[Editorial, The Baltic Times (Latvia) January 16, 2008]
The much-anticipated trial against four alleged organizers of the Tallinn riots began this week amid a tranquil atmosphere at home and the requisite show of propaganda on the part of Russia. The four men are accused of fomenting the rioting that rocked the Estonia’s capital last April, leaving one dead, over a hundred injured and property damage estimated at several million euros.
The defendants have denied their guilt, and even made counterclaims against the Estonian state, alleging police abuse and constitutional violations such as denying the right to legal counsel. Regardless, prosecutors are confident that they have compiled a strong case against the four - all ethnic Russians - who face up to five years in prison.
Put mildly, it would appear that the goose has been cooked for the four defendants. Some of them, if not all, were followed by security police for months before the rioting took place. Their phones were also tapped. Indeed, it is the latter that will likely serve as the prosecutors’ smoking gun. One can easily imagine that any of the four, in the heat of the moment on April 26 - 27, began phoning contacts and “rallying the troops.” The language used was, in all likelihood, very harsh (and could eventually become a fine primer to the rich obscenities in the Russian language).
The four defendants are all members of Night Watch, an informal club established to protect the Bronze Soldier statue, and all four had staked their personal reputations on shielding the Soviet memorial from Estonian authorities. Who knows? Perhaps at one point, seeing they were losing the battle, they began to make desperate calls for a violent upheaval.
The court case will also be interesting in that it could shed light on Russia’s role in the mayhem. Moscow has denied any role in the riots, and the subsequent cyber-attacks as well, but few, if any, outside Russia believe this. The Russian ambassador to Estonia, we know for a fact, regularly met with Dmitry Linter, one of the four accused. He does not deny that they spoke about the monument, though he says it was simply “an exchange of opinions and experience.”
Secondly, the world witnessed how the pro-Kremlin youth organization, Nashi, barricaded the Estonian Embassy in Moscow and tried to barge into a press conference by the Estonian ambassador. Using the rule of thumb in Putin’s Russia - if it’s Nashi, then it’s on the Kremlin’s orders - then one can anticipate that the trial in Tallinn will bring some incriminating revelations against the eastern neighbor.
But there is a pleasing footnote to the latter ordeal. Nashi activists have in recent days discovered that their road to Europe has been blocked. Due to their aggressive behavior against Estonia, the Baltic state has declared them personae non grata for travel to the European Union. Membership in the Schengen zone affords Estonia that right.
Now the poor activists - who aren’t really activists but protesters-for-hire -are moaning that they can’t get to Helsinki or Madrid because they’ve been blacklisted. For us, this has provided a wonderful sense of schadenfreude. Perhaps now these semi-literate shock troops will learn how to behave themselves ...though we’re not holding our breath.