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Narva 'mass war grave' confirmed devoid of human remains

Dismantling of the Narva
Dismantling of the Narva "Dark Garden" monument, Tuesday, September 19, 2023. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

No human remains were found at the site of a purported mass war grave in the eastern Estonian border town of Narva, an excavation revealed.

At least one local expert had said ahead of the event that no remains were located at the site, while this was affirmed in the course of work to remove a monument there.

An inscription on a monument, removed earlier this week, had claimed that the site was a mass grave containing the remains of soldiers fighting in the fledgling Soviet state's Red Army during the Estonian War of Independence and who had "liberated" Narva in November 1918.

Põhjarannik wrote (link in Estonian) that the monument, which had stood in the Pimeaed ("Dark Garden") park in central Narva, overlooking the river, was dismantled and disposed of in less than an hour Tuesday morning (see cover image), during which time the area was sealed off by Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel.

This action was not accompanied by any demonstrations or noticeable social tensions, Põhjarannik reported.

The removal had taken place at short notice, with the city's government, which recently underwent upheaval with the removal of Katri Raik as mayor, being notified of the demolition just one day ahead.

The details and deadline relating to the work had previously been coordinated with the state Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) and the local Narva heritage protection inspector, while the actual job was carried out, as per standard practice, by personnel from the National War Museum ( Eesti sõjamuuseum).

As reported by ERR News, while the inscription on the now-defunct monument stated that the remains of members of the Viljandi Communist Regiment and other Red Army had been interred there, Jüri Tõnisson, a former head of the local heritage society, said that this was erroneous, and no human remains were present, meaning the monument should be relocated.

Having consulted maps and documents in the local archives, Tõnisson said that the Viljandi contingent's fallen had been buried at Siiversti, around 4km to the north, ironically directly opposite the remains of fallen from the Russian White Army, specifically General Nikolai Yudenich's Northwestern Army.

The red soldiers had initially been buried at the site of the "Dark Garden", but were reinterred a few months later, to their current resting place, Tõnisson said.

Following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine beginning over 18 months ago, many monuments, statues, building details and other reminders of the Soviet occupation of Estonia in the public space – even those predating the actual occupation from 1940 – have been removed and/or relocated to more appropriate surroundings. One of the highest profile of these was the Narva tank, a World War Two-era T-34 Soviet tank, which was removed in August 2022 by the state, from its plinth just north of the town and relocated to the war museum, near Viimsi.

A legal distinction was made between those installations which had human remains as an integral aspect – which ostensibly the "Dark Garden" was supposed to have been – and those which did not.

In the former case, the matter was one for the state and generally overseen by the war museum, with remains often being reinterred at other sites. In the latter case, the matter was devolved to local government – though in the case of the Narva tank the state stepped in after that local government had fudged the issue.

The issue is further clouded by the passage of time, local lore, a lack of adequate record keeping by the occupying Soviet authorities, and the fact that, perhaps proving the aphorism that you can't tell friend from foe in the grave, some human remains may have been of individuals who had not served in the Red Army – including for instance civilian victims of road traffic accidents, or soldiers who had fought on the German side.

The Estonian War of Independence of 1918-1920 occurred concurrently with the Russian Civil War, fought between the "reds" and the "whites," and as bordering states there was an inevitable crossover between the two. This happened in other directions too – one of the most significant Estonian victories in the war came at the June 1919 Battle of Cesis, in Latvia (Estonian: Võnnu), while the enemy that time was not the reds, but forces loyal to the Baltic German aristocracy.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook

Source: Põhjarannik

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