Fr, 2.12.2022

Decision made on nearly all Red monuments; Maarjamäe is a special case

Aimar Altosaar
, ajakirjanik
Decision made on nearly all Red monuments; Maarjamäe is a special case
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In order to evaluate the Maarjamäe memorial complex as a whole, if possible, a public discussion should take place, during which alternative solutions for the future of the complex could also be proposed.
In order to evaluate the Maarjamäe memorial complex as a whole, if possible, a public discussion should take place, during which alternative solutions for the future of the complex could also be proposed. Photo: Madis Veltman
  • The Government Office working group picked out the Red monuments to be liquidated.
  • War graves will receive neutral markers.
  • No decision yet regarding the Maarjamäe memorial because Germany must be involved.

The Government Office Red monuments and grave markers working group yesterday gave an overview of their mapping and evaluation; information on 322 objects was collected from existing databases, local governments, and through an online application of Postimees.

Approximately 30 officials, researchers and experts of various fields participated in the work of the group which began on June 30, the head of the working group Asko Kivinuk announced at yesterday's press conference. State Secretary Taimar Peterkop justified the non-disclosure of the names of its members with Russia's hybrid war.

According to Kivinuk, among the 322 objects considered, there are 213 war grave monuments, two war grave markers valuable as works of art, 96 memorials, five commemorative plaques and six other objects. 163 of them are municipal, 87 private and 60 state-owned. In the case of six, their ownership is not clear, and one – the Maarjamäe complex in Tallinn – is state/municipal property.

The group estimates that 188 monuments need to be removed, including 133 grave markers. Of the latter, 54 have already received the decision of the War Graves Commission, but in the case of 79 it is possible to replace the grave marker by the decision of the Minister of Defense and with the permission of National Heritage Board. Of the remaining 55 objects, 11 are owned by the state.

The removed grave markers will be replaced by already designed neutral markers, which will be placed on all war graves to be remodeled.

A new, neutral grave marker

Under international law, war graves must always be marked. The Government Office working group, in cooperation with the Academy of Arts, ordered the design of a neutral grave marker which will serve as a model for their production. Grave monuments marked with the ideologically charged symbols of a foreign power are replaced by neutral signs, in places where the remains are taken to a cemetery and where this is not done, at least not initially.

Unanimous decisions

Meelis Maripuu, a member of the evaluation team and a historian representing the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, said at the press conference that the work of the group was effective because all decisions were made by consensus. The assessment was primarily based on whether it was a war grave or not. In the case of monuments without graves and signs in the role of ideological landmarks, with which the occupying power simply marked our territory, the decision was clear: these must be moved. The monuments in the role of actual grave markers required more effort. In either case, there is a possibility that the more artistic monuments will find a place in some museum, but inappropriate symbols will be removed from the public space in any case.

Work is already underway with the monuments designated for removal, and if the Red Monuments Act should be passed by the Riigikogu, it will give the opportunity to remove all other similar objects as well. At the same time, the list prepared by the working group is one of the bases for the work of the government commission to be established under the law. The working group itself will end its activities at the end of November, and the database compiled by it will be handed over to the War Museum.

The Tallinn Maarjamäe complex is a special case. According to Peterkop, he placed a restriction on the working group when deciding on it, because the object needs to be handled separately. The government is of the same opinion.

Maripuu explained what needs to be taken into account in case of Maarjamäe. Namely, it is known that there has been a military cemetery there since the 1940s, and during the Second World War more than 2,300 Germans were buried there. During the Soviet era, the cemetery was razed to the ground and the Red regime erected ideologically important monuments there: an obelisk of the so-called Ice Voyage of 1918, a memorial to the Soviet soldier Yevgeni Nikonov, memorial plaques to Red Army units and a larger memorial to “Those who fought for Estonian freedom”, but the expansion of the memorial was stopped in 1991.

There will be no bulldozing

The materials of the working group also point out that the overall assessment of the Maarjamäe complex should, if possible, include a public discussion, during which alternative solutions for this area could be offered. In case of possible future discussions, it is very important to define the starting point: whether it is “the best example of the Estonian landscape architecture of the Soviet era” or a destroyed cemetery, where Estonian military personnel had been buried – the latter fact must be taken into account and the peace of the graves must be observed. Part of the cemetery was designated with markers in the first half of the 1990s, and the maintenance of the military cemetery is stipulated by an agreement with Germany.

According to Maripuu, the Minister of Defense has already declared this territory a war grave with his directive, and future discussions will have to consider this. “No one is going to level the ground there with a bulldozer, not even the places which were excavated once. Not all graves can be restored, but the ones which exist must be preserved,” he said. "There are no large and visible ideological signs attached to this place, so it is a different situation than the rest of the Red monuments which were discussed by the working group."

The members of the working group are of the same opinion that the memorials of the Red Army units which participated in the defense of Tallinn and bear the name of Tallinn can be separated from the treatment of the Maarjamäe complex as a whole and must be removed. It has already been done by now.