Estonia to remove Soviet-era monuments to ‘ensure public order’

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Estonia’s government has announced that it will remove Soviet-era monuments from public spaces across the country.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the decision was made due to a risk of public disorder following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“As symbols of repressions and Soviet occupation, they have become a source of increasing social tensions,” Kallas wrote on Twitter.

“At these times, we must keep the risk to public order at a minimum,” she added.

The Baltic country initially announced that it would remove Soviet-era monuments from an eastern border town, Narva.

One replica of a T-34 Soviet tank commemorates the Soviet soldiers who died freeing Estonia from Nazi Germany during World War II.

According to the Estonian broadcaster ERR, the tank will now be taken to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi north of the capital, Tallinn.

Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets confirmed that the dismantling operation and transfer “will be carried out in a dignified manner”.

“For example, the flowers and the candles placed at the monuments will be taken to a cemetery, not thrown away,” he said on Tuesday, according to the Baltic News Service.

Kallas also said that the common grave of the victims of World War II in the border town will now get a neutral grave marker and it will remain a dignified site for commemoration.

“No one wants to see our militant and hostile neighbour foment tensions in our home,” the Estonian Prime Minister added in a statement.

“We will not afford Russia the opportunity to use the past to disturb the peace in Estonia …[or] tear open old wounds.”

Around 57,500 inhabitants in Narva are chiefly Russian speakers. The town council’s decision on Monday to move the monument has already led to protests.

A total of seven Soviet-era monuments in Narva would be removed, the government said.

In 2007, the decision to relocate the so-called Bronze Statue of Tallinn — another Soviet war memorial — from a city park led to days of rioting.

One person died and more than 1,000 arrests were made as Russian-speaking Estonians claimed the removal of the memorial erased their history. The statue was later moved to a military cemetery.