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28 Jul, 2007 19:55

Estonia commemorates SS troops

Estonia's Defence minister has sent a letter to a group of former Nazi soldiers comparing them to the fighters who secured the country's independence in 1920. The letter was read out at a commemoration ceremony for troops of the 20th Estonian SS Division.

Estonia is the only country in Europe to authorise such events.

The participants were joined by members of the Union of Estonia's Liberators, which is another name for the SS veterans’ organisation. The guests wore their uniforms and honours.

In January, Estonia's parliament reviewed legislation that bans the use of any Nazi or Soviet symbols in public, but it has yet to be made law. Among those gathered to mark the anniversary on Saturday are Norwegians, Austrians and Germans, this by default as such meetings are banned in their own countries.

In July 1944, the town of Sinemyae was the scene of Estonia’s bloodiest battles in World War Two. Both sides sustained massive casualties causing the area to become known as “the Hell Hole”.

A cemetery not far away from the place where they gathered has a plaque-covered wall commemorating the fallen SS. Nowhere else in Europe would this be possible.

«'Ragner Johansen. Died May 1, 1945 in Berlin'. Looking at this plaque I understand that it would be impossible to have it in Berlin, under any circumstances, but here it is possible.  It’s a privilege that costs $US 200,» Mikhail Petrov, historian, noted.

On the other hand, today there is almost nothing that could remind of the Soviet memorial in Tallinn recently removedfrom the centre of the city.

Karl Veltz, a veteran from the anti-Hitler coalition says he can’t see why politicians call former SS soldiers fighters for freedom, but don’t want to remember the rest. He says during the war an SS police battalion, including Estonian soldiers, carried out systematic killings in the Estonian Kloga concentration camp, burning people alive.

Estonian authorities say their SS veterans were fighting not just fascism but communism, For Mr Veltz the Red threat is a guise.

“There is no shortage in Estonia of those who falsify history.  Some of them have a very reckless approach to the past,” Karl Veltz believes.

Those gathered at Sinemyae are not all of the older generation. Young men in SS T-shirts look on, and the otherwise innocent 'Welcome to Estonia' seems to take on a darker tone.

War-themed scandals seem to come thick and fast from Estonia. The Justice Minister recently caused a stir with his Third Reich-themed birthday party, while bitterness over the relocation of the Soviet monument in Tallinn has not yet subsided.

The EU remains silent over this latest move, and the discernible pattern in recent events is no comfort to those who would ask why.