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May 08, 2007
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May 8th vs. May 9th
// Russians and Estonians will celebrate to spite each other
Tallinn will celebrate on Tuesday the end of World War II. Estonian government’s delegation will for the first time lay flowers to the Bronze Soldier. Members of Russian movements and Russian embassy’s employees do not consider this day as holiday: instead, they will celebrate the Victory Day on Wednesday. Kommersant’s special correspondent Mikhail Zygar tried to understand Russian-Estonian traditions and symbols in Tallinn.
“I’ll give you a ride to the cemetery. But I don’t know where He is. Looks like it’s Him you need? – taxi driver Aivar asked pensively, and dropped me at the farther, Estonian part of the Siselina war cemetery. I went inside.

I wandered among kempt graves for half an hour, looking for the Bronze Soldier. Asking by-passing elderly Russian women did not help.

“Oh, my dear, I don’t know. I haven’t seen where they put him,” and the elderly woman disappeared among the graves. I noticed two young men in black leather jackets at the cemetery’s edge.

“Where is the Bronze Soldier?”

They exchanged looks. The first guy, Estonian, dabbed at his friend, Russian, with his finger. The Russian said:

“You can go back, exit through the gate, go round, and enter through other gate. Or you can climb over the wall right here.

I immediately climbed up the wall, while the guy added:

“Actually, we Satanists don’t know much here.”

The monument really was behind the wall, quite near. It could be easily recognized due to the crowd of journalists around it. Three TV cameras were filming two elderly Russian women. They were saying their husbands are buried at the Siselina cemetery. The women added they don’t mind the Bronze Soldier here. The ground around the monument was covered with flowers, and there was a pink toy hare right by the Soldier’s feet.

There will be even more flowers on Tuesday. Estonian government’s delegation will come to the war cemetery at 11 a.m. to lay flowers to the monument, paying tribute to “all victims of World War II”. It will happen for the first time in history: Estonia’s government has never laid flowers to the Bronze Soldier before. However, the delegation will also visit the memorial to holocaust victims in Klooga, and the Maarjamägi memorial where Wehrmacht soldiers are buried and monuments to Soviet and Estonian soldiers are installed.

I went around the Bronze Soldier, examining it. There is a joint line on the statue’s back, but it had been there long before its removal from the central square. I made my way to the interviewed women and asked them:

“Where is the exit here?”

“We are going there now, we’ll show you.”

A minute later, the women got off the gravel path and went somewhere among the graves. The main gate really was very near. It was marked by a large police box with a poster in three languages: “A monument to WWII victims will be opened here in June”. That is, the monument is considered closed now. The opening ceremony will be held only after a wall is built behind it, the same wall as was behind it at the Tonismagi Square, and after the remains of those buried under the monument at the square are identified.

I left the cemetery and went to the Tonismagi Square in central Tallinn, where the Bronze Soldier had been before. I took a member of Night Watch as a guide. We made a tour of the square. It is enclosed and shielded with ‘Landscape Gardening’ screens on all sides.

“Well, shall we go the same way we went that night?” asked my guide, as if by chance.

“Sure, show me the way the crowd was running that night of April 26-27.”

We walked from the Tonismagi Square past the Reforms Party office and the Ministry of Justice to Kosmos movie theater, and then turned towards the old city.

“What happened that day was the first upsurge of discontent that people accumulated over 15 years,” my guide looked at a shop window with CDs, intact. “It’s strange this store was so lucky. It remained intact. Although the stores with people inside were not looted.” My guide couldn’t give a clear answer concerning who were the provocateurs that initiated the looting.

“You see, it could be gainful for various forces. Estonian nationalists might have needed it, -- to spatter us. It could have been gainful for the Reforms Party (Andrus Ansip’s party); or even for the centrists (the main opposition party, usually collecting the votes of Russians), -- to show that everyone else is to be blamed except them.

“Now, tell me, can the riots happen again?”

“I think it is unlikely. Many factors coincided that time. Completely different forces, from all sides at the same time, influenced the situation back then. And now many of them might keep head down.”

“What will happen on May 8th and 9th?”

The ‘Night Watcher’ said that people divided into three movements. The first are for law and order. They’ll go to the cemetery and calmly lay flowers there. The second will protest, demanding to return the monument to its old place. And the third will go underground and take revenge.”

“But how? What will they do? Kidnap Ansip?”

“Why would I know? I don’t know anything about them,” my guide smiled.

In the evening, he and other Night Watch activists gathered in Pushkin café located in the Russian cultural center in Tallinn. They worked out the final plan for the upcoming two days. They decided to ignore all official events and celebrations on May 8th. Besides, special envoys of Night Watch will be sent to the war cemetery, to tell people to go to the Tonismagi Square.

The first rally on the Bronze Soldier’s old site will begin on May 9th at 12 p.m. Night Watch says the rally participants will lay flowers onto the square, if the police allows. However, they’ll have to stumble out the already planted flowerbeds, to replace “enemy’s” flowers with their own. If the police does not let them to the square, they will lay flowers in any other place outside the square. There is no difference indeed, since the Bronze Soldier is not on the square anyway, as well as the remains. The future participants of the rally are asked to wear read, which will remind Estonian police of the red flag, which they see as one of the symbols of occupation. Raising red flag at a rally might be punished by arrest. Young Russians want to tickle the authorities’ nerves with red clothes.

Russian embassy in Estonia supported, in its own way, Night Watch’ plans. It refused to participate in the official ceremony of laying flowers to the Bronze Soldier on Tuesday, saying that in Russian tradition, the Victory Day is celebrated on May 9th, and not 8th. The Italian Ambassador declined the invitation either, due to personal reasons. Other 27 ambassadors to Tallinn, including those of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, don’t mind celebrating on May 8th.

Mikhail Zygar, Tallinn

All the Article in Russian as of May 08, 2007

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