Salm: Flowers on a Russian tank will never be a positive symbol in Estonia
Putting a destroyed Russian tank on display in Estonia is necessary to understand the war and shape a common information space, while the exhibit reaching other cities depends on talks with local governments, said Kusti Salm, Ministry of Defense secretary general. But flowers being brought to the tank wreck cannot be tolerated, he added.
Putting the tank on display serves two purposes, Salm said on the "Terevisioon" morning show on Wednesday. "The first is to emphasize that Ukraine must win this war, and this tank demonstrates that it can be done."
"The other and perhaps even more important message to the people of Estonia is that it is our war. The Ukrainians are fighting the same dangers, threats and intentions the Russian aggressor has sent our way, NATO's way," the secretary added.
Salm admitted that Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine "is terrible, the tank disturbing, eerie, ugly, disgusting, shocking for many." "But the only way to cope is to look it dead in the eye and fight back," he said.
Salm pointed to information signage next to the tank to explain what it is and why it is there. "There are signs to describe the aggressor's war crimes - of which over 70,000 have been registered in Ukraine, involving over 10,000 civilians, including hundreds of children. That is just how we're describing it. That is the countenance of this horrible war," Salm said. "A few hundred meters from the tank is an exhibition showing the aftermath of a missile hitting a living room. It is a terrible war. The war the orcs are waging on Ukraine is horrible."
A part of society feeling different hardly a surprise
The secretary general admitted that a part of Estonian society feeling differently about the tank did not come as a surprise.
"Naturally we were prepared. It is hardly news there are people like that in Estonia. /---/ We have lived in free Estonia for 30 years. Of course we are up to speed, and we know that there is work to be done to bring people into the same space of information and values. And the only way to achieve that is by talking about these things," Salm suggested.
"That said, we do not plan to go along with the self-blame narrative. Never again will flowers next to a Russian tank be a positive symbol in Estonia."
Salm said that Estonia's position needs to be explained to people who have so far stayed in the Russian information space.
"The only solution is to tell the story that exists in the Estonian information space. We have no other option. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend there is no war, or that it is not our war as it takes place far away from here - we do not have that option," he emphasized.
"That is what's on the agenda, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. It is a common Russian propaganda trick: self-blame - refraining from taking action because it might spark some emotion or other. /---/ If someone in Estonia feels that they need to bring flowers to commemorate a Russian tank, it is not an emotion we here must tolerate or adjust our behavior accordingly," the secretary said.
Salm said he does not believe the tank will split society and will instead bring people together, make them talk and think about this matter in the long run.
"Studies also show that coming out of this information space takes time, while it is slowly happening. The conflict of values regarding this war, its horrors and crimes is just that ghastly. We are demonstrating a tank, while the Russian Federation recently paraded abducted children - the difference in scale of how it is being depicted is colossal. We do not have to adjust our messages based on how Russian does it today."
"And we are sure this will not lead to concerns in Estonian society," Salm added. "I am sure we will cope brilliantly as a society."
Tank to reach other cities if local governments agree
Salm also emphasized that even though the original plan for displaying the tank wreck in other Estonian cities had been laid down, it will not be displayed against the will of city governments.
"We are not married to that schedule, we can also crisscross Estonia based on which cities agree to show it," Salm said, adding that some cities have voiced doubts, while others have requested it be put on display there too.
The secretary was reluctant to clarify which cities have shown an interest in displaying the tank.
Salm said that the tank will not be sent to Narva against the city's wishes. "The decision is up to the local government - if they want it, we will move it there, and if they don't, then it will not go to Narva. But the story doesn't change based on where people are in Estonia. Estonian people are Estonian people everywhere."
A destroyed T-72 tank sent by Ukraine was put on display in Tallinn's Freedom Square on February 25. The Ministry of Defense initially wanted the tank exhibit to tour the country, visiting Rakvere, Jõhvi, Narva, Tartu, Võru, Viljandi and Pärnu, before reaching its permanent place at the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi. The wreck will remain in Tallinn until March 2.
Pro-Russian people have brought flowers to the tank and there have been reports of clashes between Ukraine supporters and adversaries.
Kusti Salm said that the wreck brought to Estonia was destroyed in Chernihiv near Kyiv on March 30 las year and possibly using a Javelin anti-tank system donated by Estonia.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski