Opinion digest: Tear down Maarjamäe Soviet memorial, or keep it?

The Maarjamäe memorial from the air. The obelisk is on the left, the site of the new memorial for the victims of communism on the right side. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

The construction of a new memorial for the victims of communism has begun in Tallinn's Maarjamäe area. The prominent Soviet World War II memorial close by with its obelisk and ceremonial tribune meanwhile is crumbling. Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu has suggested that part of it may be torn down, a statement that has already provoked criticism.

Reinsalu said earlier this month that if legally possible, removing part of the crumbling structure should be taken into consideration.

The obelisk was erected in 1960, the tribune with what during Soviet times was an eternal flame was added in 1975. Most of the memorial is built of concrete and dolomite.

Justice minister: Memorial not on any heritage list, could be torn down

The question is whether or not the place was dangerous to visitors, Reinsalu said. If found to be, those parts should be removed, or made level with concrete.

As far as he was aware neither the memorial itself nor its immediate surroundings were part of any cultural heritage register, the minister added, at the same time pointing out that according to an assessment by the Justice Ministry, fixing up the memorial may cost up to a million euros.

Reinsalu, who is a party member of the national-conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), said that the memorial to the victims of communism currently under construction could become the central object of Tallinn's Pirita St. leading along the bay. Removing the current memorial certainly didn't touch on anything he holds dear, Reinsalu said.

With a German war cemetery also in the same area, Tallinn's Maarjamäe is a potential (and past) hotbed for political debates stirred up around the memory of victims on both sides of World War II. The Maarjamäe History Center is right nearby, along with a small collection of Soviet monuments that were taken down after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Architectural historian: Site worth preserving

Architectural historian Karin Paulus wouldn't like to see the memorial torn down. "To be honest I'm almost shocked, in my opinion we're dealing with one of Estonia's best works of landscape architecture," Paulus told ERR's Vikerhommik radio program.

In her opinion, the memorial didn't need to undergo any repurposing, but could instead be preserved and remain a generally accessible and freely usable area. The memorial isn't a place like the Bronze Soldier where people would take flowers, Paulus pointed out, but rather an area where people spent their free time to go for walks and generally think about history.

Paulus also pointed out that Estonia didn't have a great many noteworthy examples of landscaping architecture, and that the Soviet memorial in Maarjamäe was one of very few examples of this in the country. "Most are the parks of manor houses, which are in a pretty nice shape today because some manor houses have functioned as school houses," Paulus said. But there were only few newer complexes, especially the type where people could go without having to spend money, different from some of the country's more original shopping malls.

New memorial to victims of communism already under construction

A new memorial to the victims of communism is scheduled for completion this summer and currently being built right next to the Soviet one. The cost of construction of some €4.5 million is covered by the Estonian state.

The memorial will include the names of approximately 20,000 people who lost their lives as a result of the actions of the communist regime taking over after WWII in the last century, many of whom died far from home and were buried in unknown graves.

ERR reported on Jan. 9 that workers had found human remains at the construction site. Experts called to assess the situation confirmed that they had found a previously unknown part of the German war cemetery in the area, and that there were some one hundred single graves in the construction zone.

The remains will have to be exhumed and buried again at the German war cemetery in Maarjamäe.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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