City councilors in the Ida-Viru County town of Kohtla-Järve have requested an investigation into the legality of the removal of a Soviet-era statue from the town's public space. The issue is complicated by slow progress on the formation of a city government in the town, following the exit of the previous ruling coalition last autumn.
The statue comprises a grieving mother, and is located on the site of a mass World War Two era war grave, in the town center. The edifice was erected ni 1948, according to Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) data, and has long been the focal point of local residents wishing to mark May 9, Victory Day in the Russian Federation.
The removal, relocation or amendment of a vast number of Soviet era statues, monuments and other installations has been in sharp focus since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began last February, with the matter generally, but not always, left to local government, if the site contains no graves or human remains as an integral aspect.
However, the Kohtla-Järve statue was on the site of war graves – which remain in place, though the statue removal was carried out by the state.
The local councilors requesting an investigation into the legality of the removal, which took place at short notice last Thursday, referred to a clause in the Protection of War Graves Act, § 10. (5), which states that:
A building permit or the consent of the local government is not required for the removal of a grave monument or another grave mark from the previous location and for the installation thereof to a new burial site of the remains. The permit or consent specified in this section is required in the cases provided by law if a grave monument, mark or other grave construction is to be installed elsewhere than to a new burial site of the remains.
The statue was relocated to the national war museum in Viimsi, the final resting place also of a World War Two-era Soviet tank, removed from a site just outside Narva late last summer.
A city council economic affairs committee meeting had also floated the idea of erecting a replacement pillar on the site the statue had occupied (see images).
Kohtla- Järve city council member Jevgeni Saltõkov (Progress electoral alliance) said: "Since this is city property, we could build another pillar on the site, albeit not a Soviet one, but a contemporary one."
"It can be similar in design to the old one or even a copy, naturally without the [Soviet] symbols. In that way, townspeople will no longer have cause to be grouchy, while the [Estonian] state could be satisfied too," he went on.
The city's new mayor, Virve Linder (Isamaa) said that any further developments will need to wait until a new city government is formed up.
She said: "A proposal of this kind was indeed made by some of the city councilors, but in the current situation, where there is still a power vacuum here, it is quite likely that we will only be able to start dealing with the proposal once a new city government is approved."
Linder also said a neutral grave marker, on which wreaths, flowers and candles can be laid when appropriate, would be sufficient to the task, given the site will still constitute a place of memorial, adding that: "If residents have a different opinion, we will definitely discuss and consider that."
Kohtla-Järve city government was notified by the Internal Security Service (ISS) at 8.30 a.m. on the morning of January 12 that thirty minutes hence, the statue would be removed. This action then went ahead.
The city council committee meeting also examined the legality of removing the statue at that short notice.
The removal of the "Narva tank" was also carried out by the state, though in that case following days of stand-off, indecision by local government and widespread media coverage of the saga.
The Narva tank monument also had no associated graves or human remains.
Jevgeni Saltõkov said that any new monument could be funded either via local residents who support the initiative, in sums ranging from €5 to €500, or by the state, by way of recompense for the hasty removal of the old statue.
The previous Kohtla-Järve city government left office last October, following a vote of no-confidence which implicated the bulk of the officials in corruption allegations relating to the doling out of municipal contracts to companies related to local businessman Nikolai Ossipenko.
Editor: Andrew Whyte