Controversial ads at Tallinn tram stop replaced by Estonia 200 ads

Early on Monday morning, commuters in Central Tallinn were met with the sight of a series of bold, bilingual advertisements dividing each side of the central Hobujaama tram stop in half, with the ads on the left, in blue, stating "Here only Estonians" and the ads on the right, in red, stating "Here only Russians." By Tuesday morning, the controversial ads had been replaced — by ads for Estonia 200.

ERR's online news portal happened to catch the last of the new ads being put up at around 7:30 EET on Tuesday. The new ads, likewise in both Estonian and Russian, read, "Estonians and Russians. Attend one school." and "Estonians and Russians. Attend one party."

Regarding the previous day's controversial ads, Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas had explained to her fellow party members on Monday that the point of the initial ads was to demonstrate how all it took to divide society was one advertisement.

"A societal mirror was held up before the people of Estonia — they were shown what is a sore spot in our society," Ms Kallas wrote. "Reactions to it demonstrated just that, that it is a sore spot."

Estonia 200 board member Igor Taro wrote about Monday's ads on Tuesday morning that since the restoration of independence in Estonia, nobody has managed to do a better job explaining what the ethnic divide in Estonian society means.

"This made it so clear — so loud and clear," he wrote. "Some even called it hate speech. Even people who have played repeatedly, for years on the antagonism between different ethnicities self-righteously spoke up about it. But what hate was there? It was simply a description of the current situation using the symbolic example of one tram stop. A picture isn't a phenomenon. It may be a mirror. Or a window."

According to Mr Taro, Estonia 200's message was directed at a call to make changes first and foremost to Estonia's education system.

"We can only initiate changes beginning with the education system," he explained. "Our children in Estonia attend one kindergarten together. They move on to one school together — where they play football together, prepare for the Estonian Song Festival, and take part in the same Independence Day assembly. Together. They take part together in the same class nights and school dances. Watch and discuss the same films. This is how they develop a joint social network and equal opportunities to receive a good education and reach a single labour market."

'Make sure you're on the right side'

The ads to appear at the tram stop on Monday morning did not give any direct indication as to who may have been behind them. Beyond the bilingual messages dividing the platform into Estonian and Russian halves, the ads only listed phone numbers to call with any questions — with a different number listed on each side.

Calling the number listed on the Estonian side, a prerecorded message with a disguised voice said that Riigikogu elections were taking place on 3 March, where "they" would be running, and stressed that "We, Estonians, definitely have to stick together; make sure you are standing on the right side."

Calling the number listed on the Russian side, the same prerecorded message is played in Russian, stressing instead that Russians have to stick together.

By Monday evening, large stickers had been placed over some of the ads, bilingually stating, "Different languages, one people."

All attempts by ERR and other media on Monday to determine whether Estonia 200 may be behind the anonymous ads were ignored by leaders of the party.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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