Marju Himma: Monument conflict stirred up by political gain

Marju Himma.
Marju Himma. Source: Kairit Leibold /ERR

It is to be hoped that politicians will in the future refrain from throwing fuel on the fire of conflicts such as what we were treated to in the months leading up to the removal of Soviet monuments [in Narva], Marju Himma finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Let it be said, first off, that I am in favor of approaching Soviet monuments or any other scars of history in context where they can provide modern people with historical meaning. However, when it comes to the current so-called tank conflict, I find that unrest is largely the consequence of political populism and blowing the matter out of proportion.

A quote from George Orwell's "1984" inevitably comes to mind – "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength." In other words, conflict and disquiet in society followed by efforts to restore peace can only have a positive effect on the popularity of ruling parties.

It would have been possible to relocate Soviet monuments over the last 30 years during much more peaceful periods. For example, by the coalition before last in which nationalist parties set the tone. Why didn't they find Soviet monuments that people always frequented disturbing or divisive then?

A topic that flies

The entire Soviet monuments conflict has been fueled, quite justifiably, by Russia's military activity in Ukraine. Understandably so. At the same time, domestically, the pot has been kept boiling by the press and politicians in its wake.

When I asked editors why the topic was being given such a prominent place, I was told it flies in summertime. Therefore, the press has created fertile soil for the matter to become heated. And politicians know well that hot topics need to be seized, especially leading up to elections. It yields attention that is later reflected in ratings and elections results.

But if Prime Minister Kaja Kallas emphasized during the government's press conference on the tank issue on Tuesday how the Constitution obligates ensuring peaceful operation in society, the longwinded dance around Soviet monuments really meant keeping the fire going.

When the PM visited Narva a week ago, she did not find the time to visit the problematic tank-monument, giving her busy schedule as the reason. At the same time, she seemed to have plenty of time for posting on social media, including of a sandwich she had.

Why was the PM in such a rush that she could not find ten minutes to meet with the people standing vigil next to the monument? To really engage and listen to them, perhaps even post on social media.

Maaleht ran a story that week about an old lady who had seen Narva immediately after its "liberation" – a city destroyed. The [tank] monument never engaged her, nor has she ever celebrated anything at the site. However, she said that Narva residents were delighted when President Kersti Kaljulaid set up temporary offices in the border town and really met with the locals. She vividly remembered every politician who has or has not met with the people of Ida-Viru County.

To what extent is Estonia, that is to say all of us, present in the periphery, in Narva, for example?

What will fill the monument void

War is peace, and talking about keeping the peace, perhaps it would not have been necessary to heat up this conflict in already unsettled times in the first place.

Still, it needs to be said that something has been learned since the similar conflict of the Bronze Night. This time, authorities, ranging from the police to the Defense Forces, managed to do everything to ensure maximal internal security.

All that is left is to agree with President Alar Karis who said that the relocation of the monuments could be the end of the tank saga. We should move on and think about what to offer in return. People, including those in Ida-Viru County or any other part of Estonia for that matter, need new content when places of identity are left empty. Where to take flowers or simply spend time with one's community in the future?

Perhaps this offers us the chance to close the gap between the capital and the rest of Estonia. Why couldn't a Veterans' Day concert take place somewhere but the Freedom Square in Tallinn for a change? Why not give people free access to museums, institutions of memory that they are, or bring people together on red-letter days to try and give meaning to what various historical scars mean in our different historical treatments?

But above all, I hope that politicians will refrain from this kind of conflict incitement until the next elections, attempts to make the spotlight by exercising their power and reap the political benefits. And even if they cannot, perhaps the press will deem it possible to make less of a fuss about it.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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