Estonia keen to escape Soviet hangover

The Guardian
January 24, 2007

Young Russian protesters wearing Soviet military uniform from the second world war demonstrate in Moscow against Estonian plans to demolish [this should be” relocate”] a monument dedicated to Red Army soldiers.

Relations between Estonia and Russia have never been exactly cuddly. But a major diplomatic row was brewing today over plans by the tiny Baltic state to demolish a monument to Red Army soldiers who freed Estonia from the Nazis back in 1944.

Estonia’s unrepentant [huh?] prime minister, Andrus Ansip, wants to get rid of the monument – arguing that it is a symbol of Estonia’s occupation by the Soviet Union. Moscow disagrees. It says the plan to shift the memorial is an insult to the dead and an alarming sign of anti-Russian “fascism” in what it calls “revanchist” Estonia.

Today some 2,000 pro-Kremlin activists staged a demonstration in Moscow calling on Estonia to think again.

Russia has already formally protested about the move to the European Union, which Estonia joined in 2004.

However, Mr Ansip said that he wasn’t going to change his mind. In a defiant interview he said for Estonians there wasn’t any difference between German Nazis and Russian communists. “Both the swastika and the hammer and sickle are symbols of occupation regimes in Estonia,” he told the Russian news agency Interfax, adding he wouldn’t bend to “Russian threats”.

Soviet troops arrived in Estonia in 1940. They swiftly absorbed it into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed them out in 1941. The Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century, until the 1990s when Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union.

The row is made more bitter by the fact that some Estonians fought with the Nazis. [Completely understanable after the horrors of the first Soviet occupation]

The dispute over the statue in the capital Tallinn has become a symbol of the deep divisions in Estonian society. The country’s large ethnic Russian population [here as a result of the Soviet occupation and
russfication] wants it to stay – with Russia claiming that ethnic Russians there suffer persecution. Estonian officials say they merely want to move the monument somewhere else.

Either way, Estonia appears to be the latest post-Soviet state to have fallen out with its mighty neighbour, following the recent examples of Ukraine and Belarus- not to mention Georgia. If Estonia refuses to back down expect sanctions from Moscow next.