Soviet war graves in Estonian military cemetery to be relocated

The remains of 16 members of the Soviet military interred at their current site in the Defense Forces Cemetery in Tallinn over 50 years ago will have to be relocated elsewhere, in order to facilitate an access route to a monument at the same site.

The monument, the Cross of Liberty (Vabadusrist), was destroyed in 1950 by occupying Soviet authorities. It was restored in 1998, but still lacks an access route. The necessary work will be carried out by the Estonian War Museum (Sõjamuuseum).

Museum director Hellar Lill told ERR that: "Access is very difficult, so we have decided to re-inter next spring the remains contained in the 16 graves, buried there in the late '60s to early '70s."

While the graves in question are of Red Army soldiers, Lill said that so far as the law goes they are to be treated as civilian graves would be.

"Their re-interment is completely in accordance with the law. For us, this topic is perhaps a somewhat delicate one, as it is not done that much [in Estonia]. But in other parts of the world, in parts of Europe, reburials within cemeteries are a fairly common activity."

The task is not a major one, but preparation work must already begin, he said. This includes a six-month notice period to the families of those buried; this on its own might be an involved task since their whereabouts are generally not known, Lill said, meaning the expedient of putting noticeboards (see gallery) up in the vicinity of the graves with the relevant contact details, in Estonian and in Russian, has followed, in the hopes that relatives see this and act on it.

Should family members contacted not agree to the re-interment, Lill said he was "sure that agreements will be reached in the end

The entire project's costs lies in the thousands of euros, he added.

The museum's experience of re-interment projects in recent years, particularly since Russia's invasion of Ukraine beginning over 20 months ago brought the matter of Soviet war memorials, cemeteries and similar into the limelight, means that the job will be carried out "quickly and professionally," Lill said.

Lill added that he expected the project could be finished in time for Victory Day in Estonia, June 23.

May 9, is another victory day, the date at which many Russian-speaking people in Estonia mark the end of World War Two, with the military cemetery and its totemic "bronze soldier" one of the focal points.

The Cross of Liberty plot was set aside in 1935, and the original monument, by sculptor Juhan Raudsepp, was completed in 1940. This was torn down a decade later, while restoration work began in 1994, after Estonia had restored its independence, and based on Raudsepp's original drawings.

The nature of the Soviet occupation was such that when a granite section of the liberty cross was found, in 1962, it had to be concealed from the authorities – finally being added to the monument complex in 1995.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook

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