Diplomats weighed on emotions

Mayor of Kiviõli Nikolai Vojeikin says that Russian diplomats from the consulate general in Narva Dmitri Kazjonnov and Andrei Surgajev asked about the possibility of relocating a vandalized monument to Soviet airmen next to another war monument in the town's Küttejõu district when they visited him in his office on May 18. It is alleged the meeting between the mayor and the diplomats was the event that led to the latter's expulsion from Estonia.

When did you meet with the Russian diplomats?

The meeting took place at 3 p.m. on May 18, following a request from the Russian Consulate General in Narva. I received a call from the consulate's Consultant-Adviser Andrei Surgajev, with whom we are acquaintances, during which he asked me for a meeting. Consul General Dmitri Kazjonnov had never been to Kiviõli before.

Where did the meeting take place?

We met in my office. They arrived in the town an hour early to visit monuments on city land, including the brotherhood in arms monument in Küttejõu district where they took flowers. They came to see me after that.

Did they tell you what they wanted to talk about before the meeting?

Surgajev said on the phone simply that they want to come meet with me. I had a vague idea of what they wanted to discuss as something had been scribbled on a monument to Soviet airmen recently.

Media channels – Sputnik and Slavia, if I'm not mistaken – had also caught wind of it. Through these channels I learned the Russian foreign ministry had condemned the act. I was prepared to receive representatives of the country and discuss the matter.

How long was your conversation?

It took 72 minutes. Because it was the consul general's first time in Kiviõli, I talked about the town, community life, and possible developments.

I also gave them an overview of the city government's legal position on the monument rock. I emphasized that it is the position of the city government as a collegial organ, not just the mayor, that this stone has no legal status. The monument is not an object of heritage conservation nor is it registered anywhere.

I told them the city government does not understand why the rock was moved from Lüganuse parish to Kiviõli in the first place.

How did the monument end up in Kiviõli?

Head of the Kiviõli veterans' association Sarkis Tatevosjan turned to the city government twice, asking to bring the stone to Kiviõli and put it on display in a public location. The city government refused. In his second letter, he wrote that should the city maintain its position, he wants to put the rock in a private lot. He turned to the Lüganuse parish government to ask whether he could remove the monument in late April.

He set about moving the monument in the first days of May and managed to bring it to its current location a few days before May 9. He placed the stone at Vabaduse puiestee 21, next to his chainlink fence. I happened to pass by there, and I immediately wondered why the plaque on the stone is facing the street.

It is impossible to hold gatherings of people there as it is too close to a busy road. It would make sense for the plaque to face his lot, which recommendation I communicated to him. He ignored my recommendation, and that was how we left it.

Next, on the night of May 17, there appeared on the stone the writing to which the Russian ministry reacted. (The stone read „These murderers bombed my grandmother. May they burn in hell!“ in chalk – ed.)

What was the Russian diplomats' message to you?

Because the city government's position is that the stone cannot be put on public display, they asked me to take their petition to the city council. They said that historic events and casualties are sacred to them.

They said that while they understand the city government's administrative position, they hope the council will demonstrate good will, understanding, humanity to allow the stone to be placed in a dignified location, or next to the brotherhood monument in Kiviõli's Küttejõu district. I told them I would take the matter to the city council.

I briefed the council on the Russian diplomats' petition during its sitting on May 25. Sarkis Tatevosjan was present. The council decided it will respect and uphold the city government's decision.

The council recommended moving the monument where the plane was shot down in World War II. Another option was to take the stone back to where Tatevosjan brought it from.

The council also found that it is not in the capacity of the local government to move the stone next to the brotherhood monument in Küttejõu district as relevant decisions belong in the administrative area of the National Heritage Board. Because the board has introduced rules that need to be observed in connection with the brotherhood monument, the city council found the petition needs to be taken to the agency.

When was the monument created and where was it located until recently?

The Soviet War Commissariat placed the stone next to the Rääsa elementary school in Lüganuse parish in the early 1960s. The spot where the plane was shot down lies several kilometers from there in-between swamps. The stone's previous location is private land. The plaque has been torn off the stone twice in the past. The police have looked into the matter but have not been able to find the culprits.

Tatevosjan found that Lüganuse parish was not a safe place for the stone and decided to bring it to Kiviõli.

Were there elements of your meeting with the diplomats that could be described as disrespectful?

It would be simplest to say I have no comment, as how diplomats of a foreign country conduct themselves is their business.

However, saying the legal answer does not satisfy them and emphasizing that while they understand the administrative side of things, they are asking for good will, understanding, and humanity – there is an emotional component there. These adjectives are always emotional. That is how I'd characterize our conversation.

Did the conversation remain courteous? No one raised their voice or resorted to unpleasant expressions?

I will not comment on that.

Was there anyone else present?

Only the three of us, in my office.

What impression were you left with personally? Was it the reason the diplomats were expelled from Estonia, and do you believe it was the right thing to do?

It is not in my capacity to assess. Like I said, an act of vandalism involving a memorial stone sparked a reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, embassy, diplomats in Narva. They came to Kiviõli to see things for themselves and were insistent in terms of being shown understanding.

Still, can you say there was anything in the conversation that goes beyond civilized communication?

There were emotional moments; however, I will not comment on whether any lines were crossed. The responsibility for that lies with those who were doing the talking.

How can you remember the conversation took exactly 72 minutes?

I was being sarcastic. The meeting took over an hour.

Have you discussed your conversation with Estonian law enforcement?

I have not. We have reported the defacement of the stone; however, I have not spoken to security organs about my conversation with the Russian diplomats.

Which of the two did the bulk of the talking, Kazjonnov or Surgajev?

Kazjonnov was in charge 98 percent of the time. Surgajev perhaps uttered a few phrases.