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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Estonia removes SS monument
Leo Tammiksaar, private initiator of the monument (Pic: Estonian Newspicture Agency)
The row highlights Estonia's unease with its WWII history
The authorities in the Estonian city of Parnu have removed a controversial monument honouring Estonian soldiers who sided with the Nazis during World War II.


It is regrettable that a monument with such a text and strong expression emerged

Estonia's Prime Minister Siim Kallas

The monument features a man in an Estonian SS uniform and bears a dedication to Estonian servicemen who died in what it calls their effort to liberate their homeland.

The removal took place after the Parnu city council blocked the unveiling of the monument and ordered a change to the inscription.

"The monument should bear the idea of Estonia's fight for freedom, not what we can see on it today," Parnu's deputy mayor Taimi Vilgats was quoted as saying on public ETV television.


Of course Europeans will not understand us - we made this [monument] for our soldiers and not for Brussels

Leo Tammiksaar, private initiator of the monument

Supporters of the monument said they wanted to pay tribute to the soldiers' opposition to the regime of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Experts say the controversy reflects Estonia's struggle to come to terms with its tragic experience during the 1940s, when the small Baltic state was subjected to German and Soviet invasions.

Heated debates

The controversy centred on the monument's inscription, praising the soldiers who fought in the SS unit.

Adolf Hitler
Many people in the Baltic states initially saw the Nazis as liberators

"To all Estonian soldiers who died in the second war for the liberation of the fatherland and a free Europe in 1940-1945," it said.

The bronze relief of a soldier was also heavily criticised.

Although an SS insignia had been removed from the soldier's helmet, it still had him dressed in an Estonian Waffen SS uniform and holding a sub-machine gun pointing east towards Russia.

Estonia's Prime Minister Siim Kallas said the monument could damage the country's image and undermine its efforts to join the European Union and Nato.

"It is regrettable that a monument with such a text and strong expression emerged," Mr Kallas said.

The Parnu city council said it would reinstall the monument after the necessary changes had been made, to serve as a memorial for the people who fought for Estonia's independence.

'Caught in between'

Estonia - alongside Latvia and Lithuania - was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.

When Germany invaded the Baltic states a year later, many people welcomed them as liberators after suffering from Soviet repression.

But the Nazis later began their own repression and persecution of Jews.

The Nazis used collaborators in the Baltic states to help them carry out atrocities.

Earlier this month the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sent a list of alleged war criminals to Estonian authorities.

However, the Estonian security police said there was no evidence that the suspects were involved in such crimes.

When the Soviet Army entered the Baltic states in 1944, many locals volunteered to fight with the Nazis to prevent a second communist occupation.

"Of course Europeans will not understand us," said Leo Tammiksaar, a history enthusiast and private initiator of the monument, quoted by the Reuters news agency.

"We made this [monument] for our soldiers and not for Brussels."

See also:

06 Jan 00 | Politics
05 Jan 00 | Talking Point
14 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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