Riina Solman: The time to remove symbols of occupation is now
Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) finds that the war in Ukraine is suitable context for removing from public spaces symbols of occupation that have been left there – monuments and streets named after Soviet characters. She said work is underway on giving the government levers with which to demand local governments change place names.
"I believe there is fertile moral soil for such change in Estonia today, as concerns inappropriate place names or Soviet monuments," Solman told ERR on Thursday. "The war in Ukraine, Russia's aggression and butchery in Ukraine has given us the moral right to look at the wounds that have not yet healed for the Estonian people. Because what is happening in Ukraine matters a great deal to us, reminds us of our parents' history, it is entirely justified today to see that the Place Names Act helps heal the wounds of our people and replace the names of Soviet murderers still on public display," the minister added.
Solman was referring to Narva streets named after Soviet activists Albert-August Tiimann and Ants (Ansis) Dauman who fought against the birth of the Republic of Estonia that the city authorities have refused to rename despite repeated calls to do so.
She said that the Riigikogu complemented the Place Names Act back in 2020, adding the clause that a person's name cannot serve as a commemorative name if the person has acted in opposition to the creation of the Republic of Estonia, its constitutional order or the restoration of Estonian independence. In cases where such discrepancies manifest, the minister in charge will ask the local government to change the unsuitable names after receiving a corresponding proposal from the Place Name Council.
"My predecessor as public affairs minister, Jaak Aab, sent a letter to the Narva city government on July 25, 2020, asking for the matter of the Daumani and Tiimani streets to be addressed based on the Place Names Act and the names replaced with those more appropriate in Estonian historical and cultural context," Solman said.
Because the Narva city council has not changed the street names, the minister plans to introduce another amendment to the Place Names Act. "We plan to amend the Place Names Act to give the right to change unsuitable names to the minister, of course, in cooperation with the local government, in cases where the local authorities fail to carry out the changes."
"Work on the bill has begun, and we plan to take it to the parliament after it has been bounced around between ministries," the public administration minister said.
Solman added that she is convinced the people of Narva understand the initiative to remove the names of Soviet activists from public space. "I am quite sure that the people of Narva are compassionate and will understand once the history is explained to them. I believe it is the oversight of Narva municipal authorities, not having done these things – quite consciously, as we know that our hostile neighbor's information warfare tricks include influence activity through such place names, defeating another people using monuments," she suggested.
The minister said that removal of Soviet symbols should not result in too much emotion or conflict. "But we need to realize that the conflict of values exists and cannot be solved by just ignoring things. These debates, what is fitting and should be done today, need to be had in public, and I believe people will get behind the name changes," she found.
Asked whether the ministry's initiative could end up causing the state and local governments to fall out, Solman said it depends on how officials and politicians conduct themselves.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski