TALLINN’S WAR ON EUROPEAN HISTORY


17.01.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to the Estonian Parliament’s January 11th decision on the “protection of wartime burials” as sacrilege and a mockery of the memory of those who fought for European freedom. Despite its respectable-sounding name, this example of Russophobic legislation permits the removal of fraternal graves and the dismantling of monuments to Soviet soldiers who died in the fighting to liberate Estonia from the Nazis in September 1944.
The nationalists and radicals in Tallinn cannot wait to do this. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has promised to send bulldozers to the burial sites in May. He does not conceal that the new law’s first and foremost victim will be the monument to the soldier-liberator at Tonismagi in downtown Tallinn. There are plans to move this impressive sculpture of a Soviet soldier to some God-forsaken place, and probably even dismantle it: head with a cask, machine-gun, and knee-high boots.
The Bronze Soldier may not be the only victim of humiliation. There are 265 burial sites of Soviet soldiers, including individual and common graves. All in all, 168,855 soldiers were buried in Estonia. In order to erase the memory of the exploits of these soldiers from what is now a foreign country, Tallinn will have to spend years on an enormous construction and landscaping project.
In Russia, these plans have caused a mounting wave of indignation. Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said that this decision on the removal of monuments was a historical mistake. “This law is a disgrace for Estonia and for the Estonian people. Fighting against monuments is counterproductive and immoral, all the more so with the monuments to those who freed Estonia and Latvia from the Nazi yoke,” he said.
The State Duma intends to make a special statement on response measures. “We should give a timely and tough answer. Among other things, we should not maintain contacts with those politicians who have initiated and passed this law,” Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said.
Head of the Duma committee on international affairs Konstantin Kosachev has gone even further. He suggests applying the Russian law on economic sanctions during emergencies. In this case, Estonia would not be able to use Russian air space and ports, while customs tariffs and duties paid by Tallinn could be raised.
The Russian response is so emotional because bulldozing the Bronze Soldier is not the only caprice of the nationalist radicals. It is yet another symbol of the glaring suppression by the Estonian authorities of the rights of the Russian minority, which accounts for around one third of the total population. Recently, an Amnesty International report with the unusually imperative title “Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end” has drawn public attention to this aberration in the center of the European Union (EU).
The document states that hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking “non-citizens” are deprived of access to jobs and higher education. Here is just one telltale example: in 2005, the unemployment rate was no more than 5% for ethnic Estonians, but it was 13% for Russian speakers. The Russophobic Estonian authorities have been quite resourceful: they have deprived the Russian speakers of the right to be covered by the law on the cultural autonomy of national minorities – and hence the EU framework convention on the latter’s protection – using the casuistic excuse that this law only applies to Estonian citizens.
You are not a citizen? Then you are not entitled to a job or education in Estonia, or any EU democratic rights for that matter.
The quagmire of lawlessness is fertile soil for the nationalist radicals that are in power in Estonia. By means of actions such as the law on dismantling monuments to Soviet soldiers, they pursue narrow, selfish interests: protecting their political positions and lucrative jobs. This is what prominent Russian political scientist Sergei Markov said about them: “They are the same as the Ku Klux Klan, which could occupy positions in American government agencies only as long as inequality between blacks and whites existed. As soon as equal rights were established, all Ku Klux Klan members were thrown from bodies of power. This is why the Ku Klux Klan was interested in preserving inequality.”
The Bronze Soldier and the common graves of Soviet fighters will eventually find a place where they will be revered. Konstantin Titov, governor of the Samara Region, declared the other day that his region was ready to accept the monument and pay all expenses for its transportation. The Kremlin has charged the Defense Ministry with taking care of Soviet military graves abroad.
But this is not even the point. The soldier-liberator at Tonismagi who gave his life for the freedom of Estonians, is now defending the history of Europe and its democratic values. The EU, represented by its institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg, cannot turn a blind eye to this.
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