The Estonian parliament at a sitting on Wednesday passed amendments to the Building Code that create a basis for the removal of Soviet-era monuments and parts of buildings expressing support for occupying regimes.
Parliament passes bill on removing Soviet-era monuments
At the same time, the new regulation makes it possible to prevent the construction of unsuitable structures in the future. Amendments to the Building Code provide explicit support to local authorities for the removal of inappropriate monuments and symbols. The comprehensive legal framework stipulates which buildings are prohibited, provides for supervision and supports the resolution of possible disputes.
An additional provision stipulates that a publicly visible part of a building, as well as a publicly displayed monument, sculpture, statue or other similar structure, must not incite hatred or support or justify the commission of an occupation regime, an act of aggression, genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime. Previously, there was no relevant legal provision in the Building Code, but incitement to hatred was also previously prohibited under the Penal Code.
Justice Minister Lea Danilson-Jarg said that the bill approved by the parliament represents a very significant change for Estonia.
«This bill will finally make it possible to assert the historical truth and to complete the removal of monuments justifying occupation from public space. Of course, the victims of the occupying power and their descendants have been waiting for it the most, but it is undoubtedly important for the country as a whole, especially considering Russia's ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine,» the minister said.
«In the proceedings of the Riigikogu, the transition period set for complying with the new requirements was extended from three months to six. This means that within half a year from the entry into force of the amendments, structures and other buildings must be brought into line with the requirements added to the Building Code. National supervision of compliance with the requirements of the Building Code is carried out by local governments. Therefore, if the owner does not act, it is the task of the local government to ensure that the buildings are brought in line with the requirements or moved, taking into account the specifics of each individual case,» she added.
«However, the addition of a new requirement to the law does not mean that all monuments or building parts bearing occupation-era symbols are automatically subject to removal. Any kind of demolition is an absolute last resort and the goal certainly isn't to deal with every single five-point star found in Estonia. However, if a building bears symbols that are found to be in conflict with the new requirement, a decision must be made as to whether these symbols can be covered or removed. In the case of objects under heritage protection, the planned works must be coordinated with the National Heritage Board in advance,» Danilson-Jarg said.
The state, local governments and private owners can be guided by the proposals of the committee that operated at the Government Office regarding the compliance of monuments with the requirements, but if it is necessary to further assess whether a publicly visible part of a building or a facility is in accordance with the new requirement, a government committee to be established can be approached.
«The government committee to resolve possible disputes related to Soviet monuments and other inappropriate symbols will likely include ministers from every government party and, based on the bill, also a representative of the National Heritage Board. It will also include experts from the fields of security and culture, but who exactly will be discussed and decided by the government,» the minister said.
The minister of justice said that municipalities already have the appropriate funds in their budgets to cover the costs associated with building supervision over bringing buildings and structures into compliance with the requirements of the Building Code.
«However, if in a specific individual case the cost involved turns out to be too burdensome for the municipality, for example, the cost of the works is very high for some objects, then the municipalities can ask for reimbursement of the costs from the state budget. For this purpose, the government has decided to allocate additional funds from its reserve,» she added.
The law amendments are planned to enter into force under general procedure.