Prime minister: State dealt with Narva tank removal very professionally

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While the operation to remove the Soviet-era tank monument from its location just outside the eastern Estonian town of Narva, along with the removal of other Soviet-era monuments and memorials in the area, was logistically speaking a complex task, it was good job well done, and conducted professionally, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says.

Kallas had given the order to remove the monuments starting early Tuesday morning and gave her view of the day's events to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" in an interview which follows in its entirety.

How did it go in terms of the residents and leaders in Narva's surprise that the state carried the task out by itself?

We were in close communication with Narva [authorities], while as recently as last Monday, Narva's message - an appeal to me and bearing the signatures of all city council parties - that the tank must go, was clear. 

They had until Monday (August 15 – ed.) to make a decision, but on Monday we found out that they would not make that decision. In order to ensure internal calm and avoid an escalation of tensions, we had to make this decision ourselves, plus implement it immediately.

How do you, personally, assess the situation in Narva now, and in the coming days?

First of all, this whole operation was very complex logistically and involved various aspects. The state acted very professionally, which I am glad about. We are closely monitoring what is now happening in Narva. So far, there have been no incidents, which is a good thing. The police have behaved very diplomatically, the removal crews in the same way, and the public has generally been understanding. I hope it stays that way.

How do you view Narva's city leaders' stand-off with the Estonian state?

There is only one Estonian Republic. When I visited Narva council (last Monday, August 8 – ed.), a diverse spread of understandings of history could be found there. However, even as we may have different views of the past, we should have common one concerning the future. We should also concentrate on this future, together. Estonia is our home, and we all want peace and order to prevail here.

The rest of the country had been hearing incredible views about Narva in recent days, with talk of "our Narva" and "the other Estonia". Thirty-one years of integration have not brought many results, so what does the government intend to do to integrate Narva and Ida-Viru County with the rest of Estonia?

Education in the Estonian-language is the key. When I meet with members of the Narva council, the fact that it is not possible to speak Estonian with many of them is a major problem, as well as the concepts of history being somewhat different. The fact that we are switching to uniform Estonian-language education should reduce this problem, so that we are in a uniform information space.

Is it these concerts in Narva, and Narva residents' trips to the National Opera, paid for by the state, that united the people of Narva with the rest of Estonia?

The Ministry of Culture has prepared a whole package of different ideas and measures on how to make the integration process better. This is what we are discussing at cabinet level. It is clear that we have a Republic of Estonia. Given what is happening in Ukraine right now, however, this has reopened old wounds, which are deep. This makes such moves necessary.

When will all the "red" monuments disappear from the public space in Estonia?

We have quite a lot of these in Estonia. In all places we want to cooperate with local authorities. There are a number of local governments that have approached us asking for help in moving Soviet monuments, or who have dealt with it themselves. We need to look at war graves where people are buried as a separate thing, so that everyone is respectful and understanding. Let us start with the rules governing war graves.* We are going at such a pace - local municipalities are those who a primarily taking these steps, and the state is here to support them.

Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said on Tuesday morning that all Soviet monuments will be gone by the end of the year.

Given that the existence of more and more Soviet monuments is becoming apparent, we are trying to set goals which are realistic. Our desire is that they would disappear from the public space altogether. However, we have to do that in a way that takes into account as much as possible the logistical challenges, and other challenges, that we face.

*Current Estonian law has it that war graves, meaning those from World War Two predominantly, and any Soviet-era memorial or monument which has human remains interred on-site as an integral part of the monument, are a matter for the state. Monuments without any such graves nearby (such as the Narva tank) are down to local government. In practice, in some cases it is not clear if human remains are located at a site or not, with their presence only based on unconfirmed local lore.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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