Minister starts process to change name of Mustvee's Benito Agirre tänav

Benito Agirre tanäv in Mustvee.
Benito Agirre tanäv in Mustvee.

A street in South Estonia named after a communist Basque Country fighter pilot will be changed on the initiative of the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture.

"Benito Agirre tänav" in Mustvee municipality in Jõgeva County is named after Ignazio Agirregoikoa Benito who fought on the side of the Soviets during World War 2 and was killed in an exchange of fire on Estonian soil 1944.

The name change is part of Estonia's move to de-Sovietize its public space. Additionally, naming a street after a Soviet hero also runs counter to the Place Names Act.

Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) initiated the draft regulation, sent it for approval and further discussion this week. He suggested the name "Jõesilla tänav" as a replacement.

"I would like to emphasize that suggestions for a new street name are welcome from the Mustvee municipality as well as local residents. Our first preference has always been that the local authority should itself change a name that does not comply with the law on place names and that we should not interfere with the autonomy of the local authority," Kallas said in a statement. 

The minister said he was forced to initiate a name change as Mustvee Municipality has not done so.

The municipality argued the name "Benito Agirre tänav" was not the name of a real person and therefore does not need to be changed, Tartu Postimees reported.

Opinions on the draft can be submitted until November 17.

Last year, a report compiled by the Estonian National Archives found that several streets in Estonia, mostly in Ida-Viru County, were still named after Red Army soldiers. It said this is inappropriate and incompatible with contemporary understandings of Estonian history and culture. Several of the names have now been changed.

Kallas also initiated the procedure in Narva earlier this year which saw five streets change their names.

Benito Agirre tänav in Mustvee

Inazio Agirregoikoa (or Ignacio Agirregoicoa Benito), born in Spain in 1923, was a Basque-born pilot who fought on the side of the Soviets during World War 2 and was killed in an exchange of fire on Estonian soil.

On March 9, 1944, Aguirre, who had taken off from the Gdov (Oudova) airbase, was forced to make an emergency landing near Mustvee on Lake Peipus after being hit by German anti-aircraft fire.

After landing and being confronted by members of the Omakaitse (Home Guard), Agirregoikoa shot himself to avoid capture. Local residents originally buried "Agirre" in Mustvee, with his remains later moved to another cemetery in the same town in 1973.

According to historian Kaupo Deemant, Aguirre may have been involved in the bombing of Tallinn or spying on the port of Mustvee, however, there is no conclusive proof. Deemant speculated, that it may only have been the downing of Aguirre, which prevented Mustvee from being bombed during the war. Therefore, the historian considers it inappropriate for a street in the town to be named after the pilot.

Estonian justice minister: Tartu's Pepleri tänav should be renamed
It has previously been suggested that Mustvee's Benito Agirre tänav be renamed "Kiriku" (Church), "Jõe" (River) or "Silla" (Bridge) tänav.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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