Deadly Riots in Tallinn: Soviet Memorial Causes Rift between Estonia and Russia
One person has been killed and dozens injured in a clash over a disputed Soviet war memorial in Estonia. Moscow is furious about government plans to move the statue of a Red Army soldier and has threatened "serious steps."
War memorials are meant to honor the dead -- not lead to more of them. But that is exactly what has happened in the Estonian capital Tallinn on Thursday, where one person died and several more were injured in riots over a disputed Soviet monument.
The 2-meter (6.5-foot) statue, known as the Bronze Soldier, is a tribute to the Red Army soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany during World War II. The Estonian authorities want to move the statue to the Defense Forces cemetery outside Tallinn. They also plan to exhume the remains of Soviet soldiers buried near the statue, identify the bodies, and then move them to the cemetery.
The authorities claim that the monument, which they say attracts Estonian and Russian nationalists, is a public order problem and that it would be more respectful to the dead to be buried in a cemetary. They consider the statue a "kind of headstone," according to Defense Ministry adviser Andreas Kaju, and argue it belongs together with the soldiers' remains in the cemetery.
Many Estonians view the monument as a reminder of 50 years of Soviet occupation. However the country's sizable ethnic Russian minority -- which numbers around 300,000 out of a total population of 1.3 million -- feels that plans to move the monument are an insult to the memory of the soldiers who died fighting the Nazis.
Russia, which has repeatedly asked its neighbor not to move the statue, strongly criticized the latest developments. "Yet again, we can qualify the actions of official Tallinn as sacrilegious and inhuman," Interfax news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying. Russian news agencies reported that the Russian upper house of parliament had unanimously adopted a resolution Friday recommending that the government consider breaking diplomatic relations with Estonia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has likewise warned that Moscow would "take serious steps" against the small Baltic country. "We must react without hysteria but also take serious steps which would demonstrate our true attitude to this inhuman action," Lavrov said on Friday during a visit to Norway.
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