Narva councilors question legality of monument removal

Vladimir Žavoronkov.
Vladimir Žavoronkov. Source: Aleksandr Krasnoumov/ERR

Some local councilors in Narva are asking for an outline from the state of the legal grounds for the removal of a controversial World War Two-era tank and other Soviet-era monuments, and are also looking at options for retrieving the monuments and placing them back, if not in their original locations, at least in Narva.

Narva City Council chair Vladimir Žavoronkov has addressed Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), claiming the government had acted arbitrarily in its interpretation of legislation, in the removal and demolition of monuments last week.

No mass unrest or disturbance of public order had taken place in the vicinity of the monuments, he added, while removing those monuments belonging to Narva city government violated the constitution, he said.

Žavoronkov now wants legal justification and expert assessment of the government's actions.

He said: "Narvakad (Narva residents – ed.) are not opposed to the relocations, the question is quite different – ie. how this was done. Was this type of vandalism in any way justified?"

"We were given one week. All we asked for was additional time to make our decisions, but we were not given it," he went on.

"I proceed from the fact that I want the voice of the minority to be heard within the state, and not in a sense of us being opposed to the state," he added.

Žavoronkov also did not rule out the possibility of the municipality going to court on the matter, in an aim to protect its rights.

"My desire is that the organ which has the last word within the territory of Estonia is the judiciary. If everything was completely legal and everything corresponded to our constitution, then we in Narva will take that to heart, but we still want an explanation," Žavoronkov said.

Meanwhile opposition leader Aleksei Jevgrafov is heading up the work of the temporary committee dealing with the city's historical heritage. The committee is attempting to get an overview of the conditions surrounding the relocated monuments, and where they are now situated. The broader goal is to bring all the monuments, or at least the preserved details, back to Narva.

"The most important thing is that the monuments and the tank are the property of the city of Narva and the tank was taken into custody by the police. This gives us hope that we could agree that the tank could be returned. We are not talking about installing the monuments in the old places. Rather, we are now talking about them as museums," Jevgrafov said.

The only document the city government has at its disposal which confirms the official moving of the memorials is a copy of a Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) report on the storage of movable property belonging to the city. The Law Enforcement Act allows this to be done in if needed to ward off an immediate threat or to eliminate public disorder. 

The owner of the object in question can retried it after the grounds for taking it into custody have expired.

 Following weeks of discussion on the matter, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas ruled last week to remove the monument, a T-34 model Soviet tank, from its location just north of Narva to the Estonian War Museum, where it now resides. Several other monuments in Peetri plats in Narva's old town and at other locations were also removed and/or relocated, in a operation which took just a few hours.

While Estonian current law has it that monuments which do not have human remains situated nearby and as an integral part of the site are a matter for local government, Narva's government had appeared unable to come to an agreement on the tank monument, while the mayor, Katri Raik, had earlier appealed to the state for assistance.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting late February has brought such monuments under scrutiny across Estonia, and many have already been removed or relocated, though the overall process is likely to take years.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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