Hartman: Decision on Sillamäe's heritage status awaits incoming board chair

Piret Hartman.
Piret Hartman. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

On Wednesday, Culture Minister Piret Hartman (SDE) said on the ERR webcast "Otse uudistemajast" that while the Heritage Board's committee believes Sillamäe should be placed under national heritage protection, the final decision rests with the board's new leader, who will be elected before the end of the year.

If Russia had not invaded Ukraine in February of this year, the Soviet Monuments would not need to be handled with such determination. "The war gave these memorials and monuments a completely different context," she said, adding that neither in the case of memorials nor symbols should we downplay the pains of the past.

"On the one side, it's a question of security, but on the other, it's also a question of how we want to see our urban space, as for many people these symbols represent a traumatic period in Estonia's history," Hartman explained. Even though these symbols can be distressing in light of the war, we should not erase the entire complexity of the history, she said.

"I want to believe that our culture is strong, that people can put these things in perspective, can look to the future and build the future," she said.

While there are fears and different perspectives in society, she continued, divisions must be avoided and different points of view must be represented: "We also have to preserve what is of cultural value."

Piret Hartman. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

There are two options for the Maarjamäe Memorial

Although the Ministry of Culture suggested to transfer the Maarjamäe memorial to the History Museum, the coalition government has not yet reached a decision. "We have a different understanding with Isamaa on how to proceed with it," the minister said, adding that there are now two distinct plans.

"The first one is to keep the status quo and to make sure it is not unsafe, which will cost about €1 million, but the second, larger plan is that once discussions with the history museum begin, the next stage will cost about €7 million."

Hartman said that the final cost of the second plan depends on the specifics of the construction and possible additions to it: "The intention was to turn Maarjamägi [site of the memorial] into an outdoor exhibit for the history museum, and it would certainly be necessary to add some explanations," she said.

Although the history museum has ideas on how to approach this, the ultimate solution should involve the collaboration of many different specialists, she added. However, the minister said that Maarjamägi should not become an experience center. "If we want to talk about the different moments in our history and the processes that have taken place, we need additional resources and solutions," she added.

Even though there is still an intention to nationalize the Maarjamäe memorial, collaboration with the City of Tallinn will continue, she said. "Maarjamäe is located in Tallinn and the cooperation with them is necessary; they were also willing to contribute to the renovation and progress," she explained.

The center of Sillamäe is an example of typical Stalinist architecture. Source: Visit Estonia/ Tauri Taal.

The placement of Sillamäe under heritage protection will be determined by the next agency leader

Concerning the commission that will assess the cultural significance and security threat posed by the Soviet monuments and symbols, there is still considerable uncertainty, Hartman said.

The minister said that neither the precise makeup nor the number of members of the commission have been specified. "The commission has not yet been established," she said.

The minister said that she advocates for equal representation of art and security professionals on the commission. "I promise that cultural values will not be ignored, but it is also important to understand that the current state of the world is inextricably linked to security."

She said that whenever Soviet symbols are removed, the cultural significance must also be assessed. "We have symbols that represent a difficult period during the occupation, but many of them are on heritage buildings, and my condition was that the commission should include heritage professionals," she explained, adding that if the heritage board does not authorize the removal of a symbol but the local authority believes it should, the matter would be referred to a government-established panel.

Piret Hartman. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

While the commission can provide further feedback to the heritage board, it cannot directly dictate the board's actions, she continued. "The government commission would not be able to reverse the decisions of the heritage board," the minister confirmed.

Hartman also discussed Sillamäe's national heritage status with the heritage board's commission. The board's commission recommended that Sillamäe be designated as a key element of Estonian culture worthy of heritage protection and Hartman responded that the first step was to wait for the incoming board leader: 

"The boar's director has an important role to play in bringing together diverse viewpoints; she or he is the representative who can drive these negotiations forward," she explained, adding that the competition for the board's next leader will close at the end of November.

Amendments to the Language Act must strike a balance

Piret Hartman said that Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) is right in his views that the Estonian language is important and that people living here should speak it. "The question is whether such statements are made to boost the party's ratings or to address a substantive issue." Those who have arrived in Estonia and plan to stay should speak Estonian, she said and added that "we must decide how quickly newcomers must learn the language."

The question also rises as to whether a person should remain unemployed owing to their language skills or whether the state should make every effort to allow them to continue working. "Once again, I agree that everything should be done to make sure that people feel, so to speak, nudging and pressure to learn the language."

"In the case of Ukrainian refugees, there should be no backtracking on the requirement that people who plan to remain here must begin learning Estonian," she said, adding that if this is not the case, these people might move to Lasnamäe district in Tallinn or Ida-Viru county, where they can get by without Estonian. "We cannot allow this to continue, as we see that society is becoming increasingly divided," she said.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

Source: "Otse uudistemajast"

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