Sunday, May 06, 2007

Letter from Tallinn - III

Some interesting history

by Mari-Ann-Kelam


Deja vu? An article by Pekka Erelt in the May 3, 2007 Eesti Ekpress describes the removal of a statue of Peter the Great from the center of Tallinn in 1922. The big bronze statue (5 meters - 15 feet plus a 50 ton granite pedestal) had been erected with pomp and ceremony by the Russian government on September 29, 1910 on what is now known as Vabaduse Plats (Freedom Square). Peter the Great’s statue soon began to irritate Estonians and after the end of the War of Independence there were increasing calls for its removal. But the majority of the Tallinn City Council was opposed. In February 1922, just before Independence Day, the topic was again on the Council’s agenda along with a proposal to rename the square. The statements pro and con are remarkable similar to those made about the Soviet monument that recently stood in Tallinn. When the proposal to remove the statue of Peter the Great was defeated 28 - 17, the Tallinn City government decided the issue was actually in the competence of the Ministry of the Interior.

But before Government had time to do anything, a group of about 50 soldiers in the Corps of Engineers began to take it down one night. Although they had the equipment to do the job, the police stopped them before they had gotten very far. On April 29, 1922 Interior Minister Karl Einbund (later Kaarel Einpalu) issued the order for removal. Preparations were immediately begun and the actual dismantlement began in the wee hours of the morning of April 30. It took two days and nights to complete the job and then the statue was laid down near the house of Peter in Kadriorg. At first there was a plan to re-erect the statue in Kadriorg Park, but this was deemed inappropriate due to its size. After some years the legs of the sttue were removed and in 1928 the left leg was melted down to make pennies.In 1934 the statue was further shortened so that all that remained was a 2 meter high bust which then disappeared without any record in the second half of 1940 when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia.

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Today, May 6, a group of about 20 young Estonians and Russians made a proposal that all people should lay white tulips or other white flowers at the time and to the place of their choosing. If people do not have a site that seems appropriate they should give each other white flowers. The flowers traditionally associated with Soviet monuments have been red carnations. According to BNS, the people making this proposal work in various NGO’s, IT firms or theaters. One of the NGO’s involved is called Heateo Sihtasutus (Good Deed Foundation)founded in 2003 by Urmas Klaas, Aavo Kokk, Kristina Mänd, Ilmar Raag, Artur Taevere, Hannes Tamjärv ja Linnar Viik. In 2005 they received the Estonian Foundation of the Year Award.http://www.heategu.ee

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What May 8 (re-opening of the monument in its new location) and May 9 will bring remains a worry. Russian language internet sources are full of very aggressive calls to action - things like threats to teach the Estonians “a real lesson as to who is in charge of this country”. I am still impressed with the work of the police and the security police. MAK

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