HEIDY PURGA The Russian historical approach has no place in Narva Museum

Heidy Purga
, minister of culture (Reform Party)
Maria Smorževskihh-Smirnova, head of Narva Museum.
Maria Smorževskihh-Smirnova, head of Narva Museum. Photo: Narva muuseum

Ahead of the extraordinary meeting of the supervisory board of Narva Museum held many days ago, supervisory board member Aleksei Mägi sent me, the mayor and media publications a letter, in which he expressed views that do no credit to any member of a governing body of an Estonian memory institution, Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform Party) writes.

I find that supervisory board members Aleksei Mägi and Vadim Orlov, who have been appointed by the city of Narva, should issue a public apology to Maria Smorževskihh-Smirnova, head of Narva Museum, and can no longer continue as supervisory board members.

After the supervisory board meeting, the mayor of Narva, Jaan Toots, who also participated in the meeting, appeared before the journalists and claimed that all nuances of the conflict were discussed and a conclusion was reached that emotions should be removed from the agenda and disagreements should be resolved within the supervisory board. All this after my proposal to Jaan Toots to recall those members of the supervisory board who base their historical approaches on the narratives of terrorist Russia. Recent developments are a convenient solution for the city authorities of Narva, because they do not want to deal with the real problem.

The supervisory board of the foundation does not have the competence to decide on the suitability of one or another supervisory board member. It is the decision of the founders, who recall and appoint the supervisory board members. It is completely understandable that the supervisory board focused on the future of the museum and restoring work peace. The questions of Mägi and Orlov on whether Maria Smorževskihh-Smirnova should continue or whether the city's funding for the museum should be reduced were addressed. As far as I know, both Mayor Toots and the members of the supervisory board appointed by the city confirmed that the local government’s contribution to the funding of the museum will not be reduced.

What is the real problem? A different understanding of Estonian history, it seems.

I confirm once again, Maria has done an exemplary job and has my respect for successfully doing the Estonian thing in such difficult circumstances. The continuation of the museum director in her position is natural and should not be under discussion at all.

For the residents and society of the state of Estonia, the question of the perceptions and attitudes of the members of the supervisory board, which caused the conflict, is still unresolved. The supervisory board of Narva Museum is one where both the city of Narva and the representatives of the state have equal representation, and thus sometimes more complex issues concerning the activities of the museum end up in a stalemate. If the supervisory board cannot discuss the composition of the supervisory board, it must be done by the founders, the state and the city of Narva.

What is the real problem? A different understanding of Estonian history, it seems. Aleksei Mägi wrote to me that the leaflets that disturbed him were provocative. The flyers show the destruction of Putinist Russia in Ukraine and the inhumane actions of the Soviet Union in the bombing of the city of Narva. How can this be considered provocative? Did the Soviet Union not bomb the Narva school pictured on the flyer? Is the message that our neighbor is still standing up for its interests in bloody ways, as it did 80 years ago, somehow provocative? It is only if we proceed from the understanding that the Soviet Army liberated us, not occupied us for several decades of suffering.

In his letter, Aleksei Mägi tries to draw attention away from his previous behavior by expressing concern about the financial situation of Narva Museum. Vadim Orlov also repeatedly refers to the threat of bankruptcy of the museum in his social media posts. This is low and deceitful for two reasons. First of all, they received a quick answer from the head of the museum, Maria Smorževskihh-Smirnova, that the leaflets did not lead to any financial cost for the museum, since they were paid for by Propastop. Secondly, as supervisory board members, they should have a good understanding of the museum's financial situation, which can also be checked using public data, and there are no facts indicating bankruptcy. However, the facts did not prevent Mägi and Orlov from continuing to spread lies both on social media and in the letter sent to me and the press before the supervisory board meeting.

If the distinguished Narva council members were genuinely interested in the museum's financial situation, they would rather investigate why the city of Narva's support for the museum has remained the same for 11 years already. A change took place only in 2017, when the city unilaterally reduced the operating subsidy by 70,000 euros, no ex post compensation of which has been carried out to date.

When establishing the foundation, the state promised to start supporting its activities with 100,000 euros per year, without the obligation to increase this support. In reality, in the period 2013-2022, together with EU grants, the state has supported the museum in the total amount of 10.2 million euros, while in the same period the city of Narva has supported Narva Museum with a total of 4.2 million euros. Unfortunately, it seems that the representatives of the Narva city authorities are only interested in what is happening at the museum if the museum's activities contradict Russian propaganda.

I have summoned Narva Mayor Jaan Toots to discuss the situation in the supervisory board of Narva Museum as well as how to get this dysfunctional entity to work.