While individuals publicly displaying in Estonia symbols glorifying Russia's invasion of Ukraine have so far been cautioned, the nearer we get to May 9 - "Victory Day" in Russia – the more robustly the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will be empowered to intervene, the authorities chief, Elmar Vaher, says.
Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" on Thursday evening, Vaher said that the PPA has no information to suggest any large-scale procession or disturbance is being planned, but that it is remaining vigilant and prepared for any provocation nonetheless.
He said: "We don't have any information suggesting the organization something spectacular that could end in conflict. Our thinking is that the tinder is very dry, and one little spark, and conflict could break out. Of course, we're preparing for that eventuality."
The PPA has already carried out a lot of work aimed at making May 9 safe, he said. "The start of the war, on February 24, changed a lot, and in Estonia also."
The PPA has initiated a number of proceedings against individuals displaying symbols – even if "drawing" them in the air with their finger in one case – both those which have only become widespread since the invasion, and those – such as the orange-black Ribbon of St. George – which can trace their roots back through the entirety of the Soviet era and as far back as the Tsarist period.
Vaher said: "Any of these symbols on Russian tanks today, being worn by Russian soldiers who have been killing, raping and robbing civilians; all these symbols praise [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin and the Putin regime."
"Indeed, parading around in public with these symbols today is not a dignified thing. We are thus getting tougher. "We have been quite alert for quite some time, but we are also being more robust where necessary," he said.
Of practical methods for the PPA officer on the ground, Vaher said: "First of all, the biggest weapon for the officer is his or her word. /.../ The first step for us is negotiation. If this does not work out, then whether the event requires procedures will be dealt with later, but we will certainly have to intervene, and that intervention will be very different on May 9."
Public meetings not expressly justifying the Putin regime or intending to do so may still go ahead, he added.
"Free speech is permissible and public meetings are allowed. But if they are intended to justify the war in Ukraine, then they are forbidden."
Vaher noted that the May 9 phenomenon – gatherings have been permitted in Estonia for the 30 year since independence and only the Covid pandemic was able to significantly curb their size – is hardly likely to disappear overnight.
"Little by little. I believe in the power of the word, and of dialoguing more and more, demonstrating the picture of what is really happening in Ukraine; in that way, people will change themselves."
"Victory Day" is next Monday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte