Rakvere joins Narva in opting not to display captured Russian tank

The captured T-72 Russian tank, in Freedom Square, Tallinn, where it was displayed to the public, February 25-March 2, 2023.
The captured T-72 Russian tank, in Freedom Square, Tallinn, where it was displayed to the public, February 25-March 2, 2023. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Authorities in the Lääne-Viru County town of Rakvere have joined Narva in declining to put on display a knocked-out Ukrainian tank in the town center. The tank, a T-72 model, is a gift from Ukraine to Estonia, and was captured early on in the current war, following the start of Russia's invasion just over a year ago.

Mayor of Rakvere Triin Varek (Center) noted that, while the purpose for displaying the tank – currently on show in Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak) in central Tallinn – is to draw public attention to Russian aggression in Ukraine, this message is not clearly and strongly conveyed in this case, while the timing is not ideal, she said.

Varek said: "Since the city of Rakvere has given its support to Ukraine and the Ukrainians since the start of the war, it was not our wish to refuse immediately. We thus made a proposal to change the dates and link the display, for example, to the anniversary of the [Soviet] deportations [from Estonia], but these dates did not prove to be suitable for the [defense] ministry."

"With each passing day now, the controversial nature of the topic, both within society as a whole, and in the context of the reluctance of local residents to exhibit the tank has been rising," she went on.

"I believe that people in Rakvere are well aware of Russian aggression in Ukraine and roundly condemn it. Displaying the tank, however, will not help reduce the suffering of the Ukrainian people. We are already aware of the ongoing war and the heinous deeds that are taking place there. I was also concerned about reopening the wounds of many Ukrainians who had already integrated into the local community, with the tank's display. Given all this, we do not consider it right and proper to exhibit the tank in a public urban space," the mayor continued.

Rakvere, population circa 15,000, is the largest town in Lääne-Viru County, a sparsely populated county which borders Ida-Viru County, to the east. The latter region is home to large numbers of Russian speakers, which in turn makes the tank display one which authorities have been considering carefully.

Mayor of Jõhvi municipality, Maris Toomel (Reform), told ERR that the city would, however, host the tank publicly, for one day, on March 9.

The tank will remain in Freedom Square in Tallinn until today, March 2. Some incidents of flower-laying have been reported, prompting concerns over what the tank's presence means to different sectors of society.

The same issue has been reported in Vilnius, where a captured T-72 tank is also on display.

Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) on February 23 sent a communique to the heads of local governments in larger towns across Estonia, outlining plans to exhibit the tank from February 25, through to the end of March.

In addition to Tallinn, Rakvere, Jõhvi and Narva, this invite was sent to authorities in Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Võru.

Pevkur said Tuesday that details are still under discussion with some municipal leaders.

Mayor of Narva Katri Raik said Wednesday that exhibiting the T-72 in that border city would be inappropriate, citing President Alar Karis' words last summer that the town should not become "a city of one tank."

The head of state had referenced another tank, a World War Two-era Soviet-made T-34, which had been on public display just outside the city for several decades, and which was last August removed by the state and relocated to the national war museum in Viimsi – where it will be joined by the T-72 tank in due course.

The changed security situation brought the Narva tank and hundreds of other Soviet-era memorials, grave sites, statues, frescoes, architectural details, paintings and other relics found across the country back into focus.

The T-72 was in effect the "great-grandchild" of the T-34; thousands of the former were produced in the Soviet Union, from the late 1960s onwards.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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