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The white willow farce had a violent end

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
PHOTO: Sander Ilvest

The stretch of Paldiski road near the Haabersti crossroads was closed to traffic early yesterday (June 27) morning and the tree-cutting action was launched, which lasted a whole eight hours.

It is half past six in the morning as several dozen police officers begin to gather up the camp of the protesters at 161 Paldiski Rd, where they have been staying since the beginning of the month. Two activists manage to climb to the white willow, while the others retreat voluntarily. A couple offer resistance and are dragged to the police van.

«Get rid of that dirt already! The whole house cannot live because of them,» an elderly passerby hisses. A number of officers begin to carry the protesters’ property to a trailer, which hardly contains it all. A TV set is placed on top of the pile.

The activists up in the tree make a lot of noise all the time and supporters behind the fence go along with the, Shouting dies down as rescue vehicles with lifts are placed to either side of the tree and two airbags are set up in case someone should drop from the branches.

Negotiators are lifted up into the canopy and talks begin, which will last for hours. At the same time people arrive at the fence, activists protecting the white willow as well as onlookers, most holding coffee cups with logos of a nearby petrol station.

The Norwegian Vegard Emanuelsen in a neon-colored fur cap, one of the first to have settled down at the tree, explains in English to everyone present the alleged illegality of the process and presents his plan for saving the tree. Among others, police officers and security guards surrounding the fenced-in area, benefit from his lecture.

More onlookers arrive, including journalists. The protest politician Miina Hint walks around and complains that no one but the Russian propaganda channel Sputnik wants to talk to her. She finally reaches Imre Kaas, reporter of Kanal 2, who is making a live broadcast for Postimees. Kaas listens to her story and announces: «We are on air right now!» Unfortunately there is no clear message but more complaining about the absence of free media.

The protesters are reinforced by Matti Nappus, deputy chairman of Saue town council, equipped with a bullhorn which he kindly lends to others, extending the range of the activists’ message for some time. Nappus has also taken along a green flag he used years ago when he protected the gingko tree in central Tallinn.

But the police officers are annoyed by Nappus’ sound effects and the elderly man, together with his bullhorn and flag, is stuffed into the police van, despite desperate cries for help.

The same happens to a young activist on the other side of the road; he expresses his protest by beating a drum. The officers initially ignore him, but once he bangs the instrument immediately below the negotiations going on in the canopy, he is resolutely told to leave. Refusal and talk about civic rights lead to him being pressed down into the dust and then taken to the police van.

Among the people are representatives of the Kakumäe People’s Society, who approached the protectors of the tree last week with a plan of cutting a hundred twigs from the tree and planting them. The tree marked for cutting could have lived on in the form of a hundred new ones. They were not heard then, but the men have not given up yet. Unfortunately they are not allowed to approach the white willow.

Saale Kareda, one of the spokespersons of the activists, tries to convince the officers to stop the destroying of the tree, but her words have no effect. Meanwhile the activists are given some mystical hope that an important document would be delivered any moment, which would at least temporarily stop the cutting.

Rainer Vakra, chairman of the parliamentary committee of environmental affairs and the Social Democrats’ candidate for the mayor of Tallinn, who arrived in Haabersti before noon, gives interviews to anyone interested and announces that such business will come to an end as soon as he takes charge of the city. «It would be unthinkable that a project concerning Haabersti would be presented somewhere in North Tallinn,» Vakra says, referring to the fact that the Haabersti junction project was presented in Kultuurikatel, a former power station near the Tallinn City Hall.

Vakra rushes off to another meeting, while Kareda calls out to those up the tree: «Do not come down,  a document saving the tree is on the way!»

When asked about, it appears that Vakra had promised to deliver the document. He also had promised to call Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt to stop police brutality. Vakra later states that it had not been exactly like that. «I did exactly what I was asked to do. I mailed Kareda a letter of the environmental affairs committee, where we recommend Taavi Aas (acting mayor of Tallinn) to convene a commission of experts to review the cutting permit of this white willow as well as the remaining more than thousand cutting permits, which are currently valid in Tallinn. They received the copy of the letter, which was sent to Tallinn city government on Monday,» Vakra explains in the afternoon.

«I also gave Anvelt’s telephone number to two individuals and said that they can phone the interior minister. The ministers of the Estonian state are just as easily accessible as members of the parliament. If they want to talk to the minister, they are free to do so!»

During all that time the negotiators have been attempting to convince the treetop protesters to descend. One of the men does climb off after having spent more than four hours in the canopy. He is placed in a car and taken away. But the other promises to stay as long as it takes although it is apparent that he is getting exhausted as well. The issue of ensuring his security should he climb off suddenly becomes more important than the fate of the willow.

Then another lift is deployed with three riot policemen. This time the platform is raised higher than the sole defender. The canopy of the tree hides the action, but the final man is soon brought down in handcuffs and driven away.

Emanuelsen is walking around and promising that the Environment Inspectorate will come any minute and end the illegal police activity. Arborists begin their work and the white willow is cut down, eight hours after the start of the operation.

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