A controversial Soviet-era tank monument was removed by government order from its plinth in the eastern city of Narva on Tuesday after several weeks of discussion. It has now been moved to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi.
Several other monuments located alongside the Narva River are also to be removed.
11.22 a.m.: Truck transporting tank to Viimsi starts its journey
ERR's Anton Aleksejev and Kristjan Svirgsden are at the scene in Narva and have been providing regular updates on the situation.
As of just after 11.20 a.m., the military truck transporting the tank to Viimsi had started its journey, after the tank had been removed from its plinth and placed on the trailer.
The full morning's events ran as follows:
Just before 7 a.m.: A handful of people and two security guards hired by city authorities to watch over the monument were at the location, as viewed via a live-linked security camera which was then switched off at 7 a.m., ERR reports.
Shortly after 7 a.m.: The PPA cordoned-off the road leading to the monument, a T-34-type World War Two tank and all bystanders had been ordered to leave.
8 a.m.: Aleksejev said that the tank remained on its plinth, and the removal process had not actually started at that time.
8.30 a.m.: Two Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) crane trucks arrived on the spot, meaning that removal from the plinth is likely to start soon.
Also at 8.30 a.m., the prime minister gave a press conference joined by the interior minister, the foreign minister, and the chief of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA).
Candles and flowers which had adorned the monument (see image below) had been removed by that time.
9 a.m.: the actual removal work had commenced, with the tank, a T-34 replica, lifted off its pedestal around 10 minutes later.
The removal of other Soviet monuments located alongside the Narva river, also cordoned-off to the public, had also got underway at the same time.
9:30 a.m.: the tank had not yet been lifted onto the truck-trailer. The job has been complicated by the difficulty of access for the lifting equipment (see gallery).
At 10:10 a.m.: Cables had been attached to the tank and the winching process had been carefully commenced.
By 11.00 a.m.: The tank had been hauled on to the EDF truck's trailer, ready to be transported.
11.22 a.m.: The EDF flatbed truck transporting the tank to Viimsi, around 200 km to the west, had started its journey.
The prime minister has said the tank will be relocated to the Estonian War Museum (Eesti sõjamuuseumi) in Viimsi, just outside Tallinn.
At press conference Tuesday morning featuring Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu and Director General of the PPA Elmar Vaher, the prime minister said that: ""I convened a cabinet meeting this morning, where we adopted a decision to relocate Soviet war monuments from the public space in Narva. The T-34 tank will be moved to the Estonian War Museum."
Narva police chief around 7 a.m. Tuesday morning: Cordons set up in interests of safety
Indrek Püvi, head of the PPA station in Narva, told ERR that the authority is restricting access to the public to the area around the Narva tank and several other monuments nearby.
He said: "We are creating a perimeter around three Soviet-era war monuments on the Narva-Narva-Jõesuu road, to allow their safe removal. This means that the public are not permitted within this zone, while driving or parking vehicles is forbidden. The prohibited area is clearly marked with traffic signs, and there are PPA officers on the spot who, if necessary, will guide people to detour routes."
Püvi added that he hoped for the public's understanding. "We will reopen [the road] to normal traffic as soon as possible. In the meantime, we ask everyone in the area to follow the PPA's instructions when driving."
The PPA's eastern prefecture says it imposed the curfew at the monuments to ensure public safety, meaning closing the road to traffic and pedestrians alike.
The PPA has restricted access to the Narva-Narva-Jõesuu-Hiiemetsa road, from the Kudruküla intersection to Mätta street, as well as on the Peeterristi-Kudruküla road. Detours run through Narva-Jõesuu.
In relation to other Soviet monuments on Peetri plats in central Narva, the PPA is also restricting traffic around the square and its environs. Malmi street from the intersection of Puškini is closed to traffic, and there is also no access to vehicles at the roundabout at the end of Tallinna mnt. As of 2 p.m. the work needed in removing commemorative plaques in Peetri square had been completed, and the area was open to traffic again.
Püvi added that temporary movement restriction also affects border crossings and especially those traveling by vehicle.
He said: "We will open the road to traffic and people as soon as possible, once the removal of the monuments has been conducted out safely. For local people who want to cross the border on foot, we recommend using the Narva-2 border crossing, in the Kreenholm district."
Prime Minister: No one wants to see our militant and hostile neighbor foment tensions in our home
Following the February 24 invasion, Prime Minister Kallas said that Soviet-era war monuments were no longer solely a local issue, but one of national security, whose presence should not be permit a foreign power, i.e. the Russian Federation, to stoke up tensions in Estonia or divide society.
Kallas said: "No one wants to see our militant and hostile neighbor foment tensions in our home. According to our constitution, internal peace is the central value of the Estonian state, and the defense of internal and external peace is one of the primary tasks of the state. We will not afford Russia the opportunity to use the past to disturb the peace in Estonia."
"Considering the speed of the increasing tensions and confusion around memorials in Narva, we must act quickly to ensure public order and internal security," the prime minister continued, via a government office press release.
"For this reason, the government adopted the decision to remove the war monuments of the former foreign regime there to prevent them from mobilizing more hostility in society and tearing open old wounds. The common grave of victims of World War Two in Narva will get a neutral grave marker, and will remain a dignified site for commemorating the dead."
The prime minister also emphasized the need to concentrate on our common future. "Today's decision helps us to keep our focus on our most important tasks: Ensuring Estonia's security and helping all the people of Estonia weather the crises caused by the war in Ukraine."
My government has decided to remove Soviet monuments from public spaces across #Estonia. As symbols of repressions and Soviet occupation they have become a source of increasing social tensions – at these times, we must keep the risk to public order at a minimum.— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) August 16, 2022
Foreign Minister: These monuments have no place in our public space
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says that the Russian Federation and its special services want to use the memorials commemorating a criminal, occupying regime to fuel tensions in Estonian society.
He said: "As Russia is waging a genocidal war against Ukraine and trying to break the foundations of Europe's security architecture, we cannot afford internal divisions within our society. These monuments were erected here to glorify the reoccupation of Estonia and they have no place in our public space."
We are removing all the Soviet monuments in Estonia that symbolize occupation and sow division in our society. Maintaining unity amongst and within democratic countries is at utmost importance during these difficult times. https://t.co/deAsJd71Cp— Urmas Reinsalu (@UrmasReinsalu) August 16, 2022
Interior Minister: State must remove Narva monuments to preserve public order
Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said the state must remove the monuments in the interests of public order.
He said: "Considering the current situation, ensuring public order is complicated for the authorities of the city of Narva, as is the technical side of removing monuments. It is a great and complex issue, and it is up to the state to resolve it – it would be irresponsible to let the local government shoulder this task. It is in the interests of public order and internal security to remove the monuments in question before a further increase in tensions around them," Läänemets said.
"It is clear that many locals care about the removal of the monuments but we must find a site where we can commemorate the victims of World War Two without conflicts and threat of provocations," the minister added.
The government had decided in principle to remove the war monuments from the Soviet occupation regime from the public space in Estonia by the end of this year.
The specific timeframe and order of removal will depend on the readiness and logistical plans of local authorities, the government office says.
War graves will be reinterred in cooperation with local governments, and in line with all international commitments the Republic of Estonia has undertaken with regard to the protection of cultural monuments and grave sites.
Narva city government handed over tank decision to the state
While the city government in Narva had said last week the decision on the tank's future should be a matter for local government, on Monday the decision was made to opt out of making that decision, giving the state a free rein.
Interior minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said that the tank would be removed before August 20, Restoration of Independence Day in Estonia, while Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told ERR that the removal of the tank would not take place under cover of darkness.
The removal of the tank is particularly sensitive given that Narva's populace is majority Russian-speaking, while the state is anxious to avoid any disruption during the removal process.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine from February 24 has brought Soviet-era monuments across Estonia into focus; several such monuments and statues have already been relocated or removed.
The Estonian War Museum, the planned resting place of the Narva tank, is engaged in the preservation, research and presentation of military history and cultural heritage.
The April 2007 removal and relocation of a statue commemorating the Soviet fallen in World War Two, the so-called "Bronze Soldier", was followed by several nights' rioting and looting. The statue is now located in Tallinn's military cemetery.
Editor: Andrew Whyte