Local governments are becoming increasingly interested in the relocation of Soviet era war memorials and monuments, particularly when these are in prominent locations.
At the same time, the issue is complicated by the presence of human remains – sometimes it is not even clear if there really are human remains located at a site – which makes the decision one for local, and not national, government.
There are 132 such war graves in Estonia, containing as many as over 60,000 sets of human remains, located outside the territory of any designated cemetery, though not all of these need to be relocated, Hellar Lill, director of the Estonian War Museum (Sõjamuuseum) says. Primary responsibility for disinterring human remains contained in war graves near to Soviet era monuments lies with the war museum.
Lill said: "The law states that war graves in unsuitable places should be reburied: Green areas, densely populated areas. The Minister of Defense has delegated the organization of the burial to the war museum."
Anu Rannaveski, who is the director general of the defense resources board (Kaitseressursside amet) at the Ministry of Defense, said that while there has been growing interest in the issue from local government, the ministry does not plan to deal with reburials nationwide and systematically.
Rannaveski said: "We have actually mapped them; there are many war graves, many of which lie outside cemeteries. Considering we are talking about the need for more than 60,000 people to be reburied, then that is a very large number."
This would also be very expensive, Hellar Lille said.
"It would require very different resources to organize this work. The current system works, and seems reasonable," he said.
Authorities in the southwestern town of Pärnu want to move one such monument, currently in the Old Park (Vanapark) in the town center, to a cemetery, with human remains to be re-interred in the vicinity of a Red Army Monument.
In Otepää, Valga County, the remains of Red Army soldiers who fell in World War Two are to be reburied in the near future, and similar applications from five other municipalities are also pending.
This all presents a certain challenge for the war museum, Lill noted. "We will now get in some best practices via the initial relocation of war graves, and then we will be able to assess the pace of this and the need for additional resources."
Against this background, the Ministry of Defense plans to amend the Protection of War Graves Act, to render it more flexible regarding reburials.
The changes also affect the war graves commission (Sõjahaudade komisjon), Rannaveski added.
"Today, for the most part, it is still such an official body, which also includes many representatives of the ministries. In the future, it will be more of an expert committee," she said.
A law passed last month made mandatory the relocation of monuments which do not have human remains of the fallen buried as an integral part of the memorial, and a matter for national government. If the memorial does contain human remains, it is a matter for local government.
High-profile cases of the latter include one which was situated inside a cemetery, the Mihkli cemetery in Lääneranna, Pärnu County, and which was last month removed overnight.
There are 79 municipalities across Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte