Playing with granite fire

The Baltic Times
Adam Krowka, TALLINN

In Narva, a Sovietera statue dedicated to the first attempted Soviet revolution in pre-Republic Estonia was dismantled in the downtown area on the morning of Feb. 18. The statue, dedicated to the Communards, a littleknown movement, has been the center of much debate and was set for removal under an earlier order of the Narva city government.

Following an initiative headed by Tanel Mazur, a journalist and history teacher in a Narva Estonianlanguage school, the monument”s removal from next to Narva”s Town Hall started around 10 a.m., and the main tablets were carted off in a truck within a half hour.

Reasons for the removal included the restoration of the medieval downtown view, as supporters of the action complained that the hulking Soviet mass obstructed view of the historic main square.

Mazur presented a list of over 600 signatures of Narva citizens to the city government who backed removal of the statue from its previous location.

Critics, however, were quick to point out that Narva boasts a population of 68,000 people and that the signatures amount to a pittance.

The final destination of the dismantled pieces is still under debate. However, Andres Toode, director of the Narva Museum, agreed to store the sections in the art hall until a final decision is made.

Still, he said that the museum would not allow it to be reerected and displayed in the yard of Hermann Castle.

The city earlier refused several proposals to send the monument to Tallinn, which has been encouraged by Toode, where it would be remounted in an outdoor museum displaying similarly uprooted Soviet monuments.

City Council member Mikhail Stalnukhin said that the group is “categorically opposed” to the basrelief leaving Narva and demanded that it remain in the city even if that meant permanent dismantlement.

Unease surrounded companies which the city government attempted to contract for removing the Communards monument. The first company which agreed and presented cost estimates – approximately 153,000 kroons (9,800 euros) – later backed out of the deal, citing the expiration of their license among other reasons.

“All in all, we came to a realization and put things together – what was going on and what would be happening,” director Georgii Shuleiko of the firm Joala Ehitus told the Postimees daily.

Many other construction firms refused on the grounds of lacking time or not wanting to become entangled in controversy.

“I told them that I was refusing on moral and ethical considerations. We won”t fight with monuments,” Iuri Barkov, director of the company AO Vant, said.

Built in 1968, the monument is dedicated to members of the Commune movement who created the Estland Workers” Commune in 1918 with support of the Red Army. The government was shortlived and fell apart in 1919 when troops of the new Estonian Republic took over the town, pushing its members back into Soviet Russia.

Narva was relatively calm in April last year while Tallinn erupted in violence following the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument from a downtown square and exhumation of 13 Soviet soldiers buried beneath.

Many Narva residents expressed amazement at the signature collection – that only 600 signatures were needed to move the monument, or a mere 1 percent of the city”s population.

“So this means if 600 signatures are collected in Tallinn to remove the Freedom Monument, then they will remove it?” wrote one Postimees reader.

“For Tallinn would it be enough to gather 3,900 signatures to move something somewhere? Fantastic what democracy achieves,” wrote another.

The Estonian language version of the site displayed much less lively commentary, with only a few posts analyzing the issue.

One of the most prominent of these was posted by “Tom” early in the afternoon following removal, and read “Go to work!”