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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Views diverge on Estonia's history
By Steven Eke
BBC Russia analyst

Protesters link arms around Red Army monument
Ethnic Russians say they are treated as second-class citizens

At the heart of the dispute between Estonia and Russia over a contentious Red Army memorial is a very differing view of how Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and the role of the Soviet state in liberating Europe from Nazism.

Moscow alleges that Estonia's ethnic Russians - a quarter of the population - face systematic discrimination at the hands of a government which is also determined to rewrite history.

The Estonian authorities say tensions are being deliberately whipped up by forces outside the country.

Seen from the Estonian perspective, the history of the country's annexation and occupation by the Soviet Union is simple.

Soviet troops entered the country in June 1940, as a result of a secret agreement between Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Except for the three-year period in which they were ejected by the Nazis, they stayed right until the collapse of the Soviet state itself at the beginning of the 1990s.

Nationalist rhetoric

Tens of thousands of Estonians were killed by the Soviet Union, in deportations and other forms of repression.

And the regime installed by Moscow, despite bringing about modernisation and industrialisation of the country, was despised.

One of the major consequences of Estonia's incorporation into the USSR was russification.

In Estonia, as in other non-Russian parts of the Soviet Union, Russians were brought in as industrial workers and military personnel.

Ethnic Estonians considered that their country was being colonised.

Ethnic Russians now compose one-quarter of Estonia's population. Just over one third remain without any form of citizenship, something that, in itself, creates tensions with Russia.

Moscow alleges that Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, effectively treats ethnic Russians as second-class citizens.

However, there are two other factors provoking tensions in the current row. The first is the unwillingness of the Russian leadership to reconsider its adherence to the Soviet version of the history of World War II.

The second factor is the striking, nationalistic rhetoric permeating coverage of the issue by Russian state media, especially television, which is the major information source for Estonia's Russians.

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