Estonian municipalities debate future of remaining Soviet monuments

People leaving flowers at the World War II Memorial in Tartu on May 9.
People leaving flowers at the World War II Memorial in Tartu on May 9. Source: Henry-Laur Allik / ERR

Four Estonian municipalities have requested to move Soviet monuments and rebury the remains of Red Army soldiers. Several others are debating the future of theirs.

Otepää, Tartu, Nõo and Türi have turned to the Estonian War Museum to request the removal of monuments, director Hellar Lill told Monday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" evening news show.

According to the Protection of War Graves Act, the museum must take the lead in such cases and it is their job to move monuments and remains. No final decisions have been made yet.

The issue has returned to the news cycle in all three Baltic countries after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

In Estonia, there are 150 Red Army burial sites that are situated outside of cemeteries.

"A large number of them are in a place unsuitable for the burial site," Lill said, adding it is up to municipalities to find a place to relocate the monuments or remains too.

The War Graves Protection Act defines an unsuitable place as a park, a densely populated area, a place where mass events are held, or another place unworthy of a grave.

The museum has previously coopered with Seto and Lääne-Nigula municipalities.

The Ministry of Defense or government deals with the reburial of remains.

Issue on agenda in Põlva and Türi

One of the Soviet monuments in Põlva. Source: ERR

Põlva Municipality is debating the removal of the remains of 270 soldiers and four Soviet monuments.

The statues in Tilsis, Vastse-Kuuste, Ahja and the center of Põlva do not feature Soviet symbols and do not draw much attention from locals.

"No one comes here to celebrate them or bring flowers, there is no sickle and hammer here and there is no proud slogan," said Martti Rõigas, the mayor of Põlva. He said the attitude towards the statues is "neutral".

However, some of the remains are currently buried in public parks and the council will soon decide how to move forward.

"The remains should still be reburied, and if the remains are reburied, the monuments should accompany them," Rõigas said.

Türi Municipality in Järva County is also discussing removing its monument and war graves, which are situated close to the entrance of the town.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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