COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Estonian government on Tuesday began removing a Soviet World War II monument near a town on the Russian border as part of a wider effort prompted by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, to dismantle the remaining symbols of the Soviet era.
Crews removed a replica of a T-34 tank that sat atop the monument outside the town of Narva in the Russian-speaking region of Estonia. east and put him on a truck which took him to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi, a town north of the capital, Tallinn.
The monument commemorates Soviet soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany during World War II. Kaja Kallas, Estonian Prime Minister said a neutral headstone would replace the replica tank and that the memorial outside Narva “would remain a worthy site to commemorate the dead”.
Estonia, which shares a nearly 300 kilometer (180 mile) border with Russia, has taken a tough stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The prime minister said the removal of symbols like the tank was necessary to protect public order and prevent Moscow from sowing discord in Estonia, a country with a large ethnic Russian minority.
“Nobody wants to see our militant and hostile neighbor fomenting tension at home,” Kallas said. “We will not give Russia the opportunity to use the past to disturb the peace in Estonia.”
Like its Baltic neighborsEstonia has removed many monuments glorifying the Soviet Union or communist leaders since the country regained independence in 1991. In 2007, the removal of a World War II monument of an Army soldier red in Tallinn sparked days of riots.
The government and many Estonians viewed the monument in Tallinn as a painful reminder of five decades of Soviet occupation, while some ethnic Russians viewed its move as an attempt to erase their history.
After the Narva city council decided that the replica tank should go, a crowd gathered around the monument to protest the plan. A total of seven Soviet-era monuments in Narva are to be removed, the government announced on Tuesday.
The city, whose 57,500 residents are mostly Russian-speaking, lies about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of Tallinn and separated from the Russian city of Ivangorod by the Narva River.
Russian officials have criticized Estonia’s drive to remove remaining Soviet-era monuments.
“We find this outrageous. A war with a common history, getting rid of monuments to those who saved Europe from fascism, of course, is outrageous. It doesn’t make any nation beautiful, including Estonia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month.
Earlier this month, Estonia decided to ban people from neighboring Russia from having tourist visas to enter the northernmost Baltic country following the war in Ukraine. The European Union, of which Estonia is a member, already banned air travel from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. But Russians can still travel overland to Estonia and apparently take flights to other European destinations.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine