Hardly a week goes by without a threat or accusation aimed at Estonia from prominent Russian politicians and/or government officials. They find fault with Estonia’s treatment of ethnic Russians, with Estonians’ reference to the Soviet era as an occupation and with Estonia’s opposition to Russian influence in its former occupied territories.
On November 10th 2006 the Estonian parliament had its first reading of a bill allowing the relocation from central Tallinn of a Soviet monument dedicated to fallen Red Army soldiers who “liberated” Estonia in 1944. For Estonians the memorial compounds the falsification of history. For them the Nazi occupation was replaced by the occupying communist regime. The latter lasted more than ten times longer and resulted in vastly greater number of victims.
The pending legislation was bait for Russian liberal-democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky, assistant speaker of the Russian Duma, who proposed breaking diplomatic relations and initiating a Russian economic blockade of Estonia. “Let’s remember that we liberated them from a fascist intervention,” he said.
At the same time Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, the dominant political force in the Duma, is threatening to sever parliamentary relations with the Estonian parliament over the issue. The party stated: “If Estonia doesn’t respond to mild overtures, that the Duma is expected to adopt on Wednesday, then we’re ready to implement resolute methods such as the freezing of relations with the Estonian parliament.”
While Zhirinovsky’s hollow posturings have often been meant for domestic political consumption, Jevgeni Kristafovits, president of a Russian student’s union in Estonia recently claimed that Russian demonstrations at the monument have been at the active instigation of Russian clandestine services. “After the failure of dozens of special operations in Estonia, the most painful being the inability of Russian chauvinist political parties to make headway during parliamentary and Tallinn municipal elections, the clandestine services have finally gained some success by manipulating the “Tõnismäe card” (the location of the monument). They were able to mobilize about 100 Russian radicals, including youth (for a June demonstration). … It’s known that the Kremlin’s favourite scheme in its propaganda war against Estonia is to accuse us of spreading fascist sentiments,” Kristafovits stated.
The monument has become a central Tallinn focal point for periodic gatherings of those idealizing the Soviet past. In spite of numerous petitions demanding the removal or relocation of the monument, successive municipal and federal governments have refused to deal with an obviously nagging problem citing lack of enabling legislation, denying responsibility and dreading the reaction of the Russian minority.
Estonia’s economics minister and head of the Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar, currying favour with Russian voters, is publicly opposed to the monument’s removal or relocation. In past elections, Savisaar and his Centre Party have received more votes from the Russian electorate than local Russian parties combined.
The existence of the monument is a lingering vexing problem providing ample opportunities for Moscow’s propagandists. A satisfactory solution will not derive from community consensus. It’ll take political fortitude and determination.
(A future article will deal with the conditions of Russians in Estonia.)
Severance of parliamentary relations or economic blockade — more déja vu? (21)