Hundreds of memorial stones not protected

Anneli Ammas
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Photo: Muinsuskaitseameti arhiiv/M. Pakler

The register of monuments under heritage protection includes 217 mass graves and two war-themed artistic monuments from the Soviet period, while it does not mention a single memorial stone or other type of Soviet-era monument plenty of which were installed all over Estonia.

The mass graves are the resting places of Red Army casualties and civilians killed in acts of terror. The latter were collective referred to as victims of fascism in Soviet times.

„Estonian and German mass graves have been registered as burial sites,“ said chief inspector of historical monuments of the National Heritage Board Ilme Mäesalu.

The two exceptions concern World War II monuments, both located in Saaremaa. One is the Tehumardi Memorial to commemorate the bloody battles in Sõrve, the other a mass grave monument in Tagavere, Orissaare parish.

Mäesalu scoured the archives for a 1988 photograph of a memorial stone to Soviet airmen in Rääsa village, Ida-Viru County that recently led to a scandal that culminated in the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Estonia.

The provocative monument is located on a private lot in the town of Kiviõli, with its plaque facing the street, since May 9 of this year. The 1988 photograph shows the rock without a plaque attached to it. The image depicts the rock with a white tablet displaying the names of pilots who were allegedly killed in the area in 1944 resting at its base.

Mäesalu said the photo does not allow one to determine whether the rock once had a plaque attached to it, or whether it always rested on the ground in front of it. What is for certain is that the 1988 tablet does not resemble the one local activist Sarkis Tatevosjan screwed to the rock after moving the stone from Rääsa to his lot in Kiviõli.

Such stones, pillars, and obelisks to mark Soviet rule were abundant in village councils and towns during Soviet times. How many could there have been? Mäesalu said corresponding figures are unknown. It is possible such monuments numbered in the hundreds. They were not listed in a single register during the Soviet era. „Monuments were installed to honor anniversaries,“ Mäesalu explained.

Existing monuments were counted in the 1990s, with only burial states placed under protection. The Küttejõu district in Kiviõli is home to a II World War brotherhood-in-arms mass grave.

Mäesalu said it was recommended the state place the Bronze Soldier monument in Tõnismäe under protection as an artistic monument in the late 1990s as well; however, it was not done. Today the monument is located in the Defense Forces Cemetery and is under protection as one part of it.

The fates of various rocks like the one from Rääsa village vary. When Soviet-era monuments were counted in the late 1990s, authorities told locals there is no need to demolish them. „In some places tablets attached to rocks were taken to the local museum,“ the chief inspector said. „In others they were quietly removed from their original location.“

Statues of Kingissepp and Lenin were taken down at the beginning of the 1990s and are located behind the history museum in Maarjamäe. Mäesalu said that an exhibition displaying their „heads“ will soon be opened.

Of Soviet monuments, placing the Maarjamäe Memorial under heritage conservation is currently being considered as architecture historians hold it to be the best landscape history monument.