The Ministry of Defense has decided to relocate and rebury war graves located in Võsu, Pärnu, Emmaste, Nõo and Rakvere. According to the director of the Estonian War Museum, they will consider afterward whether a public procurement should be organized for further reburials.
Each week, the Ministry of Defense fields requests from one local government or another to rebury the remains of Soviet troops located under a Soviet monument. Cited grounds for relocation are typically similar. By law, remains can be reburied if a war grave is located in an unsuitable place, such as in a park or other green space, or somewhere where mass events are held.
Thus Sven Tarto, director of the Economic Department of Nõo Municipality, explained that the heart of the municipality is just no place for a war grave.
"The current site is in a public park that quite a lot of people go to," Tarto said. "It's located in a space between a school and a music school where children have physical education classes."
On paper, the remains of 66 people are located under six stone tablets there. Nõo Municipality believes that these remains belong in the local cemetery, and according to the local official, the war in Ukraine was the final push they needed to get in touch with the Ministry of Defense.
"It's come up as an idea a little earlier than that as well, but it hasn't been as essential on the agenda," Tarto added.
It's not yet clear when digging in Nõo will begin, but the decision that the remains should be relocated and reburied was made by the War Graves Committee and thereafter the minister of defense last week already. The same document also included decisions in favor of reburials in Võsu, Pärnu, Emmaste and Rakvere as well.
Work on the site in Rakvere got underway early this Wednesday already.
The Estonian War Museum is in charge of the reburial, and according to museum director Hellar Lill, every grave is a unique project, and you never know what to expect. For example, excavations under a Soviet monument removed in Otepää last month revealed no human remains whatsoever.
"I suppose the first few burials will provide us with more significant practice, and going forward we'll be able to better plan how much labor and equipment we'll need," Lill explained. "Then we can better plan and request budgetary resources, and then we'll have to decide whether to expand our staff or then hire a company via a public procurement."
Various fates may await the monuments themselves that had been erected on top of these war graves. The monument from Rakvere, for example, will be going to the War Museum itself. According to Tarto, the stone tablets in Nõo are cracked, and their fate is yet unclear; they may be joining the relocated remains at the cemetery.
The monument in Võsu, however, includes not just names but also a robust inscription including messages about eternal glory and fascist invaders. According to Haljala Municipal Mayor Anti Puusepp, they don't know what to do with the monument either. Initial plans are for it to remain in storage for now.
Editor: Aili Vahtla