Estonia’s parliament voted for its removal, by 46 to 44 votes with eleven abstentions, but the President vetoed the law almost immediately. The row is all about this bronze statue in the centre of Tallin, a monument to Russian soldiers erected in 1947. Now Estonia is independent, many want the reminder of the Soviet era removed. The President has anticipated a fierce response from Moscow, which already warned moving it would be “blasphemy”.
He already has an outraged Russian minority in Estonia to deal with. Some came to demonstrate outside parliament today ahead of the vote. Andrei Zarenkov leads the mainly Russian Constitutional party: “It is normal from the point of view of the people who think that we Russians, those who live here are like a fifth column in this country, that we don’t have our own opinion and have to forget our fathers and grandfathers, so from this point of view this law is normal for them (Estonian lawmakers). For us it is unnatural, we will be protesting at whatever cost, and will continue to persuade the President that to sign such a law is a crime”.
There’s the same incomprehension in Moscow, where people have been protesting in front of the Estonian embassy, brandishing SS insignia: “I know how our monuments are guarded in Germany, especially our monuments in other countries, why there is such a reaction in Estonia? This is the government’s attitude towards the people. I have friends in Estonia and they do not share the views of their government regarding this.”
Ahead of this morning’s vote the Russians were sounding tough. The Duma’s International Relations Commisssion head, Konstantin Kosachyov: “If the worst happens, the graves will be unearthed and the monuments dismantled, the Estonians should realize that our relations would face most catastrophic consequences, in trade and economy in the first place. Russia will not support or accept or excuse such actions.”
The statue commemorates the Russian soldiers who died freeing Estonia, after Nazi forces occupied Tallin in nineteen forty-four. But while for some it’s a symbol of liberation from fascism, for others it’s a symbol of communist occupation, and it appears difficult to reconcile the two camps.