Narva mayor: We need to offer the people of Narva something in return

Removal of the
Removal of the "Tank T-34" monument near Narva. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Mayor of Narva Katri Raik (SDE) told ERR in an interview that because the removal of the "Tank T-34" monument will hurt Narva residents, something that can help soothe the pain must be offered instead. Raik also said that the Narva opposition is looking to sue the central government.

What is the mood in Narva today, among people close to you and those you meet on the street?

It is a beautiful summer morning in Narva, as it is elsewhere in Estonia, and because there are road closures, people are taking alternative routes. But the eyes of my colleagues in the city government are three times the size of mine. It is a day following which a new chapter needs to be opened in the history of Narva, life in the city. I met with a representative of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) who was drawing up paperwork for the storage of a movable based on the Law Enforcement Act. The movable in question is the tank T-34 that is owned by the city of Narva.

Is it rather an air of bewilderment, people asking what is happening, or are we talking about indignation?

Yes, there is a lot of bafflement in terms of why this is being done to us and why now. I have also asked whether this is the right time. But we know that there is never a right time for something like this. The PPA and its partners have launched their [removal] efforts (the tank-monument was removed from its location on the outskirts of Narva at around 11 a.m. on Monday and will be taken to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi - ed.). They listed seven monuments during the [government] press conference, meaning that these efforts are not limited to the tank. It is clear all of it will take many hours.

This means that people simply cannot access many places in Narva today, traffic has been disrupted as many areas have been cordoned off. For example, people cannot get to the Peetri Square (Peetri plats), which is a central location in the city.

They can. I just came from Peetri Square, there is no activity here. The police said that everything was calm near the tank when they arrived this morning. People left peacefully. A long stretch of the road has been cordoned off, and there is currently no physical danger for the people of Narva in connection with the monuments' removal.

People are waking up and trying to come to terms with it.

The first signals have suggested the state [government] needs to be sued. As proposed by Narva opposition leaders.

So, it will be a hot day, and it will not be the only one. I wish for everyone in Narva to stay calm, keep a cool head and understand that today will be followed by tomorrow, so that we would not have to feel ashamed for these days in August that will change Narva so much. I promise to continue as the mayor of every Narva citizen and understand people's very different feelings, just understand them.

In other words, representatives of the opposition have phoned you asking for the city to take action to retake ownership of the tank? Will the city council be convened, are there calls for an extraordinary city government sitting? What is happening in Narva politically?

The opposition, following the city council sitting yesterday, entered a new document into proceedings the first item on which was that the tank needs to remain where it is until the city government can find a new location for it. That is what the opposition filed yesterday. The next council meeting is scheduled for August 25. We have no reason to doubt these topics will come up. Coalition delegates will be meeting at 10 a.m. I will contact the leaders of the opposition to discuss what will come next. Frankly, I was quite startled when opposition leaders used words like "a piece of iron" – something that has zero value in the city balance – to refer to the tank at the press conference.

In truth, what we have is a conflict of values, the toughest kind of conflict. We have different understandings of the end of World War Two. Whether it was the end of fascism, the end of fascism and the start of the occupation, or just the start of the occupation? We will forever differ on that in Estonia, unfortunately.

Our local Russians have a very serious identity crisis today. Russians who have lived here for decades, saying that they love Estonia and often adding, "I was born in Estonia, this is my only home." Yet, they had a hero named Putin on the other side of the border. Now, the question is whether Putin is a hero, and many understand deep down that he is not. But it is painful to admit. It is a challenge for Estonia and its citizens to try and understand these people.

We need to offer them something in return. What to put in its place? What is the common ground based on which we can move forward? We cannot abandon these soul-stricken people now.

Do you still believe it would have been more sensible for Narva to take action itself? Or, looking at the manpower the government has mustered and its systematic approach, perhaps the state is faster and stronger. Is it a matter requiring speed and strength?

The government's action is definitely faster and more forceful. There is no question. What I had in mind would have been more complicated, longer and caused a lot of debates. But it would also have involved the locals, made it possible to move on together. Perhaps Estonia is preoccupied with who will be kicking in whose teeth in Narva. But 60+ Narva old ladies will not be breaking windows. Should there be unrest, it will take place this evening. Not much that can be done about that now. The question is how will we live on. What will we do tomorrow? The day after? How much of it will be depression and pain? How much will be disappointment in the Estonian state, government?

I have lived in Narva for 23 years, and I can tell you that I have experienced just one conflict based on nationality until now. But this Sunday, people I greeted on the street replied by saying "goodbye." And it hurt me a great deal.

I gather then that from Narva's point of view, it is less important what will happen this evening compared to what will transpire in hearts and minds over the next few years.

Yes, that will be much more decisive. Events today and tomorrow are the responsibility of the Police and Border Guard (PPA). I wish everyone working on [moving] the monuments strength. I hope that neither the people of Narva nor those taking part in the work will have to suffer. I have turned the page.

While reports from Narva suggest the situation is calm, what does your heart tell you in terms of what's coming? You know a lot of people in Narva personally, and I'm sure you've met with those who have been most worried in recent weeks. Will everything remain calm or will the dissatisfaction manifest somewhere?

I believe there will be many dark red faces and mean words during our next meeting. I believe words will be used as weapons in the coming days, weeks and months. We also need to realize that today's decisionmakers will be in Tallinn by then, leaving the local government to deal with people. I will likely be holding dozens upon dozens of meetings in the coming months.

Both Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Minister of Internal Affairs Lauri Läänemets (SDE) emphasized threat assessments regarding public order during the government press conference on Monday. To the best of your knowledge, how many people could try and foment trouble in Narva?

I have not seen threat assessments, but there is no acute danger or riled up moods in the city now. Perhaps people have been left with the impression that thousands have gathered around the tank. That is not the case. At most, 150 people have gathered near the monument at the same time. People came, went and understood that it would not stay where it is. The tank looked like May 9 and then some yesterday (Sunday - ed.) evening. There were so many flowers and candles. Of course, we cannot underestimate our eastern neighbor's activities and potential provocations. The matter of the tank would have needed a solution one way or another. Could it have been done more peacefully, causing less harm? I believe so. But since Estonia has made its decision, all I can do is accept it.

Narva Mayor Katri Raik. Source: Government Office of Estonia (Stenbocki maja) Flickr


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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