But the Estonia/Russia stand-off seems immutable. No, the Bronze soldier is not a newsworthy item in the on-going unyielding and acrimonious historical dispute between Estonia and Russia. Although it’s been relocated to a military cemetery, far from it’s former place in Tallinn’s centre, the Bronze Soldier still remains lodged as a potent historical symbol for both countries.
Briefly, the statute erected in 1947 by the Soviet occupation regime, ostensibly marked the grave of Red Army soldiers, thus signifying for Moscow and for most Russians in Estonia a memorial for victory over Nazism. It reinforced their Russian identity, for many Russian-speaking Estonian citizens and non-citizen resident. Most had been relocated into Estonia during the occupation, a transgression under the Geneva Convention forbidding occupying powers guiding it’s citizens onto occupied territories.
For Estonians, Red Army soldiers were not liberators. They were totalitarian occupiers making the statue a galling and painful symbol of a half century of cruel Soviet mass deportations, outright assassination, general repression, shortages of everyday goods, etc. The Bronze Soldier was a painful symbol of half a century of Soviet oppression and represented a resumption of Moscow’s earlier occupation of their homeland – a genocidal interlude that had been the result of the squalid pact between Hitler and Stalin in 1939.
The post-war WWII years saw a remorseless strangling of any hope of a revived independence. And still unacceptable to all Estonians is the Kremlin’s relentless insistence that Estonia voluntarily joined the USSR during the first Soviet occupation in 1940.
The resentment that had been mounting beneath the surface of Estonian society, broke out in April 2007 and the government moved the statue to its current location. This was perceived as an outrageous insult by many Russians who rioted and looted the following two nights. The media reaction, local as well as international, generally favoured the government’s actions.
Laas Leivat, Toronto