Monday, April 30, 2007

Trouble In Tallinn

A bitter row has broken out between Estonia and Russia, after the Estonians decided to dismantle a memorial in their capital Tallinn, that honours fallen Soviet soldiers. There was a couple of nights of rioting last week, as Russians who live in Estonia protested the decision. A Russian parliament delegation's now turned up in Tallinn, to demand the entire Estonian government resign.

Although Estonia's been independent since 1991, the 50 years or so it spent under forced rule from Moscow is still a major sore point for the little country. Many in Estonia viewed it as an occupation similar (it's stretching the point, but you see what they're getting at) to that of Northern Ireland by Britain. So getting rid of monuments that remind them of those days has been something the Estonians have been keen to do ever since.

That's understandable enough, but there are two reasons why this particular incident is such a big deal. First there's the fact that it's a war memorial with Soviet soldiers actually buried underneath. Then we've got the large ethnic Russian population within Estonia, many of whom aren't officially registered and, Moscow claims, are treated as second-class citizens by the Estonian government.

For once though, it's not really another case of Putin's Russia trying to re-affirm its authority over a former Soviet state. There's no chance here of the sort of game being played out in Ukraine and elsewhere. Estonia and its Baltic neighbours are in the EU these days, and firmly looking westwards rather than east. This won't be the last time one of them gets rid of another symbol of the past, no matter how annoyed Russia gets.

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