Professor of Cultural History at the Estonian Academy of Arts Linda Kaljundi said that a new idea competition for how to alter the meaning of the Maarjamäe Memorial or frame it differently would be welcome.
"The Maarjamäe Memorial [to those who fell defending the Soviet Union in WWII] is an example of a monument the meaning of which has and continues to change in time. It could serve as a test platform on how to alter the meaning of monuments or frame them differently. For example, by asking what kind of information stands could be added or how to intervene in its form. It would be good to hold a new competition of ideas surrounding the memorial for solutions of how to frame its significance," Kaljundi said on the "Vikerhommik" radip program on Monday.
The historian found that war monuments could serve as places where people could think about and discuss how history has been remembered or how the authorities have tried to take advantage of it during different periods. She admitted that it would not be easy.
"Soviet monuments are a difficult part of heritage for me. They were tricky to place even before the war in Ukraine. We should take time for discussion due to this complexity and plurality of meanings. Bring together local communities and various experts. We should not fear this debate."
Kaljundi was critical of initiatives and calls to tackle Soviet monuments in the form of campaigns, spontaneously or chaotically.
"We might end up destroying a lot of monuments, whereas there is no way to reverse these processes. /.../ I believe it is a sign of a healthy society to avoid campaigns where we denounce, shame and destroy. Their legacy is a complicated one, as is our 20th century history in general, and it is naive to hope it can be quickly solved through a campaign. Even if we destroy the layer of WWII monuments, we will not be able to erase our traumatic history. It will haunt us. Keeping this complicated legacy will help us come to terms with history."
The historian added that Soviet monuments should not be lumped in together and need to be seen separately as their artistic value, local and national significance can differ. That said, monuments should not be preferred based on their artistic value.
"From the broader point of view of cultural and historical memory, smaller obelisks can be of greater significance as they are more indicative of the complexity of history. In other words, we should not rank monuments based on their artistic value by keeping ones and discarding others."
Kaljundi recalled a recent comparison by Professor Krista Kodres who asked what would have happened had all Baltic German manors been destroyed after the Republic of Estonia was born as there was great animosity toward estate owners at the time.
"An important layer of our landscape would have been destroyed and we would be poorer today in terms of legacy and understanding of history," Kaljundi said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski