Narva's Soviet-era tank monument must be removed and a support package for the city is being prepared, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said on Tuesday. City Mayor Katri Raik said a concrete support plan would help to establish common grounds during discussions with locals.
"Nothing else can be done. This tank has significant symbolic value, but sadly for the people of Narva, its symbolic value differs from that of the majority of Estonians. That is why the government should start thinking about how to better make people in Narva understand the state and its [geo-political] situation, namely, that of Estonia and, by extension, of the entire European Union," said Läänemets.
The minister said the removal of the Narva tank is managed by a working group established by the Government Office to address the issues related to Soviet-era monuments. This working group supplements the work of the Ministry of Defense's War Graves Commission, which only deals with the reburial of graves while removing memorials is not part of its remit.
The working group is expected to make a proposal to the government. At the same time, Läänemets plans to propose a Narva support package to the government consisting of a new hospital, more rental housing, and room heating cost reductions.
The package, Läänemets said, has a long time span and should not be considered as a sweetener.
"I do not think it will have much of an impact on the way people feel about it, i.e., regarding the removal of Soviet monuments. However, later on, with everything that follows [after the initiation of the support deal], I think that sentiment will begin to change, i.e. how the Estonian state is perceived and related to Narva," Läänemets added.
"If the assertion is that we have a proposal in which the tank is exchanged for something else, then this is not what we are saying. This is not the core issue. It is not a question of whether or not we should attempt a swap and if no agreement is reached, the deal will be off. No! The government has to take a firm stance on the tank. I have repeatedly said that a tank, a symbol of aggression, is not suitable to be on display in Narva in this way," Läänemets said.
He added that a portion of the suggested support package is already in the works, which includes heating and previously discussed topics such as the Narva hospital and rental properties.
In addition to the removal of the tank, it would be good, the minister said, to engage in a dialogue with the people in Narva and discuss possible investments.
Raik: Support would help to ease tensions
The removal of the tank requires communicating with the citizens of Narva and explaining why its removal is now necessary, said the Mayor of Narva Katri Raik.
She says the support package would make it easier to talk to people.
"You definitely need to talk to people; for instance, as we did here prior to May 9. We spent two months with the Police and Border Guard Board discussing with the residents of Narva what had changed following the onset of the war [in Ukraine] and why May 9 was no longer a day of celebration, but one of remembrance, and how to commemorate during the present circumstances. I did not keep track, but I believe I attended 20 to 30 public meetings during that time," Raik said.
"This is hard work. Now that summer is over and these tank matters are somewhat clearer, the same type of work should be done again. Explaining why it is not suitable for public display nowadays. Why the Estonian perspective is what it is. What is it that Estonians do not comprehend about Russians, and vice versa," Raik added.
"The is no other alternative to this practice of meeting large groups of people and listening to them, letting off steam, establishing common ground," Raik added.
"Ministers come and go from Narva, while, inevitably, the local city administrations and police are left behind to maintain security and public order. We have to manage this situation cooperatively. It is easy to instruct from Tallinn what the right thing to do is. So I am repeating again my invitation to people who are flinging rocks at us: come live in Narva for a few weeks, and then we'll speak," Raik added.
She also said that it would be ideal while talking to locals to be able to show what is being meant with the support package.
"It could provide a backdrop for talking with locals; more importantly, if we remove something, what will we return in its place?" Raik asked. "The average salary in Narva is €1,050, whereas in Tallinn it is €1,700, a major difference for your pocket," she said.
Editor: Kristina Kersa