Kaupo Meiel: The best monument is a nonexistent one
The days of the removal and rethinking of Soviet monuments could serve as an opportunity to look to the future and abandon altogether the practice of creating political and ideological monuments of dedication, ERR opinion editor Kaupo Meiel finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
If we took all the words and thoughts that have been, are and will be expressed on the topic of Soviet monuments in recent weeks and poured them into bronze or carved them in stone, we could erect Estonia's greatest monument. Whereas I cannot tell you what it could be dedicated to. Perhaps we are in desperate need of a hollow energy pillar or the apotheosis of debate culture.
In light of the war in Ukraine and looming Riigikogu elections, debating the fate of Soviet monuments and, in some cases, their rapid, empathetic and relatively quiet removal is both understandable and necessary.
Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman has said: "I believe there is fertile moral soil for such change in Estonia today, as concerns inappropriate place names or Soviet monuments." Of course, that moral soil was created the minute Estonia restored its independence and has now lasted for over 30 years.
Still, it seems we had to wait for Russia to do what it tends to do, postponing addressing Soviet monuments and questionable grave markers from one year to the next. Red stars, five-pointed stars, tanks, cannons and other similar symbols have remained through all this time and continued to recall, distort and glorify the past.
Now, the Government Office has been complemented with a somewhat secretive monuments' committee that has urged people to report Soviet monuments for the purposes of creating a register. Therefore, Estonia lacks a complete overview of all occupation era monuments. Its creation will allow interactive graphs like the ones maintained during the Covid period: of how many monuments remain standing, how many have been removed and how the problem will be solved once the former reaches zero.
However, this will likely not happen, at least not by the end of the year, which goal was phrased by Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu. While more progressive local governments can handle smaller grave markers and monuments, the Maarjamäe Memorial in Tallinn and the Tank T-34 monument in Narva seem to be tougher nuts to crack.
Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Svet said that the capital is prepared to pay for the planning and reconstruction of the memorial complex. Svet wrote in Eesti Päevaleht: "Joint efforts can yield new and high-quality city space in Tallinn that retains what is old and valuable, while lending it new life and adding a neutral and competent interpretation to existing historical strata." We are talking about €3 million here.
This serves as an example of efforts to rethink monuments and make sure the wolves are fed and the voters intact. It is all we can hope for from the leaders of the capital, alongside new warnings that if the ideological legacy of Soviet times is addressed too directly and forcefully, a new Bronze Night could follow.
"Estonia does not need a new monumental conflict as the events associated with the Bronze Soldier have been aptly called," Svet said. This threat camouflaged as a warning keeps resurfacing, aimed at manufacturing fear. Let us hold off on doing this or that lest society will split and wounds are created that can only be healed by looting jewelry stores and breaking newspaper stand windows or stealing a new pair of shoes and some hygiene products.
Ceaseless fear ultimately renders all action impossible. "Fear is the mind killer," as put by Frank Herbert in his novel "Dune."
The fate of the tank in Narva, the location and role in Ida-Viru County of which has made it one of the greatest symbols of the monuments dilemma, is rather similar to that of the Maarjamäe Memorial.
Narva Mayor Katri Raik had this to say in an interview to Eesti Päevaleht: "I very much hope that members of the government who have suggested it [the Tank T-34 monument] should be taken down tomorrow are prepared to come and talk to the people of Narva, and that their message will remain as clear as it has been in the Estonian press. Brandishing fists cannot take us forward, and I say a firm 'no' to the monuments' war."
In both Tallinn and Narva, the problem goes beyond monuments to the central and local authorities' different vision of the Estonia we live in and must continue to inhabit. To paraphrase an Estonian television play, while it seems that both the state and local governments are pursuing the Estonian agenda, they seem to be after different things.
It has been suggested that the tank in Narva be colored light purple, its turret pointed eastward or its gun barrel tied in a knot. While these are all worthy proposals, endless efforts to give phenomena new meaning can become a habit to a point where we would also strive to rethink new invading tanks from the east instead of destroying them.
Ilmar Raag has suggested that the removal of Soviet monuments is not an attempt to delete history, while public space cannot force on people messages they cannot avoid and that we consensually find offensive. This summary could be enough for a consensus for both the central and local authorities.
To expand the topic of Soviet monuments to political and ideological monumental art in general, once the debate has been launched, we could change our entire way of thinking and stop creating national monuments of dedication altogether. And yes, that would include the planned giant head monument to Konstantin Päts next to the Estonia Opera Theater.
Whenever there is enough money for either a monument to a former politician or a football pitch for today's kids, the latter should be built as it is what every proper statesman would have wanted.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski