At a time when Estonia needs to defend itself against threats, provocations and cyberattacks from Russia and people are having a tough time financially, the local authorities in Narva seem to be spending time and energy on trying to reclaim their tank as a monument to aggression, Külli Taro finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
Only a fifth of people live in free societies. That is what this year's report by Freedom House has to say about the state of democracy in the world. It warns against the onslaught of authoritarianism. For the last 16 years, countries gravitating towards authoritarianism have outnumbered those becoming more democratic.
Therefore, a free society and democracy are far from given. Freedom needs to be protected and democracy upheld daily. National independence should be celebrated. Just as we did last weekend (when Estonia celebrated the Day of Restoration of Independence – ed.)
Freedom House uses the term "free states" in place of "democracies" in its terminology as the latter word is understood in many different ways and often misused. I am also not convinced talking about freedom in place of democracy can lend clarity. Even North Korea refers to itself as a people's democratic republic. Both democratic and free, while clearly being neither.
Disputes that flared up around the removal of the Soviet tank monument in Narva suggest there are differing ideas of democracy and freedom also in Estonia.
Freedom is both a right and obligation. It seems to me that the city of Narva is concentrating more on the former than the latter when it comes to the tank saga. The right to decide as opposed to the obligation to decide and assume responsibility.
At a time when Estonia needs to defend itself against threats, provocations and cyberattacks from Russia and people are having a tough time financially, the local authorities in Narva seem to be spending time and energy on trying to reclaim their tank as a monument to aggression.
Is engaging the central government in skirmishes over monuments really the most sensible use of public resources under the circumstances? Every administrative act on the central and local levels is an expense and something else that goes undone. Time is money and people's attention a valuable resource.
It is suggested that the removal of the Soviet tank from public space hurts the locals' feelings. As explained by Narva representatives. I understand. Or at least I try to understand. But I would like to hear more about how Soviet monuments and the traditions associated with them have for decades hurt the feelings of many Estonians.
We have put up with monuments celebrating the loss of our freedom for long enough. Yes, the Narva tank is a symbol of freedom taken away, not of liberation. Speeches given to mark Estonia's re-independence day suggested that replacing one occupation with another does not amount to liberation. For Estonians, the end of the Second World War meant continued executions, deportations, seizure of property, torture and decades of humiliation and fear.
An address sent to the prime minister and signed by chairman of the Narva City Council reads that the monument symbolizes death and suffering in WWII. The plaque next to the tank suggested something else. It told the story of the liberation of Narva by Soviet forces. The city authorities, as the owner of the monument, should also have explained to residents what such a tank on public display symbolizes for Estonians. If only by installing another information stand. This was not done over many years.
The city's letter to the PM suggests the government's decision violated locals' constitutional rights and freedoms (right to private property and freedom of opinion).
I have tried but still cannot understand how relocating a Soviet tank from a public place to a museum violated anyone's freedom of opinion or speech. And municipal property is in no way private. This means that quite a lot of explaining needs to be done in Narva on public order, political freedoms and the nature of human rights in the Republic of Estonia. As suggested by Freedom House, treatments of democracy can vary greatly and be a source of much controversy. Even in tiny Estonia it seems.
The city of Narva saved a pretty penny by allowing the central government to relocate the tank. It should thank Stenbock House instead. Narva was delivered from a major source of tension as opposed to robbing someone of their freedom. We are free to also look at it this way.
Editor: Marcus Turovski