Estonia removes Soviet Union war monuments

Estonia will remove war monuments dating to the Soviet Union in the eastern city of Narva, the government announced Tuesday.

“Today’s decision helps to keep our focus on our most important tasks: ensuring Estonia’s security and helping all the people of Estonia weather the crises caused by the war in Ukraine,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said during a press conference Tuesday.

The government decision to remove a controversial tank from Narva, a Russian-speaking city located on the Russian border, sparked tensions with local authorities in recent days. According to local press reports, significant police resources were deployed in the city with authorities banning entry to the area from where the monuments will be removed.

Estonia, alongside Latvia and Lithuania, was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union from the 1940s until 1991. The removal of the tank paves the way for a wider push from the government to remove all Soviet war monuments from public space in Estonia by the end of the year, the government said in a statement.

Works to remove the T-34 tank kicked off Tuesday morning. The monument will be transferred to the Estonian War Museum, just outside of Tallinn. Two other monuments will be removed from the city.

The local government said last week it was its responsibility to decide on the tank’s future, but then backed down, therefore leaving the Estonian government taking over. In a statement, the government said that the war monuments of the Soviet Union “are no longer a local issue.”

“Considering the speed of the increasing tensions and confusion around memorials in Narva, we must act quickly to ensure public order and internal security,” Kallas said. “This is why the government adopted the decision to remove the war monuments of the former foreign regime there to prevent them from mobilizing more hostility in society and tearing open old wounds.” 

Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said on Twitter that the Soviet monuments were removed because they “sow division in our society.”

The decision is the latest in a series of moves against Russia and countries close to Moscow. Last week, Estonia and Latvia walked out of a Chinese-backed forum aimed at boosting relations with Eastern European countries. And Tallinn last Thursday banned Russians with Estonian-issued Schengen visas from entering the country.