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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 May 2007, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Playing Estonia's political cards
In his third and final report from Estonia, the BBC News website's Patrick Jackson finds two sharply contrasting views of the Soviet statue dispute within the main party of the governing coalition.

Urmas Paet (photo: Estonian foreign ministry)
Urmas Paet says it is up to Russia to improve relations

Tallinn's violent scenes over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial last month must have come out of the blue for many in the outside world.

Surely Estonia, independent of Moscow for 16 years and a proud EU and Nato member, had become just another stable, settled, picturesque small state in northern Europe?

Depending on who you ask, the unrest was stoked either by a resurgent Moscow, seeking to reassert its influence through the large ethnic Russian minority, or by a section of Tallinn's political elite, using the Soviet legacy to win elections.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet points the finger very clearly at Russia.

We are in the EU and Nato and it is now not possible to influence Estonia by force
Sergei Ivanov
Ex-Reform Party MP

"There are many politicians in Russia who emotionally don't accept that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and some other countries are outside Russian influence," he told the BBC News website.

While he does not blame Russia's president specifically, he recalls Vladimir Putin's statement two years ago that the collapse of the USSR was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century".

"[Mr Putin] is not in a position, at least psychologically, to say frankly that Estonia was occupied," he argues.

"Unfortunately we have seen that Russia tries to use Russians in Estonia as a propaganda tool, as a tool to make their own politics."

Estonia, he says, has always been ready to have normal relations with Russia and it is "90% up to Moscow" whether they can be achieved.

Political ideals

Mr Paet's political party, Reform, soared to the top of Estonian politics in the March general election, adding 10% to its share of the vote to make it the biggest group in parliament.

Crowds visit Tallinn's relocated war monument on 9 May
Thousands visited the removed monument on Wednesday

But for Sergei Ivanov, an ethnic Russian fellow member of the party traditionally viewed as Estonia's liberals, the election proved a personal political execution: his support collapsed to 257 votes from a one-time high of 6,000.

And it was all because his party had chosen to ignore its Russian voters and use the war memorial as a nationalist vote-winner, the former Tallinn MP told the BBC News website.

When he took his Baltic Russian party into Reform five years ago, it was on the understanding that "all liberals should work together, regardless of language, ethnicity or religion", he says.

Crucially there was also, he says, an understanding that the war monument would stay in place, having already been politically neutralised by having its Soviet-era inscription removed.

There was never any trouble at the 9 May Victory Day commemorations until 2006, he insists, when an Estonian nationalist turned up with a flag to shout slogans.

Police spirited him away from the angry crowd but the next day, Mr Ivanov recalls, the Estonian press was seething with indignation and the talk was of a Russian "fifth column" in Estonia and "true faces" being shown.

Scenting political capital, "young and very cynical" members persuaded Reform to make the memorial's relocation an election promise and "we started to be more radical than the radical nationalist party Pro Patria".

Under intense pressure from his Estonian colleagues on one side and his Russian constituents on the other, he stayed away from a parliamentary vote on relocation, to the scorn of Estonian Russians.

Leaving Estonia

Still a member of Reform - "I'm a team-player" - Mr Ivanov argues that developments in Estonia have followed a political pattern in post-Soviet Eastern Europe of being "anti-Russian in order to create consolidation".

Sergei Ivanov
Mr Ivanov has tried to create a "Russian wing" of the Reform Party

"Estonia's conflict with Russia is a political game," he says.

"We are in the EU and Nato and it is now not possible to influence Estonia by force."

He says he can understand that the focus of Estonian leaders has been on building up their newly independent state, but feels they have ignored Russian-speakers simply because they lack the skills to integrate them properly.

"Young Russians are leaving for other EU states," he says.

"There are less than a million Estonians and we need people to stay but they are leaving. To be frank, many people feel uncomfortable here and it is hurting Estonia."

'Love this country'

Estonia's foreign minister insists that the Bronze Soldier monument was a symbol of Soviet occupation and had latterly been "turned into a tool of provocations and destabilised public order".

Oil tankers on the Estonian side of the Russian border at Narva
Estonia is an important route for oil and other Russian exports

The trouble, says Mr Paet, began not in 2006 but 1947, when it was erected, because "people in the same uniform" deported or killed tens of thousands of Estonians.

But is he not concerned that the removal of a symbol so revered by Russians may exact a high political price eventually, both at home and abroad?

As regards Moscow, he says sanctions can be ruled out because they would be seen as targeting the whole of the EU.

The prospect of Russia diverting oil and other exports to bypass Estonia also fails to intimidate Mr Paet, who says Russia accounts for about 10% of Estonia's foreign trade today.

Its loss, he says, might exert some "influence temporarily but this 10% is in this sense not too big".

Estonian business, he adds, learnt from unhappy experience in the mid-1990s that it should seek more stable markets in the West.

Thousands of people from every class and age group streamed in dignified silence to the monument at its new location in Tallinn's military cemetery this 9 May to lay mounds of flowers and hold balloons with pictures of the soldier and the words "I remember and I'm proud!" So what is Mr Paet's message to Estonia's own Russians?

"Our first goal is that our society is not divided, is united, and it is not important if you are Russian or Ukrainian or Estonian," says the minister.

"The most important thing is that you are loyal to your country, you are a citizen or permanent resident, but that you love this country and would like to continue to live here."

Read Patrick Jackson's first two reports here:

Crowds visit Tallinn monument

In pictures: Estonia clashes
27 Apr 07 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Estonia
30 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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