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Bronze Night's only death still unsolved

At Dmitri Ganin's funeral.
At Dmitri Ganin's funeral. Source: (ERR)

Dmitri Ganin was killed in a fight outside a bar in Tallinn on the first night of the Bronze Soldier riots in April 2007. To this day, the case of his death remains unsolved, but has since become a tool of anti-Estonian propaganda. ETV's investigative program Pealtnägija took another look at the case ten years after.

Dmitri Ganin, 20, from Mustvee in East Estonia, was beaten and stabbed in Tallinn's Tatari Street in the night from Apr. 26 to 27, 2007, during the first night of rioting and looting following the police and Ministry of Defence's preparations to move the Bronze Soldier away from Tõnismägi.

At some point that night, rioters attacked the Woodstock Bar in Tatari Street, a place popular with skinheads and punks. The bar's customers defended it, and in the brawl that ensued, Ganin, along with a friend, Oleg Rosenkov, was beaten.

At around one o'clock, an ambulance was called to the area. A few steps away from the Woodstock Bar, medics found Ganin, who had been beaten and stabbed. He died in the hospital an hour later.

Investigation doesn't produce any suspects

The police eventually identified five men involved in the beating of Ganin and Rosenkov. Two of the suspects were arrested, but the prosecutor eventually closed the case, quoting the priniciple of opportunity, according to which a proceeding can be suspended in certain cases if the authority carrying it out no longer sees any merit in continuing it.

The men involved in the beating paid fines of between 5,000 and 12,000 Estonian kroons (ca. €319-766), depending on their role in the case.

Special prosecutor Endla Ülviste explains that this was the only way to go, considering the situation. All of the men admitted to their offenses, gave a consistent description of what happened, and none of them had a criminal record. The context of the beating mattered as well, namely that Ganin and Rosenkov had been among the attackers of the bar. "They passed the Woodstock Bar, and one of the young men, most likely Oleg Rosenkov, threw something through the window, which triggered the events that followed and the people that were in the bar ran after them, and the beating happened, during which Ganin was injured with a cutting or stabbing tool that could not be identified," Ülviste told ETV's "Pealtnägija" program.

Rosenkov later admitted to theft, and to having thrown a stone through the bar's window. He was made to pay a 6,500 kroon (€415) fine and put on probation for eight months..

Though there were plenty of witnesses present, nobody testified to having seen Ganin get stabbed. The case had reached a dead end. There never were any suspects, according to the special prosecutor.

Politicizing the case

Ganin's death immediately stirred up frantic reporting in the Russian media, and the family tragedy turned into a trump card in international politics. Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke of the murder of a protester, and Ganin's funeral in the village of Mustvee on the shore of Lake Peipus turned into a media event attended by a large number of journalists, especially coming in from Russia.

All the attention the case got dragged Ganin's mother into the spotlight as well. Putin granted her a special pension after the loss of her son, and just last year she spent a month in the Latvian resort town of Jurmala on the Russian taxpayer's bill.

The family's lawyer, Aleksandr Kustov, thinks that the politicization of the case wasn't justified. "It isn't justified for one simple reason: Ganin's death is not directly connected with his actions defending the Bronze Soldier. By defending I mean the active participation where a group of people assembled that shouted something, did something. He wasn't among them," Kustov said.

The Ganin family received Kustov's help through the Russian embassy in Tallinn, which paid for the legal expenses. Kustov was in high esteem at the time, as he eventually defended more than 20 of the rioters. That a lot of them were eventually acquitted was normal, Kustov said, and confirmed that the system of legal defense as well as the court system worked.

Russia keeps using Ganin's case for propaganda

The Russian media and authorities return to the case every year. In 2015, Russia sent Estonia an official note complaining about the state of the investigation, and started a criminal investigation of its own in autumn of the same year.

Kustov agrees with the Russian view. "I would be satisfied if the perpetrator was identified and punished. Then I'd be satisfied. But do I have complaints about the prosecutor? I'll answer like this: As I've familiarized with the case, seen what was done and when and how, I can conclude that the loafers didn't do anything at all! Or the other way round, had they done all they could, but still been unable to identify the perpetrator, I'd be satisfied. But only then. Right now, I can't say that," Kustov commented.

Ülviste disagrees. "I dare say the officers did their work very well, and very thoroughly. I take this kind of criticism as simple pro-Russian propaganda," she said.

Despite his complaints about the result of the investigation, Kustov agrees that the politicization of Ganin's death is counterproductive. "If we are talking about criticism just for the sake of criticism, purely political statements, that's bad, that isn't enough," Kustov said. "It seems to be that if we, if Russia wants to achieve that more is found out about this crime, then we would need to look for opportunities to work together, and not stir up fights at the political level."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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