Swastikas. They have carried different meanings over time."

Reform MP and former intelligence chief Eerik-Niiles Kross told AK that: "I believe that the Estonian public's sense of security will also be disturbed if such things are allowed in the public sphere. I agree that the legislator must deal with this issue. How exactly to formulate that is now a question for discussion."

As for the traditional May 9 victory day procession, interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center) told AK it was not necessary to ask permission for one to go ahead, but is rather the duty of the police to assess whether it is appropriate.

Jaani said: "In and of itself, it is completely understandable that people want to celebrate, to commemorate those who died in the war, but in the current situation, where Russia is at war and innocent people are dying in Ukraine, we must seriously think about whether and in what format we will have that this time."

St. George's ribbons have been a common sight on May 9 in previous years.

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) recommended not wearing the orange-black ribbons on May 9, adding that: "I am of the opinion that the symbols of war should definitely not be used in our country, but I am not quite sure this should be solved via legislation or if that is possible."

However, Sergei Tšaulin, of the pro-Russian Immortal Regiment (Bessmertny Polk) organization, remained defiant.

"The St. George's ribbon has always been, is and will remain a symbol of the glory of the Russian army, one which defeated and fascism with honor and conscience," he said, adding that he would likely wear one on the day.

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder says this year's event should be forbidden, though at the time of writing it has police permission to go ahead, he told AK.

Kristian Jaani told AK that the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) can speak with May 9 procession organizers, confiscate symbols if needed, and even forbid the event going ahead at all.

The traditional procession on May 9, "Victory Day" in Russia, marking the end of the Soviet Union's 1941-1945 war with Nazi Germany, one day after the western VE day celebrating the end of hostilities which began in 1939, the same year the Soviet Union signed a pact with the Nazis, takes place at the "bronze soldier" monument located in a Tallinn cemetery.

The orange-black ribbon is traditionally thought to represent gunpowder and fire and is a symbol of Imperial Russia, rather than Soviet, origin.

It is occasionally on display, for instance adorning rear view mirrors in cars, at other times of year also.

Latvia's police have announced that any people congregating in public on May 9 will be treated as supporters of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, ERR reports (link in Estonian).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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