Bird Droppings from Estonia: The big bad bear, and the tin pot tantrum
Archived Articles 03 May 2007 Hilary BirdEWR
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On May 2 Russia raised the issue of the removal of Soviet WWII memorials in countries freed from Nazi occupation with the UN. The Russian Foreign Minister said Moscow was outraged by "such desecration and the methods used to disperse the protestors who tried to protect the shrine and memory of Europe's liberators from Nazism." Here we go again.

Anyone would think we were digging up the bones for Fido's supper and melting the metal person down into Coca-cola cans. The Bronze Soldier has been removed, along with 12 war dead escorted by an Orthodox and Lutheran priests, to a tasteful spot in a military cemetery outside Tallinn that holds Russian, Estonian, German soldiers and 112 British sailors killed during Estonia's War of Independence (1918-20).

Novosti (The News), the Russian news agency, commented that this 'is a breaking point in a long-standing dispute with Russia over monuments to Soviet soldiers'. Just the one monument, actually. Two weeks ago I visited two Soviet memorials in Tartu that were well kept and unmolested. The difference comes about because Tartu is 80-20% Estonian-Russian and Tallinn is 50-50% Estonian-Russian. Also Tallinn is the Capital so that Tzar Putin can make more political capital (forgive the pun) out of this whole repellent business.

The removal was met with protests, which later turned into riots and police used tear gas and water cannons. One boy died (a Russian citizen, the police do not seem to have been responsible) and over 150 were injured, with more than 1,000 arrests. The rioters (average age around 15, average state, drunk) did over £2 million of damage and carried placards reading "F--k Estonian fascists" and "USSR 4 ever". The latter was particularly ironic as many were sporting high fashion gear looted from the Armani emporium, something they definitely would not have gotten in the good old days. Nor would they have had the mobile phones they were constantly yakking into,
freedom of information being a tad short on the ground in Stalin's imperium.

What the press pictures do not show is the deeply offensive anti-Estonian propaganda on display. An equivalent would be a bunch of drunken British teenage yobbos turning up in the middle of Mumbai, beating up passers by for speaking Urdu or Gujarat, burning the Indian flag, smashing everything in site, looting fashion shops and liqueur stores, demanding the return of the British Raj, carrying placards telling the indigenous population to 'F.. off' and calling them Fascists because they objected to colonial oppression.

Meanwhile, in London, more teenagers in British imperial army uniforms would demonstrate in front of the Indian embassy because India had exercised it's sovereign right to remove (with respect) an object that had become the focus of civil disobedience. To add insult to (literal) injury a monument to the hundreds of Estonians who died in a ferry disaster was daubed with a swastika. This was done, I suppose, to support the accusations that Estonia is crawling with fascists.

This is another great work of fiction. There were Estonians who served with the Germans in WWII, but they were mostly cashiered and their motive was the prevention of the return of a murderous regime. Their numbers are miniscule compared with French, Dutch, Spanish, Scandinavian and indeed, Indians (who joined up to resist imperial Britain in the same way that Estonians wanted to fight the imperial USSR) that joined the German forces of their own volition.

So, why is Estonia being picked on? Soviet monuments have been moved without a peep from Russia in Poland but Poland has a population of 38 million as opposed to 1 million Estonians. This is clearly a case of bully boy tactics as Russia flexes it's new bid (based on it's oil and gas wealth) to enter the world stage as a resurgent Great Power and attempts to deflect criticism from it's own less than perfect Human Rights record. Putin's recent hawkish final 'state of the nation' address is available (on a site that contains ads for 'Bootydelicious Babes') at
http://www.mosnews.com/column/...

The President of Estonia and the authorities made a public appeal not to give in to provocation, to avoid public gatherings and not to go to the centre of Tallinn. Youth organisations also appealed to their members to do the same. I was in the yard of my Tallinn flat with two friends visiting from the UK. We wondered what the helicopters were for. We were rather British and went out (to eat) anyway as we are not prone to intimidation.

From a professional point of view (I was involved, as a local government Housing Officer, with the Brixton riots of 1981 & 85) I thought the police handled the situation well, especially since it was their first experience of such matters. I made a point of telling two policewomen on patrol in my street (where quite a few windows had been smashed) and they seemed pleased.

The aftermath was dealt with by saturation 'on the beat' policing and a ban on alcohol in shops. The damage was cleared up quickly and, although the situation was tense, calm had returned by the morning after.

Internationally the European Commission said it regretted Estonian police actions against the protestors, but made no comment on the dismantling of the Soviet monument. Russia has repeatedly drawn the EU's attention to attempts, as it sees it, to glorify Nazi Germany, by allowing parades by former SS fighters and the erection of monuments to the Estonian war dead.

The average age of these beasts is 85, and evidence of Nazi sympathies are non-existent - I have visited the sites and can testify that the monuments (bar the first, that was a very bad mistake) are tasteful, discreet and do not play the Horst Wessel song as one approaches. Russia regards the EU as its prime partner in trade and scientific, cultural, educational exchanges - 'Our joint work on implementing the concept of the common spaces is an important part of the development of Europe as a whole' and so the EU response will be interesting. Rene van der Linden, the chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has expressed his concern over the situation and the decision to remove the statue. Russia's politicians have called for a breaking of diplomatic ties, economic sanctions against Estonia and a move to secure condemnation from international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the CIS and the Russia-NATO Council.

In Moscow the Putin jugend youth organisation Nashi (Ours) surrounded the Estonian Embassy for a spot of intimidation. More than 50 protesters gathered in Moscow, 10 of them clad in WWII uniforms; later Nashi said that some 1,500 people had gathered announcing that their rally will last until Estonia apologizes for what it has done to the Tallinn tin man. Police reinforcements were brought up to the embassies in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. A group of Russian MPs who visited Tallinn on May 1 will submit their report to the Duma May 10. Meanwhile, Russia has moaned to the UN and, for the Estonian corner , Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has issued a statement beginning 'The European Union is under attack, because Russia is attacking Estonia,' followed by 'we believe it to be essential that the European Union react in full strength against the behaviour of Russia. This might result in the suspension or cancellation of negotiations between the EU and Russia. The postponement of the EU-Russia Summit must be seriously considered.' When pigs have wings. But it's worth a try.

Whilst unswervingly loyal to Eesti per se, 'Droppings' , with it's pragmatic hat on, finds the response of the Estonian government quite extra-ordinarily naïve. I started out (about 12-18 months) ago by being 'for' the removal because it offended so many Estonians and it was clear that the process would be done with respect. But, during the last two years the rising wealth and power of resurgent Russia and it's clear intention to grab the moral high ground over the issue in the international arena has been clear; I have
changed my mind, along with many Estonians and have felt that removal was more trouble than it was worth.

I would have felt more sympathetic to the government if they too had chosen the higher ground (Estonia's WWII losses are, proportionately, easily comparable to Russia's tragedies) as a reason for removal and not the 'it is obstructing traffic and the situation is not suitable' approach. The timing was bl***y awful too, coming just under two weeks before the annual equivalent of WWII Remembrance Day (May 9th in Russia). The good weather didn't help either. And, of course, if it was to be done, it would have been most sensibly done either after the Red Army left in 1994 or when the site became a focus for trouble in 2005 when the 60th anniversary of WWII was celebrated. Ah well, it's easy to be wise after the event.

The violence has upset many. It's not a comfortable feeling, to say the very least, for a brave but very small animal to live next door to a very large bear with a very sore head in a dangerous jungle. A respected friend asked 'Why now, when Estonian prosperity is growing? Why not in 1991 (the year of the declaration of independence) or 1997 (the year of the Russian stock market crash). Why indeed? Welcome, dearest Estonia, to the modern world.
 
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