Narva considers what to do next with anti-Putin castle walls poster

The poster referencing Putin as a war criminal, on the day it was unveiled on the walls of Narva Castle, May 9, 2023.
The poster referencing Putin as a war criminal, on the day it was unveiled on the walls of Narva Castle, May 9, 2023. Source: Dmitri Fedotkin/ERR

The City of Narva is debating what to do with a large poster currently gracing the walls of the town's castle, which carries an image of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and refers to him, in English, as a war criminal.

The poster was put in place Tuesday morning, ahead of a public concert which took place on the opposite side of the Narva River, and over the border with Russia.

The town's mayor, Katri Raik, said that the poster should be taken down now, having fulfilled its function.

Raik said: "My view is that it fulfilled its purpose at that point at which the Russian border authorities contacted our Police and Border Guard Board, asking the Estonian side to remove the poster."

"The result was that little Estonia had been able to strike a blow, given this reaction was forthcoming. But every poster ages within a few days, does it not, not to mention that this one is getting uglier by the day and will have to be taken down at some point. It is dividing the people of Narva," Raik continued.

The large poster was hung from the walls of Narva Castle by the town's museum, and was placed in such a way that it faced Ivangorod, on the other side of the Narva River, which is a little over 100 meters wide at that point, and so was visible from within Russian territory.

The timing related to May 9 being "victory day" in Russia, an event commemorated this year by a concert on the east bank of the Narva River, which in turn could also be watched and heard on the Narva side of the river – and indeed was, by a crowd of several hundred.

Narva city council deputy Sergei Gorlatš said that the poster differed little from slogans spray-painted by a street artist and which were removed.

Gorlatš said: "Vovan Kaštan, when he made his performance , was detained by the police. Butin this case, the police did not arrest anyone. How do Vovan Kaštan's art-performances differ from this poster?"

Kaštan allegedly spray-painted the Russian word for children outside a derelict cultural center in Narva, referencing a practice in Ukraine for doing the same, for instance to inform attacking Russian forces that a building or area houses children and young people – a warning sometimes ignored by the assailants.

Last month he spray-painted graffiti at the site of the former Narva tank monument, quoting a Russian war blogger killed in an explosion in a St. Petersburg cafe last month. The police have opened up misdemeanor proceedings in the case.

Back in Narva on Thursday, a vox pop of local residents conducted by ERR revealed divided opinions on the poster.

One local, Irina, said: "The quicker we take it down, the better. In my opinion the president of a country of that size should be treated with more respect. This is disrespectful, ugly and uncultured."

Another, Ilja, took a different line, saying: "Leave it up there for as long as possible. We have to demonstrate to our neighbors that Estonia is not opposed to the Russian state, but specifically to the figure of Putin, and his regime."

Narva Museum, responsible for the installation, says it will remain where it is till at least the start of next week; the remnants of Tuesday's concert on the Russian side of the river were already long-removed at the time of writing.

Narva's population is around 57,000 and the native language of the vast majority of townspeople is Russian. Many residents regularly cross the border checkpoint and a bridge spanning the river, for work and family purposes, including Russian citizens who are resident in Estonia.

Narva Castle itself, also known as Hermann Castle, dates to a time when northern Estonia was under Danish rule, in the 13th century, and it was subsequently obtained by the Teutonic Order of knights in the following century - when much of the still-standing edifice was built.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

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