Estonian mayor to skip national election over Soviet memorial removal

The city leader says she won’t run for parliament when MPs target war monuments

The government of Estonia voted on Tuesday to remove several Soviet-era war memorials in Ida-Viru County, including an historic T-34 tank in the provincial capital Narva. In protest the local mayor announced that she would not run in parliamentary elections next year.

Katri Raik blasted the abruptness of the decision, which was taken over the head of her administration.

“At the moment I can’t imagine myself sitting in the same chamber as those people, who took this decision in the way they did,” the city official told national public broadcaster ERR.

The situation may change in the coming months, she added, but at the moment her only thoughts are about serving her city, she said. Estonia is scheduled to elect a new parliament in March 2023.

The T-34 tank memorial has been a flash point between Estonia’s nationalistic government and the Russian community in Narva. For many officials in Tallinn, Soviet memorials symbolize a period of history that they consider an occupation by Moscow. While others see them as a reminder of the sacrifices made during World War II and victory over Nazi Germany.

The Estonian government ordered several war monuments in Ida-Viru to be cordoned off early on Tuesday morning. They are to be moved to a museum in Viimsi, a small town in the north of the Baltic country.

Last week ERR reported that the government was secretly preparing an operation to remove “memorials and monuments with symbols of occupation authority” from Estonian public spaces.

The city of Narva, where ethnic Russians are an overwhelming majority, failed to take action against the T-34 monument. The city legislature decided to postpone the issue during a meeting on Monday. Meanwhile the central government called for the tank to be out of the city by August 20, when Estonia celebrates the Day of Restoration of Independence.

The Estonian cabinet held a media conference on Tuesday to explain the situation to the public. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and her ministers said a total of seven Soviet monuments are to be removed and argued that the issue went beyond what local authorities can decide for themselves.

At the same time, border crossings between Russia and Estonia’s Ida-Viru County were shut down for several hours on Tuesday for what the Estonian border guard service described as a necessary software update.

Estonian police restricted traffic in central Narva and asked people not to go to the targeted monuments. Specially trained officers were deployed at each location to defuse any potential unrest, they said.

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