The tank is gone but grudge remains

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
A Soviet T-34 tank installed as a monument is removed from its pedestal in Narva, Estonia, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
A Soviet T-34 tank installed as a monument is removed from its pedestal in Narva, Estonia, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. Photo: Sergei Stepanov / AP / Scanpix
  • The concentration of policemen in Narva was the largest ever seen there.
  • As suits the era of the Internet, all parties could watch the details of the operation live.
  • The Narva residents cared of the tank monument before and do, clearly see depressed.

I have not seen for a long time such a large concentration of police officers as in Narva on Tuesday. Possibly during a game of the London Arsenal football team at their home field, the Emirates Stadium, years ago. The comparison is a bit inappropriate, but the scales are comparable.

Anyone who had followed the recent events had probably no doubts that the tank monument, along with several other memorials of the Red authorities, will be removed from the border town. The plan matured and was being polished until the last moment, until finally law enforcement officers and the defense forces servicemen, who helped to move the tank monument with their heavy equipment, were ordered to gather in Narva from various regions of Estonia.

One could sense that something was going on and that it would happen soon. So it did. The very next day after the extraordinary session of Narva City Council, around seven o'clock in the morning.

Inside the minibus which picks up the journalists at the edge of the police-controlled area around 8:30 a.m., we are treated to the somewhat obligatory talk which journalists and photographers in war zones hear all the time: what (or who) is allowed to be photographed and filmed and what is not. In short, the rules of the game. “Movement is restricted here; the police have formed a perimeter, and in fact, only persons related to the transfer are staying here. We won't be here for long, maybe about 15 minutes,” explain the police officers dealing with the press.

At the same time we notice an older gentleman in a dressing gown, watching the process from his yard with a surprised look, and a woman wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. I try to talk to the law enforcement officers and find out how early their working day began, but miss the answer because once I arrive, my eye is caught by a number of people standing around and keeping watch at the already notorious monument. There may be more than 300 police officers involved in the entire Narva operation, someone estimates.

The crowd was more reasonable compared with the bronze night

Vyacheslav, the field control officer from the capital, whose working day started at 3 a.m., says that when they arrived at the tank, they were greeted by three or four people guarding the monument. “They communicated with us very politely and understood the explanations – picked up their things and drove away,” recalls the police officer as the heavy equipment arrives and the flowers and candles which had been piled up around the monument are removed. “They were sitting on a bench behind the tank and having a little barbecue. They asked why [it was being moved] and if there was any law, but then they packed their stuff in the car.”

Vyacheslav remembers the bronze night very well, because he had just graduated from the police school. “If you think about it – 15 years have already passed – we are now much better prepared, the equipment is better and there are more people [in the police],” admits the officer. “I think that the people are also more reasonable.” The field officer does not answer whether the events related to removing the tank could still take some ugly turn in Narva, but suggests that probably not. “I cannot say, but in this sense we are always prepared. More reaction is better than no reaction at all. We hope that everything will go well,” he says.

The work on the monument is progressing smoothly despite the sultry weather, and all those interested can watch its details live at the same time, as suits the Internet age. The quote of the day is provided by Anton Alekseyev, a reporter of the National Broadcasting Company, who recalls the famous saying of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before launching into space: “Poyehali!” at the moment when the tank is finally being moved.

Four hours later, the tank is already moving towards its new location in Viimsi.

Kalle, a 55-year-old from Tallinn, who got off the train at Narva railway station at 10:36 a.m., has equipped himself with a newly acquired Estonian tricolor attached to an aluminum pole (he said that another flag with which he walked at the bronze soldier last week was seized and kept by the police). A flag with a pole because if someone intended to use their fists, he could stand up for himself.

Alyosha should be removed as well

Standing three kilometers away from the tank monument with his tricolor, Kalle notes that although a fair amount of people have gathered, no one has looked at him with hostility, let alone picking a fight.

He is just patiently waiting for his moment on the highway, which has been blocked off by police cars – Kalle wants to capture the moment when the tank on the trailer drives past him, and then wave the Estonian tricolor.

Kalle admits that he actually tried to get closer to the scene, but noticed a police dog while walking along the river bank towards the forest. The prospect that the latter might sink its teeth into his leg did not seem very attractive, so Kalle dropped the plan and came out of the bush to wait by the highway.

“I planned to come [to Narva] already yesterday. All the Red monuments matter to me; I went to the bronze soldier as well,” he says. “It is nothing but a symbol of the damned war,” he argues. Kalle claims that the Symbols Act provides no place for Soviet red stars and other similar stuff. “It cannot be! I wanted to put the Estonian flag instead of the star,” he notes and regrets that his undertaking failed. However, Kalle admits that he is happy that the square was already cleared in the morning. “I hope that the place under the tank will be cleared as well. In exactly the same way, Alyosha (nickname for the bronze soldier) should be taken away from its current location,” he remarks and suggests to go and view the state of the grave of the former Estonian politician and general Johannes Kert. “There is only one bouquet of flowers and a pile of sand. At the same time, Alyosha has been buried under carnations.”

Whether Kalle will finally see the passing of the tank remains unclear. However, the man walking around in Narva with his tricolor catches the eye of the photographer of Postimees.

A promise to erect a new monument

As soon as the perimeter, which was closed during the relocation of the tank monument, is opened up to traffic again – this happens around half past three – cars begin rolling past. The people of Narva, who cared of the tank monument before and still do, seem clearly depressed.

Vitali, 48, who came with his friends to keep watch at the tank in his free time, but happened to stay at home with his family on Tuesday, says that what is happening makes him furious. At first he does not control his emotions, but his talk remains polite: one cannot hear a single insulting word or phrase which are common in the Russian language.

Calming down a bit, Vitali tells that he heard about the relocation of the tank early in the morning. “Four people were arrested here [at the monument],” he claims and adds that he can name all the men who were taken to the police station. “They were detained for 48 hours. It doesn't fit in my head, I cannot understand. I am an Estonian citizen and I have good feelings about the state of Estonia. I have many friends among Estonians, I visit them in Tallinn, but I do not understand why this discrimination against people is going on here. What is it good for?” he asks.

At the same time, Vitali makes a promise: “We shall erect a new monument here anyway. What kind of? We shall see about it.” He admits that it is now difficult to repair the broken friendship between people of different nationalities. “It is not about friendship between the Estonians and the Russians, but only politics – populist statements by politicians and so on. Moreover, what is currently being done is illegal. There is no such law that allows them (the government) to act this way,” Vitali exclaims in one breath. “Do you really want Russia to come here? Is life so bad that it is necessary to incite everyone to war?”