Narva city authorities must remove the Soviet tank monument as quickly as possible, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said Monday following a meeting with Narva city government and Narva City Council, adding that should the matter drag and tensions rise, the government will intervene.
Narva's ruling coalition decided on Monday that Narva City Council will task the city government with removing the Soviet-era "T-34" tank monument located on the left bank of the Narva River.
Speaking at an extraordinary press conference held in the northeastern border city, Kallas said that the atmosphere at her meeting with city council members was constructive, and that the city council understands the necessity of the decision.
"What's important is that we are able to ensure security in Estonia, and I'm not just talking here about threats that threaten us from outside of Estonia, but also internal security as well," she said. "It is precisely to ensure public order that all of these monuments need to be removed, before tensions or anxiety builds to the point that it has a much higher price already."
According to the prime minister, there is no longer any dispute regarding whether the tank is appropriate for its current location — the question is how and when it should be removed. Monuments of historical and cultural value end up going to museums, but the fallen should be commemorated with dignity, first and foremost in a cemetery.
Kallas noted that the majority of Narva City Council members agreed with the need to remove Soviet monuments from the public space, adding that another shared common understanding was the fact that this needs to happen quickly, in order to avoid tensions growing. Kallas would not rule out intervention by the state either.
"Our role is to ensure order," she stressed. "When I was asked to promise that the state wouldn't do anything /.../, I gave no such promise. Because it's our job to ensure order. If we see tensions in internal or foreign security rising that Narva City Council doesn't see, then we as a state have to intervene to limit damages."
No agreement reached on when
Nonetheless, according to Kallas, they did not reach an agreement with city officials on Monday regarding when exactly the tank monument would be removed. Narva Mayor Katri Raik (SDE) said that it may happen two weeks from now, but the prime minister found that this was too long.
"My wish and request of the city council and the mayor, which I also communicated to them, was that we need to act much, much faster," Kallas said.
She said that both she and Narva City Council had a common desire to address this issue once and for all, in such a way that no one would have to come back to it again anymore. She also added that she had asked that city council help explain the matter to local residents.
Raik said at Monday's press conference that the earliest a city council meeting could be held at which a decision could be adopted is next Tuesday. She explained that she considered two weeks of preparations for removing the tank to be a realistic schedule, but added that what's most important is explaining the matter to people by the tank as well as people out on the street, in order to keep tensions in check.
The city plans to temporarily store the tank monument out of sight somewhere, after which it can decide with help from the relevant committee what will become of it going forward.
"It is important to the people of Narva that the tank remain in Narva," the mayor explained. "This has become the key issue when talking to nonprofits that typically organize monument-related things and observances, but also when talking to people guarding the tank as well."
Raik added that it is the job of city authorities to reassure people, to try to dispel the guarding of the tank, to explain that police are maintaining order and to set up a public live feed of the tank to ease people's fears that the tank will be removed in the middle of the night.
Kallas noted that she did not intend to go meet with people at the tank monument herself while in town, noting that there are some 200-400 Soviet monuments still located throughout Estonia and she has no intention of visiting them all. She did, however, ask that Narva city councilmembers go meet with them, noting that they represent the people of Narva and can best talk with them.
Raik promised that as soon as Monday's talks wrapped up, she as mayor and members of Narva City Council would be heading over to the tank monument to seek common ground with the people there.
"The tank is the hottest topic right now," she said. "As soon as July electricity bills and the first heating bills start coming in, the needle will shift significantly. The monument isn't the only challenge Narva faces."
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