Estonian police prepared for spontaneous May 9 provocations

Joosep Kaasik.
Joosep Kaasik. Source: ERR

The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) says that spontaneous provocation or conflict next Monday, May 9, marked in the Russian Federation as 'Victory Day', are likely in Estonia, while the authority will do all it can to mitigate any issues, PPA northern prefect Joosep Kaasik told ERR, in an interview which follows.

What is the PPA's threat assessment ahead of May 9?

The war has created a new meaning for May 9, hence why we consider spontaneous provocations and conflicts likely to occur. Our task is to prevent these situations from escalating.

How is the PPA preparing for May 9?

We have been carrying out active prevention since the start of the war - sending out a clear message that the symbols representing support for the war and other activities relating to the Putin regime have no place in Estonia before, during or after May 9. We are talking to those people we see using forbidden insignia, and ask them to please remove them. We have also been paying attention to what is happening on social media, as, just as on the streets, aggression is provoked via the use of supportive symbols, and also online. We have also been fighting against the spread of misinformation.

To prevent conflict, we barred all public meetings across Estonia where war symbols might be on display. This means that we will not allow marches, rallies or speeches that promote the war and support the war crimes of the Putin regime in Ukraine via insignia, words and deeds. Initially, the ban will last until May 10, but we will extend it if necessary.

On May 9, we will be out with redoubled efforts, but we are planning a more specific resource to be used just before May 9. We can also mobilize additional resources should the situation escalate.

While we are currently engaging in a lot of explication on the symbols, on May 9 we will be ready to react more resolutely to such cases and, as a rule, we will initiate misdemeanor proceedings. 

These misdemeanor proceedings can be conducted on the spot, or an individual can be detained and taken to a PPA station. The PPA can also react to violations retroactively, for example if information about a violation reaches us via social media.

Using a symbol that supports aggression can result in a fine of up to €1,200 or a detention. Organizing a prohibited public meeting is punishable via a pecuniary punishment, or up to 1 year of imprisonment. The PPA will detain people who commit offenses and incite hatred, including holding forbidden meetings or agitating people.

Are the national guidelines for maintaining order on 9 May sufficient? Do the recent changes to the law make it possible to prevent all provocation?

The PPA will do their best to prevent possible conflicts. We will explain to the public what is allowed on May 9 and what is not. We have also interacted with various community organizations, such as war veterans, local governments and schools. Our message is that commemoration is not forbidden, but it must be done differently. 

People are allowed to go to the cemetery, lay flowers and bow their heads. The use of symbols supporting the aggressor and activities praising Putin's military activities in Ukraine are prohibited. We will ask people to think about what it means to participate in such a gathering in the context of the war in Ukraine, and to avoid joining the provocations, including not joining pro-war rallies.

An amendment to the law alone will not prevent provocative incidents. Nor can the PPA head off all provocation, but we are working to prevent this and we are prepared for these situations. Let us rehearse and think through all possible scenarios that may arise on May 9.

What has the PPA done so far this spring in terms of removing symbols of hostility and preventing provocation? What is the most major concern for the police in this context right now?

From the beginning of the war to the present day, we have registered about 300 cases concerning the use of insignia. Our strongest weapon is talking. We ask the individual to remove the symbol, explaining that the meaning of these symbols has changed, and they may not be displayed in public in Estonia. In most cases, people understand and remove the symbolism peaceably, but we have also had to initiate almost 40 criminal proceedings. This has mostly concerned wearing the Ribbon of St. George, or, for example, drawing the letter "Z" as graffiti.

This last week (compared with the previous few weeks) has in fact seen a downward trend in the use of these militaristic symbols.

The manager of a florists sent a letter to the prime minister asking if red carnations had been banned before May 9, and also stated that PPA had visited their store, to investigate the issue of red carnations. What exactly did the police say to the florists and what is expected of these businesses? Can red carnations be sold ahead of May 9?

The PPA has been in contact with various florists preemptively, to remind them of the ban on public display of insignia used to justify aggression. 

In previous years, flower bouquets tied with Ribbons of St. George have been used on May 9. Florists have been understanding and have confirmed that they do not attach St. George's ribbons to the flowers which are on sale. Some sellers have also announced that they will not be putting carnations on sale at all. The PPA will not ban any particular varieties of flowers, and wile on May 9, the commemoration of loved ones with any type of wreath or bouquet is not prohibited, it must, however, be done without using the symbols of war.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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