Estonian government to leave symbols of aggression undefined

Various controversial symbols on display at a procession in Tallinn on May 9.
Various controversial symbols on display at a procession in Tallinn on May 9. Source: Sander Koit/ERR

The Estonian government initiated a bill aimed at combating symbols that incite aggression as well as the justification and support of aggression. The new bill does not, however, define which symbols incite aggression, Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) said on Thursday.

Speaking at Thursday's government press conference, Lauri said that if someone in Estonia engages in aggression-related hostilities or calls for such hostilities, this is punishable.

"I hope that it doesn't reach the point of punishment, and if infractions are minor, then the police can limit their response, as they currently do, to warnings and discussions, or a misdemeanor proceeding, i.e. a fine, if necessary," Lauri said. "In the event of serious repercussions, steps under criminal law will be considered as well, albeit not purely due to symbols."

What would be punishable is if crimes of aggression are supported and promoted, she continued. "And that because these exacerbate interethnic tensions in society," she added.

According to the minister, the use of these symbols would first and foremost be a misdemeanor. "We will not be defining which symbols are banned and which are symbols of aggression," she explained. "Symbols can change over time, and the use of symbols is very precisely dependent on the context in which it is used."

A government press release on the same topic stated that the bill will change the elements of the offense of incitement to hatred to allow for an individual to be held liable even in cases where the incitement to hatred does not lead to any consequences such as risk to someone's life, health or property.

"Until now, such a consequence has been necessary in order to punish a misdemeanor," the press release stated. "The paragraph regarding incitement to hatred will also be changed to reflect that if [an instance of incitement to hatred] does lead to such a serious consequence, it would be treated as a felony offense."

Kallas on May 9: Laying flowers at monument still allowed

According to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), various symbols have taken on a whole new meaning following Russia's attack on Ukraine on February 24.

"The use of symbols indicates people's views, and unfortunately also sparks fear," Kallas said. "The use of symbols of propaganda in being used by the Putin regime is also a sign of support for the actions of the Putin regime, including the attacking of Ukraine, the bombing of homes and hospitals there, and the killings and deportations of people."

The Estonian head of government stressed that commemorative ceremonies on May 9 should not be places where propaganda symbols are used, adding that all kinds of commemorations should be conducted with dignity, and taking other members of society into account.

"Nobody is banning remembering their forebears or placing flowers on their graves or a monument in their memory," Kallas said. "This has always been allowed, and it will continue to be allowed going forward. But commemorating the fallen cannot be used to justify or incite hatred or violence toward other ethnicities or people."

According to Kallas, it isn't appropriate this year to mark May 9 with processions, demonstrations, public gatherings or similar events. "This could be taken as a provocation," she said.

While the Russian-speaking population may celebrate the end of the war on May 9, the day marks something different altogether for the country's Estonian-language population, Kallas continued.

"If Stalin had told everyone on May 10 that you are free to go on with your country, to carry on with your independent existence, then it would be a day of celebration for us as well," she said. "Unfortunately, that is when the suffering began for our people."

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said that tensions related to May 9 will be greater than usual this year, which is why it is important to remain calm.

"One thing is commemorating the departed, relatives, forebears in a nice way, with flowers and candles," Kiik said. "Another thing is any sort of justification of warfare or incitement to hostility. Which is where the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) must also be ready to intervene in a timely manner. But I hope that we are capable of exercising restraint and acting reasonably, as in previous years.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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