Tallinn still waiting for go-ahead to renovate Maarjamäe Memorial complex

Pedestrians on Pirita tee with the Maarjamäe Memorial in the background.
Pedestrians on Pirita tee with the Maarjamäe Memorial in the background. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Tallinn is awaiting permission from the government to start renovating the dilapidated Soviet-era Maarjamäe Memorial complex, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) believes the monument must lose its original meaning first.

The complex's land is jointly owned by the government and the capital, Deputy Mayor of Tallinn Vladimir Svet (Center) said and permission is needed before any work can start.

The memorial, which commemorates those who had died defending the Soviet Union, is in poor condition and Tallinn raised the subject of restoration work last year.

Svet said the council plans to conserve the concrete parts against further decay, install a rainwater drainage system and new lights. Additionally, signs will be put up to explain the area's history.

Funding has already been allocated in the city's budget, but the government still needs to sign off on the plans, he said.

"In the first half of this year, we reached the understanding that all relevant ministries and state offices involved in this issue, especially the Ministry of the Environment, are completely behind the plan. A government decision is needed to transfer the Maarjamäe memorial to the city. To my knowledge, the Reform Party has made it clear that it does not want to put this issue on the government's table," said Svet.

Maarjamäe memorial. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

He said the capital has told the government several times it is ready to take over the running of the complex and he hopes the decision will be given soon.

Reinsalu: Maarjamäe memorial complex is a Communist monument

At Thursday's government press conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu said a decision needs to be made about the complex but he believes Estonia should get rid of all Communist monuments by the end of the year.

He said does not support restoration but people's safety should be ensured.

"A solution must be found, the result of which is that we do not have such a complex that can be treated as a Communist monument," said Reinsalu.

He said the plaques honoring military units that participated in the re-occupation of Estonia, including the bombing of Tallinn, should be removed. The minister said these are not graves.

"This is a curiosity that needs to be eliminated," said Reinsalu. 

Maarjamäe memorial Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Svet: Complex has lost its original meaning

Svet said many people no longer think of the complex as a Soviet memorial site.

He said the area has been called an outstanding work of Estonian landscape architecture by members of all political parties, prominent Estonian architects and landscape architects.

It does not feature any Soviet plaques and part of the public space and landscape also runs along Pirita Promenade.

"It is not a place where flowers are taken on May 9. It is not a place where any parades take place," the deputy mayor added.

But Reinsalu argued that the ideology behind the complex still exists.

"But what was this obelisk built for? It was built as a Communist monument, therefore common sense tells me, it is a Communist monument," he said.

Maarjamäe memorial Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Svet told ERR that Estonia's former President Lennart Meri wanted to give the complex a new meaning.

"The only major official event that took place at the Maarjamäe Memorial was organized by Lennart Meri in 1994, when he wanted to celebrate the departure of Soviet troops from Estonian territory there and give the memorial a new meaning. I understand it as President Meri showing us the way and I think it would be wrong to leave that path now and tear down the Maarjamäe Memorial," he said.

Margit Martinson, vice chancellor of the Ministry of the Environment, told ERR the complex's safety issues need to be dealt with quickly and a political decision is needed.

"At the moment, the complex is falling apart and in places it is in a dangerous condition for people. The Maarjamäe area should be made safe as soon as possible," she said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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