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Tallinn's St. Nicholas' Church likely to remain state property

St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn.
St. Nicholas' Church in Tallinn. Source: (Postimees/Scanpix)

The Estonian Evangelical Lutheral Church (EELK) will likely withdraw its claim to Tallinn’s St. Nicholas’ Church. The church is one of the ownership reform’s remaining bigger issues. It is currently in the ownership of the state, while according to current law at least part of it would have to be returned to EELK.

Archbishop Urmas Viilma, who presides over Estonia’s Lutheran church, expects the matter to be solved this year nonetheless. The withdrawal of EELK’s claim means that the state would have to financially compensate it for the buildings.

According to an analysis commissioned by Tallinn’s city council, only some 35 percent of the original substance of St. Nicholas’ Church is left. The church, which under Soviet rule was expropriated and became part of the state’s assets, was heavily damaged in bombing raids of the Red Air Force in World War II.

The church’s current condition allows for just two options, one of which is that the state and EELK share ownership of its remaining buildings, and the other that the bulk of the real estate falls to the Estonian state, which then compensates EELK for it.

The Ministry of Culture and EELK met on Wednesday to discuss the matter. In the meeting, EELK confirmed that it would like to withdraw its claim to St. Nicholas’ Church.

According to Tarvi Sits, one of the ministry’s deputy secretaries-general, there is no way to tell yet how high the compensation would have to be. A methodology for assessment was needed first, Sits said, but at the same time expressed doubts that the sum would be “in the tens of millions of euros”.

Both parties have had a very different understanding of the sum. While the ministry talked about half a million, EELK’s idea was more in the millions of euros. In 2013 EELK presented the ministry with an assessment of its own, amounting to €37 million, a sum that included the works of art currently part of St. Nicholas’ collection.

In the meantime both sides agree that only the real estate can be subject to the conditions set out in the ownership reform, which means a much smaller sum.

Who the works of art in the current collection should go to is a topic in itself. That the objects weren’t part of the assets to distribute according to the ownership reform did not mean that the two parties couldn’t agree on a single sum for everything, Archbishop Urmas Viilma said. “But this is a question for future negotiations,” Viilma added.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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