In the ongoing saga surrounding the Soviet tank monument in Narva, those local residents who are friends of Estonia need to be cared for. Estonians who lived in Narva before the war, whose stories locals may not know, need to be talked about in the city as well, Estonian Defense League member and strategic communication expert Ilmar Raag said Thursday.
Speaking on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Thursday, Raag said that when removing Soviet monuments, a conflict similar to that seen in 2007 in Estonia — sparked by the relocation of a Soviet statue known as the Bronze Soldier to a military cemetery in Tallinn — isn't inevitable.
"We can always avoid that, but the question is, at what price?" he said. "Generally speaking, this is the right question, because on one side you have defenders of the ["Tank T-34"] monument, and on the other, the desire to remove the monument. In that sense, this all resembles the prelude to 2007. The difference is that, looking at various studies, integration has continued little by little, and there are actually significantly more Russians in Estonia today who are often more Estonian nationalists than Estonians themselves."
It should not be said before events have further unfolded that all Russians think similarly, and what's most important is caring for those who are allies, Raag said.
"In the bigger picture, the question is how to differentiate among Russians these Putinists — who no doubt exist in Estonia — from those who would just like to continue living peacefully, who are neutral, and ultimately how to keep those who are Estonia's friends today with us," he said. "Behind all such conflicts is the understanding that neither Estonians nor Russians form a unified community."
According to the communications expert, the polarization between Ida-Viru County — a region with one of the fastest draining populations — and the state plays a part as well.
"Then we understand that regardless of what happens in the periphery, it will in any case result in confrontation with the hub, with Tallinn, for the people of peripheral areas," he explained. "People living in the periphery naturally take nearly every Tallinn policy they don't like pretty hard."
Another aspect right now, he continued, is the war in Ukraine aspect.
"Our Estonians have experienced a resurgence in the urgent need to demonstrate — even just in gesture terms — that under no circumstances do we condone [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's aggression toward Ukraine," Raag said. "As the Putin regime has placed World War II military success on a pedestal as nearly the sole, as the greatest merit to unite the nation, then our own gut feeling is that anything to still hint at this military success today — which from our perspective had always been associated with lies and deception anyway — needs to be dealt with now."
Over the past few decades, more Estonians than Russians have left Ida-Viru County, and from a demographic perspective, it has become moreso a Russian county, Raag said. Which is why Estonians need to ask how they themselves relate to the region.
He cited an example from within his own family — as the front had approached the city of Narva in 1944, his father, then just a couple of years old, had remained there with his grandmother, who decided to take the child with her and flee. Many Estonians similarly fled Narva before the bombing began, and between people fleeing and the bombing of the city, Narva lost its population of that time.
"Do we also commemorate the population who left during World War II and never came back in Narva?" Raag asked. "That would among other things be the story of Estonian citizens related to Narva. One issue involving the tank which is kind of very human is the fact that, living in their own information bubble, a lot of Narva residents cannot imagine — empathetically speaking, they actually do not know — this tank's double meaning. They feel as though people are against the tank, because everyone against it are fascists anyway. But that empathetic story about refugees, that we don't see anywhere in the public cityscape."
Known colloquially simply as the Narva tank, "Tank T-34" is a monument located on the left bank of the Narva River marking the spot where Soviet forces crossed the river to repel occupying German forces from the city.
It is located approximately halfway between Narva-Jõesuu and Narva's city center in Siivertsi, and is currently the focus of a dispute as Estonian government leaders have called for it to be removed.
Editor: Aili Vahtla