Mayor of the eastern Estonian city of Narva, Katri Raik says that the decision to remove a controversial monument was not made lightly.
Speaking to ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Monday, Raik said that the ruling coalition in the town, which consists of Raik's own list of councilors, plus the Eesti 200 party, had been made with the country's best interests in mind.
She said: "We made our decision today because we do not want Estonia to be divided into two, 'us and them', i.e. we, Narva, and then the rest of Estonia."
Raik rejected any implication that the prime minister's visit on Monday to the town and calls for the removal of the monument, a replica T-34 tank decorated with a red star and located just north of Narva itself, had meant that local government had bowed to national government pressure.
"Certainly Narva is an independent local government, and it is not a place where the state dictates how things should be conducted. According to [the Estonian] constitution, local governments have their rights and responsibilities, and, like other municipalities, Narva also wants to bring out its rights and responsibilities. Narva is an Estonian city," Raik went on.
Raik added, however, that the decision to move the "tank" was made on Monday morning, just before Kallas' arrival in Narva, and went against the instincts of the vast majority of townspeople in the predominantly Russian-speaking city of 57,000 people.
"The decision was very, very hard, and even just half an hour before the prime minister's arrival, it was not certain whether the decision would be forthcoming. There has been several days of negotiations, arguments. Unfortunately, it was not viable to make such a decision earlier, as the decision to move the tank arose from today's position; it is far from being the right decision in the minds of all the people of Narva," she said.
In other words, the local government did an about turn on its earlier position and now faces the difficult task of rationalizing the removal to local residents, Raik said.
This entails sensitivity, given the tank constitutes a type of memorial for many people, she added.
The dummy tank will be temporarily housed in a secure
Raik added that she would remain in constant contact with the prime minister on the project, adding that the removal would not take place under cover of darkness.
A former Social Democratic interior minister, Raik ran as mayor, a post she had already held in Narva, in the October local election with her own list of candidates rather than for any mainstream party – a common practice in local elections in Estonia. As noted this formed the basis of a coalition, together with Eesti 200 councilors.
location before being moved to a more appropriate, permanent site, Raik went on – exactly where should become clear today, Tuesday, she added, while the time-frame for the removal she put at around two weeks.
Narva had previously been a Center Party stronghold, though had long been riven with factionalism and breakaway groups.
Former president Kersti Kaljulaid visited the town in an official capacity on more than one occasion during her term, even basing her office there for over a week at one point. Kaljulaid's successor, Alar Karis, has said that the tank monument should be placed in a museum.
Both local and national politicians are anxious to avoid a repeat of anything even remotely resembling the April 2007 "bronze soldier" riots, when several nigths' looting in central Tallinn followed the overnight relocation of a Soviet war memorial – the titular bronze statue and some human remains – from Tõnismägi, across town to the military cemetery, where it remains.
While a crowd of 100-150 people gathered at the site of the Narva tank monument last Wednesday evening, following rumors of its imminent removal, calm has generally prevailed.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael