One Soviet memorial on the island of Saaremaa likely to be retained

The Tehumardi Memorial in Saaremaa.
The Tehumardi Memorial in Saaremaa. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

A Soviet-era memorial on Saaremaa may be left in place even as dozens of other such installations are likely to be removed starting early next year, the Saaremaa Rural Municipality says.

The monument is at Tehumardi, in the south of the island around 20km from its capital, Kuressaare. Tehumardi was the site of a battle of the same between invading Red Army forces heading towards the Sõrve peninsula and departing Nazi German forces retreating from Kuressaare.

Saaremaa Municipal Elder Mikk Tuisk (Terve Saaremaa electoral alliance) told ERR that while the Tehumardi memorial (pictured) will in place, some of its design can be altered, including an inscription which makes the claim that the island was "liberated" by the Red Army.

"We are as of are looking at the options on whether and how to change it," Tuisk said.

More broadly, the municipality plans to look for solutions in regard to all of the Soviet-era memorials on the island, which number close to 60, early on in 2023.

This follows a mapping process which has covered objects ranging in size from small plaques inset in rocks, though to large memorials as in Tehumardi, and changes are made either by the municipality or, in the case of sites which contain human remains, by the state.

Tuisk said: "This mapping has been done, and there are photos on file of all of them, so now we are going to deal with them one after another. Certain Soviet monuments will be taken down. In some places, we will also make proposals to the state on where people need to be reburied, and we will also propose to altering the grave markers at some burial sites."

A total of 56 red monuments have been mapped, six of which had however already been removed. Of the remainder, in 31 cases there are around 50 headstones or other grave markers.

As to where remains may be re-interred, Tuisk said:  "There has been no final decision; the Ministry of Defense can make that decision, and they have made some proposals here. However, in order to gather all these red monuments together in one place, the Sõrve Military Museum has expressed a desire to do so, even as the local community opposes it."

Those monuments taken down will initially be taken to a central location closed to the public while the edifices' fates are decided.

Final work with the Tehumardi monument is likely to take place or be finished later than the bulk of the work, which as noted is due to take place in the first quarter of next year.

Saaremaa, already occupied by Imperial German forces in World War One, was heavily fought over in World War Two during Operation Beowulf, the 1940 German plan for the occupation of Saaremaa, Muhu and Hiiumaa, and was in late 1944 reoccupied by the Soviets following a large-scale amphibious landing – events the Tehumardi memorial relates to. Thereafter the island was placed under severe military restrictions and off-limits to non-resident Estonians until shortly before Estonia regained its independence in 1991.

The invasion of Ukraine launched in February by the Soviet Union's successor state, the Russian Federation, brought the issue of extant Soviet-era installations, memorials and war graves back into the limelight, and the nationwide process of removing, relocating or altering these started in the spring.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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