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The Bronze Soldier of Tallinn

The Bronze Soldier, whose removal from downtown Tallinn last week prompted riots in which hundreds were arrested and one person — a Russian national — was killed, has been restored at a new location in the Defense Forces Cemetery. I'd … Read More

By / April 30, 2007

The Bronze Soldier, whose removal from downtown Tallinn last week prompted riots in which hundreds were arrested and one person — a Russian national — was killed, has been restored at a new location in the Defense Forces Cemetery. I'd have blogged about this anyway, but there's a fortuitous Jewish angle that justifies my paycheck:

The moving of the memorial drew criticism from others. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center called it an insult to the victims of the Nazis.

While recognizing the crimes committed under Soviet rule, ''it must never be forgotten that it was the Red Army which effectively stopped the mass murder conducted by the Nazis and their local collaborators on Estonian soil,'' Efraim Zuroff, the center's chief Nazi hunter, said in a statement.

It's also true that more Russian soldiers died in World War II, mainly as a result of Stalin's tactical blunders, than any other nationality involved in combat. However, even before Hitler invaded Poland, he was bartering over the ownership of Estonia and the other Baltic states with Stalin, who wanted them within the Soviet "sphere of influence" (really a military buffer zone between Europe and Russia). A metallic Ivan is not of quite the same ideological insult as a statue of Lenin, Stalin or even Marx would be. Plenty of brave and courageous Ivans perished on Baltic soil doing exactly what Zuroff says they did. Still, for ethnic Estonians, to be reminded of having one's country turned a plaything between two blood-thirsty Colossi is another point of sensitivity that deserves to be kept in mind.

Nikolay Kovalyov, the Duma's heavyhanded envoy to Tallinn, is absurd to insist that the Estonian government resign over the fury and chaos the relocation project has incited. (What other response can he have imagined?) But — and how rare it is to say this these days — one can appreciate Moscow's point: The monument used to perch on a sepulchre containing the remains of 13 Red Army soldiers. Any attempt to make their tomb less august than it was is thus subject to the queasy-making term desecration.

[Note: This post originally and incorrectly cited two contradictory laws that pertained to the Bronze Statue, one of which -- The Law on Forbidden Structures -- was approved by Estonian parliament, but then vetoed by the president. It never became a law.]

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