Councilors in the eastern Estonian town of Narva are next Monday, August 15, set to rule on the fate of a controversial monument, a replica World War Two-era Soviet tank. ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported that a decision in draft would relocate it in a museum within city limits.
Both coalition and opposition councilors are unanimous on the matter being one for the city, and not the state, to decide on.
The town's mayor, Katri Raik, told AK that: "We don't even know the location yet," adding that what is clear is that it would be cordoned off from the public, "so it will not be the focal point of any types of 'pilgrimage'," Raik went on.
As to the time frame, the two weeks the city council had already mentioned was realistic, Raik said, in the face of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' (Reform) demand that the tank be removed from its current location, next to a highway just north of the city, as soon as possible.
Raik said: "Faster [than two weeks] is not possible. If it were, would move forward a few days faster. I hope that the state will respect the city of Narva as an independent municipality, and our decisions to be made on our own property, on our own land."
The city government which Raik heads up says it plans to recruit a security firm which would oversee the replica tank, with security cameras linked to the city's official website for public viewing, during the process of removal and relocation.
This is being done to head off potential unrest, with the April 2007 "Bronze Soldier night" riots in mind.
A committee is to be formed at city council chambers next Monday, which would decide on the monument's final location; between its removal and installation in its new home, it will be concealed from public view.
Aleksei Jevgrafov, chair of the opposition Narva Heaks councilors, told AK that: "It is now clear that the government will not change its decision and the city must do everything within its power to allow the tank to remain in Narva. The people of Narva must decide for themselves where it will end up."
Tatjana Stolfat, who is chair of the opposition Center Party political group in the city reiterated this.
She said: "We will do everything possible so that the state does not interfere in this process."
The prime minister had said earlier in the week that a fortnight was too lengthy a lead time for the relocation of the tank and that the state would step in if a faster timetable was not met.
Mayor Raik, a former interior minister, had originally appealed for assistance from the national government – under current law, the fate of any Soviet-era monument, provided it does not have human remains interred nearby as an integral part of the site, is a matter for local and not national government, a provision likely made with the majority Russian-speaking Narva, and the surrounding Ida-Viru County, in mind.
Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) has stated that the replica tank, the iconic T-34 variety, should be housed in a war museum within Estonia but not simply relocated from the city outskirts to its center, and should also be a matter for the state if necessary, in cooperation with the local authority.
Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine from February 24 has meant many such Soviet-era, war-related edifices, ranging from war graves to statues to military equipment and running the gamut in terms of current upkeep and public visits, have come under scrutiny, with some already having been relocated or removed, others left in place for the time being and still others part-dismantled or defaced.
Editor: Andrew Whyte