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Workgroup maps over 300 occupation monuments across Estonia

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Monument to the Night Battle of Tehumardi in Saaremaa.
Monument to the Night Battle of Tehumardi in Saaremaa. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

The Government Office's working group has mapped 322 Soviet monuments and tombstones on public display in Estonia and has made assessments about their future. The committee promises to retain 78 monuments and publish the full list on November 30.

The group has been operating since June and was tasked with removing or relocating gravestones and memorials that feature symbols of the USSR, which occupied Estonia for almost 50 years until 1991.

While it is public knowledge that some have already been removed, such as the T-34 tank in Narva, the future of many other monuments is not yet known.

The T-34 Narva tank, being transported to its new home, a military museum. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The group has made assessments and recommendations but the list's contents are secret. Minister of Justice Lea Danielson-Järg said that 57 monuments or grave markers on the list have already been removed, while a decision has been made regarding 54 sets of remains to be reburied.

The minister said that reinternment of remains is in order from another 79 grave markers sporting Soviet iconography. "But this will be done gradually, with the grave markers replaced with neutral ones.

There are no remains under 55 monuments the owners of which will be notified and recommended to remove them," Danielson-Järg said.

The list also includes 78 monuments that the committee found can be kept, with various reasons given for the exceptions.

The justice minister added that the committee's proposal constitutes a recommendation at this time and does not obligate owners to dismantle monuments. "That said, we are processing amendments to the Building Code that would make it possible to launch proceedings and remind them of the obligation."

The full list of monuments will be made public on November 30.

This decision has split public opinion, Thursday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.

Krista Kodres, professor of art history at the Estonian Academy of Arts, believes the management process has been "unsuccessful".

"It has been clandestine, it has not been consistent with the model of democracy that we live in here. In this case, we are, frankly speaking, reminiscent of some other countries, which I do not want to name," she told AK.

Removal and relocation of the Soviet "Kivi Jüri" monument in Kärdla underway on Thursday. October 27, 2022. Source: Juhan Hepner/ERR

Art and culture experts are also concerned about new legislation to remove occupation symbols on buildings. This will have to be enacted within three months of the bill's passing.

A new commission will be formed for the task.

Kodres believes the time frame is too short, that every case must be looked at individually and the process should not be carried out in secret.

"Somebody has decided for us that we have to start dismantling this heritage, that we have to start modifying it. The sad thing is that it is not understood that it will not take away this history. It does, however, take away the opportunity to talk about this history.," she said.

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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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