Reform MP: Soviet symbols bill likely to pass before Riigikogu dissolved

Apartment building in central Tallinn, whose spire is adorned with a Soviet five-pointed star.
Apartment building in central Tallinn, whose spire is adorned with a Soviet five-pointed star. Source: Urmet Kook / ERR

The current, XIV Riigikgou is likely to be able to pass a bill which would amend buildings legislation and regulations, to permit the easier removal of symbols adjudged to be inciting hate – in practice mostly Soviet-era details – Reform Party MP Kristen Michal says.

The Riigikogu has to be dissolved for the March 5 elections, after which the XV Riigikogu will be installed, leaving little time for any outstanding legislation to pass, but also meaning that legislation which does pass can be viewed with the elections in mind.

Michal, who is chair of the Riigikogu's economic affairs committee, said that the bill passing at the XIV Riigikogu is: "Possible, even probable, but let's not rush ahead of events."

The bill was sent to the legislature in mid-November last year and would amend the Building Code in relation to the removal of Soviet-era details, which could include small symbols such as red stars etc., from buildings.

Kristen Michal (Reform) Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Michal said the bill amendments would have their second Riigikogu readings on Wednesday, February 8, and could reach its third and final reading on Thursday, February 23. 

"Between these two sessions, there will still be committee sessions, where we will find out whether, due to the various appeals sent to us on the subject of the Building Code, it would be necessary to introduce changes to the draft bill," Michal, who also heads up Reform's Tallinn City Council group, went on.

If the bill were to pas its third reading, it would enter into law. The third reading session would be the last possible one for the current Riigikogu composition, since advance voting for the 2023 Riigikogu election starts the following Monday, February 27.

Professional associations: Hastily prepared, ill-defined bill

Professional associations, however, say the bill has been prepared without due regard to legislative best practices.

Several of these, namely the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Estonia office, the Estonian Association of Architects (EAL), the Estonian Association of Art Scientists and Curators  (EKKÜ) and the Estonian Artists' Association (EKL) on Monday sent their objections via an open letter.

Their criticisms included too broad of a wording of the law, hich leaves wide room for interpretation as to what sort of symbol incites or justifies hate.

It also remains unclear who has the competence to rule on this, the address claimed.

Disapproval was also voiced over the fact that experts were included in the discussion of the bill only at its final phases, just before the Christmas break, selectively and with a short response time permitted.

The process: "Only pretends to be inclusive and does not correspond to lawmaking best practices," the appeal stated.

The relevant regulations and legislation are: The Building Code, the Builkding Act, the Planning Act, and the bill to amend the State Assets Act.

Together this would provide the rules for the removal of Soviet relics in the public space at a time when the Soviet Union's successor state, the Russian Federation, has been waging a brutal war on Ukraine, and also archtiectural details adjecdte to be inappropriate in a broader sense.

Up to now, when the removal or relocation of monuments bearing prohibited symbols has required acting on the basis of general law enforcement and penal norms, rather than those specific to the construction sphere.

The bill supplements the Building Code and specifies that the publicly visible part of a building, predominately meaning its outdoor facade, roof etc., must not be seen to incite hatred or support or justify the commission of an occupation regime, an act of aggression, genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime, regardless of any intentions and how long this symbolism has been in place.

One example often cited is the Stalinist-era apartment building on Liivalaia and Tartu mnt, in Tallinn (pictured), whose ground floor also hosts businesses; a Soviet star adorns the rooftop.

This is in addition to all monuments, statues, sculptures, frescoes (such as a Red Army decoration behind am R-Kiosk located in the Ülemiste Technopolis) and other installations, which have been the focus of attention since the invasion started last February.

The bill also stipulates the state's powers to remove facilities that do not meet the requirements; previously, local government had been given a responsibility on the matter, particularly where a site did not include war graves or other interred human remains.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mari Peegel

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