In late April 2007, the Estonian authorities removed the Bronze Soldier monument from Tallinn’s Tõnismägi. The unrest that accompanied the relocation have since become known as the Bronze Night riots.
In the early morning of Apr. 28, 2007, the Estonian authorities removed the Bronze Soldier monument from its location on Tõnismägi and disinterred the remains of the Soviet soldiers buried at the site. The days of unrest across the capital and Ida-Viru County have since become known as the Bronze Night riots. Here is a timeline of the events.
2006: IRL demands an action plan to remove the Bronze Soldier
On May 4, 2006, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) demands of the Tallinn city council to come up with a detailed plan to relocate the Bronze Soldier monument, and to take the remains of the Soviet soldiers buried there to a cemetery. The monument, erected during the occupation as a symbol of the occupying power, does not fit in with the modern and independent Estonian state.
The Constitution Party, a political group supported by the Kremlin through the Russian embassy led by extremist Andrei Zarenkov, becomes the first to express opposition to the plan to relocate the monument.
Tensions increase as Tõnismägi, the site of the monument, becomes the focus both of nationalist Estonians as well as extremist Russian groups. Nochnoy Dozor, the Night Guard, is founded. The organization’s goal is to protect the monument.
Late on May 22, somebody vandalizes the statue and smears white paint on the Bronze Soldier’s face. On May 26, Minister of the Interior Jüri Pihl (SDE) issues a ban of all protests and public gatherings in the immediate vicinity of the monument. The police now guards the monument around the clock.
2007, January to March: The legal basis to move the monument is created
On Jan. 10, 2007, the Riigikogu passes the War Graves Protection Act. It states that the remains of soldiers have to be moved if their burial site is in an unsuitable or inappropriate place, a decision to be made by the prime minister.
A committee at the Ministry of Defence issues a recommendation on Mar. 9 to disinter, move, and rebury the remains of the soldiers buried under the Bronze Soldier monument.
April 26: Preparations to remove the monument begin
At 4:30 a.m. on Apr. 26, the police begins with preparations to make sure that the Ministry of Defence can safely identify and confirm the war graves on Tõnismägi.
At 10 o’clock, some 60 people have gathered around the fenced-off area. At 7 p.m., a group of protesters tries to break through the police barrier. The police use a powder extinguisher to drive the protesters away from the fence. The situation is quickly brought under control.
Tensions escalate, the monument is removed
The situation escalates after 9 p.m. on Thursday, Apr. 26. At 9:40 p.m., protesters attack the police line with cobblestones. The police are forced to use flash grenades and powder extinguishers to drive the protesters away from the National Library, located next to the monument on Tõnismägi.
The protesters turn a car close to the library upside down, people leaving the area in different directions continue to destroy public as well as private property. Windows are smashed in, shops looted, and more cars damaged. To drive the protesters apart, the police use tear gas and water cannons.
As the police’s efforts continue to reestablish the peace in the city center of Tallinn, the crisis management committee and the government hold nightly meetings. Following the recommendations of the former, the government decides to relocate the Bronze Soldier immediately.
In a press release early on Saturday morning, the government announces that the Bronze Soldier has been moved to the cemetery of the Estonian Defence Forces, also in Tallinn. Despite allegations to the contrary, the statue of the soldier is moved whole, and not cut up and reassembled.
April 27: The rioting continues
On Apr. 27, the police open a website dedicated to identifying the previous night’s looters and vandals. Police have arrested more than 300, of which two thirds have a criminal record, and most are under 20 years old.
The day is quiet, no serious incidents are reported. To avoid dangerous situations, large public gatherings are temporarily forbidden and immediately driven apart by the police. The police ask people not to come to the city center out of curiosity.
Towards the evening, about 400 protesters, the vast majority of them young, gather in Tallinn’s Kaarli Avenue leading up to Tõnismägi. They throw bottles and stones at the police. Their number increases to some 500 by the late evening. The protesters run riot, destroying bus shelters and damaging cars parked along the street.
Beginning 7 p.m., protesters assemble in Narva’s St. Peter Square as well. No extreme incidents are reported, though the local police has to call assistant officers to help out. 18 misdemeanors are reported.
After 10 p.m. on Friday, Apr. 27, the groups of young people in the center of Tallinn get increasingly aggressive. They are now scattered around the city center, where they continue to vandalize buildings, loot shops, and destroy windows and cars. The police are forced to use all means available to try and win back control of the situation.
At around 11 p.m. some 200 people gather on a square in the Eastern town of Jõhvi. Though the local police manage to keep the protesters at bay, windows are smashed and cars damaged there as well. Assistant police officers help the local authorities in their effort to keep control.
Between 2 p.m. on Apr. 28 and May 2, the sale of alcohol is declared illegal in all counties. The situation in the capital remains quiet.
On Saturday evening riots continue in Ida-Viru County. About a hundred people, mainly teenagers, gather outside the Estonian Secondary School in Narva. Several acts of vandalism occur. Some rioting occurs in Kohtla-Järve and Sillamäe as well.
After the riots
Apr. 29 is relatively quiet, also in Ida-Viru County. In a few places, young people go against the bans in place, and a few groups hand out leaflets calling for further protests. Several shops in Ida-Viru County continue to sell alcohol illegally.
On Monday, Apr. 30, police prefect Raivo Küüt proposes a blanket ban of mass gatherings, with the exception of those expressly permitted by the police. Protests continue in a different form, this time drivers hamper traffic by going deliberately slowly, and using their horns.
By May 9, the country has settled down again, and the days as well as the nights are quiet.
Only one person is killed in the riots. In a still unsolved incident, one 20-year-old man, Dmitri Ganin, is stabbed to death.
The count of police officers sent to hospital stops at 13.
Hundreds of arrests eventually result in 91 convictions. Six people are sent to prison, 67 receive suspended or partially suspended prison sentences. Three have to do community service. 48 are banned from entering the country again.
In the aftermath of the riots, the police receive 3,716 applications of people who want to become assistant police officers.
Editor: Dario Cavegn