When the Riigikogu voted on February 15 to narrowly pass a law requiring unlawful structures to be removed from public places as part of the Military Graves Protection Act, obliging the government to act within 30 days, it brought predictable reaction.
With many in the western media focusing on the removal of the central figure or "unlawful structure", the Soviet WW II "victory" memorial on Tõnismägi known as the Bronze Soldier, news agencies and wire services such as AFP emphasized "Russian anger", noted accusations of "neo-fascism in Tallinn" and described various "threats of sanctions from Moscow."
One such threat came from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov, who told Interfax that "the authorities of Estonia should realize the irreversible consequences the implementation of the revanchist plans of the local ultra-right forces will entail for our relations, the country's international positions and Estonian public life."
The plain and simple reality is, as Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said on February 15, that the Riigikogu has given its political assessment that the monument does not fit where it stands now. That is it. The monument will not be destroyed but moved. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, however, will not sign the law into force.
Ilves issued a statement on February 15, stating " I have decided not to promulgate the “Law on the Removal of an Unlawful Structure”, passed today in the Riigikogu. I do so because a number of sections of the law are unconstitutional, first and foremost the principle of separation of powers. After the final text of the law signed by the Chairman of the Riigikogu reaches the Chancery of the President of the Republic, I shall present a detailed explanation of the unconstitutionality of the law."
Never mind the politicians — what are the people saying?
Following is one view from Tallinn. A reader emailed us, writing:
"As so often the media emphasis is on what ESTONIA is or is not doing with the Soviet victory symbol. The focus should be on RUSSIA and its behaviour in this situation. With its vacillating the current Estonian coalition government (Reform, Center and People's parties) has not handled the problem at all well. But when you really think about it, why should a huge country like Russia raise such a protest, threaten a small neighbouring sovereign nation to retain one Soviet statue, a reminder of 50 years of occupation?
"Absurd on the face of it, but this shows clearly how today's Russia is still very much living in and glorifying its Soviet past. Putin's Cold War style speech in Munich [on February 10] just confirms the situation.
"The late and greatly mourned Alexander Yakovlev wrote in his book "A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia" (in 2002, even before many of Putin's undemocratic moves): 'And today's Bolsheviks are still capable of curtailing the country's democratic development and throwing it back into the cesspool. I am convinced that only a consistent de-Bolshevization of the state and society can save our people from final ruin, both physical and spiritual.'
"In his book Yakovlev indicts the Soviet system from its inception, focussing chapter by chapter on different groups of victims, including children, peasants, the intelligentsia, the churches and religious believers, forced labourers, Mensheviks, and Jews. In all he estimates that 60 million citizens were killed during the Soviet years and that millions more died of starvation - an incredible overview of the Soviet Union's years of terror."
Russia's contemptible heavy-handed tactics are the more offensive when one considers that a debate about a proposed EU anti-hate law was taking place in Brussels last week, on the same day that the Riigikogu passed their Act. The denial of the crimes of totalitarian regimes, including, it goes without saying communism, should be part of that EU bill banning racial hatred and genocide denial. The proposed draft's present wording includes prohibiting " publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes defined by the tribunal of Nuremberg." Unfortunately, as the Soviets were on the side of the victors, there still has been no international tribunal judging the crimes of communism.
Moscow's reactions to the movement of a Soviet monument which publicly condoned genocide is truly a trivialization aimed once more at deflecting attention from Soviet crimes against humanity.
All the more reason to question the misdirected emphasis and focus by the western media.
Misplaced focus (50)