While not too long ago I still thought it might be sufficient to add a plaque explaining the history to the tank on the bank of the Narva River, this is no longer enough. A pedestal alongside the road connecting Narva and Narva-Jõesuu is no place for a World War II tank; a museum is, writes Estonian President Alar Karis.
Let's talk about the meaning of symbols. Calmly, without hate or defiance, without insulting or hurting anyone.
President Vladimir Putin's order to the Russian Army to attack Ukraine on February 24 changed the meaning of many World War II-related monuments in Europe. In Estonia as well.
Russia's war against Ukraine is so barbaric, so incomprehensible and so disparaging of 21st century Europe that there's really no middle ground in views toward it. You are either against this war and against present-day Russia or you support the war and present-day Russia. There's no room for impartiality anymore.
Monuments themselves do not speak, but their meaning is addressing us loud and clear now. "Tank T-34" on the bank of the Narva River likewise no longer represents merely the events of 1944 — the retreat of German forces, the advance of the Red Army, fallen soldiers and Estonia once again ending up under foreign rule. For many people in Estonia, this old tank represents Russian forces' devastating attacks on the cities and villages of Ukraine. For me as well, as I've seen for myself in Ukraine what kind of pain and grief are inflicted by nearly identical Russian tanks.
A symbol like that is not suitable for our public space.
While not too long ago I still thought it might be sufficient to add a plaque explaining the history to the tank, this is no longer enough. A pedestal alongside the road connecting Narva and Narva-Jõesuu is no place for a World War II tank; a museum is. In a museum, the tank would once again be part of history; it wouldn't be able to draw us into a dispute in the present, and we could work on solving the real problems facing us, which is the coping of Estonia's people both this fall and winter and onward.
The same needs to happen with World War II monuments and grave markers in other Estonian towns as well, which are being relocated from parks to museums or cemeteries. Thus the historical diversity won't be lost, but rather be located with dignity in places where it won't hurt as many people or sow conflict. Everyone can commemorate the fallen of World War II in the peace of a cemetery. And one important reminder: Estonia did not participate in this war as a country, but rather was a victim of both communist and Nazi regimes.
When relocating monuments, the history is still preserved, in all its controversy and pain. I like the hopeful saying that communities in Estonia may have different pasts, but they have a common future. Everyone who has decided to live here permanently are fellow compatriots, and that is worth bearing in mind.
We need patience to talk with people and explain the decisions made by public authorities to them, should the local government for some reason leave the decision-making up to the central government. It must be clear to all of our residents why such decisions are made. On the other hand, this also means that alongside the explanations, the authorities must also be decisive — then there can be no question regarding whether the government is also capable of executing its decisions as well. It is.
One more thing. Both the regular and social media are full of views regarding what needs to be done with symbols of war and how, especially in Ida-Viru County, as well as what and how local leaders should be saying or not saying.
If anyone wants to actually be useful to Narva and Ida-Viru County in general, consider the appeal issued by Põhjarannik editor-in-chief Erik Gamzejev — moving to and working in Ida-Viru County would be a patriotic act, one that teachers, doctors, engineers, business-owners and people from all kinds of other fields can do that would provide the region with a new boost as well as strengthen its patriotism for Estonia. Many have already done so, and hopefully even more will. Those capable of seeing that Narva isn't a city of one tank.
Defining Narva as a city of one tank would be offensive and misleading. I don't want that. Narva is so much more.
Editor: Aili Vahtla