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6 Aug, 2007 20:11

Estonia trying to glorify Nazism: Russia

Estonia is holding controversial military games which commemorate a saboteur mission carried out by Nazi Germany. The group named Erna consisted of native Estonians that collaborated with the Nazis during WW2.

The raid, which will last for five days from August 6 until August 11, has begun – soldiers and reservists from nine countries are taking part in the controversial event which is now in its 14th year. It's based on historic events – they'll be following the route taken by Erna Estonian soldiers who were on a saboteur mission for German intelligence in August 1941.

At the height of the WW2 they went behind Red Army's lines sabotaging communications in order to help the Nazi advance to the country.

Vladimir Silindey, an editor of the Rossiiskiye Vesti weekly, says Erna should not be thought of as freedom fighters as its saboteur operations extended beyond Estonian territory.   

“Abwehr [German military intelligence] sent its Estonian detachments behind the lines of the Soviet Army from Estonia onto the Russian territory to demolish railway lines that were used by the Soviet Union’s allies to deliver military equipment and arms to the ports of Archangelsk and Murmansk under the lend-lease agreement,” he said.

Meanwhile, Estonia maintains the mission was aimed at rescuing its civilian population occupied by the Soviets. Its people saw and still do see the Soviet Union as having occupied their country.

Russia strongly condemned the exercises, calling them an attempt to glorify Nazism. Russia says they lost at least 170,000 people to prevent Estonia from being under the yoke of Nazi tyranny, and is unhappy that this particular chapter of history is now the subject of a war game.

“It is astonishing that some of the former members of the anti-Hitler coalition and Resistance movement nowadays send their representatives to the Erna Raid without realising that in this way they provide moral support for those who have quite an unorthodox view of the historic role of the SS and Abwehr troops. By doing this, they insult the memory of the soldiers, including their own soldiers, who died fighting Hitler's regime. Supporting clearly provocative actions such as the Erna Raid can be regarded only as conniving with the attempts to promote Nazism and to revise the results of the Second World War,” Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, in a written statement.

It's concerned that the event not only glorifies Nazism, but that Estonia is re-writing its history in general, with the Red Army being painted in a negative light.

It's not the first time Moscow has expressed concern about what it sees as rising nationalism in Estonia.

In April riots erupted in Tallinn. One man died and millions of dollars of property was vandalised in the wake of a decision to re-site a war memorial dedicated to Red Army soldiers.

Estonia has also recently been host to a meeting of Waffen SS veterans.

And with a rise in nationalist sentiment recorded in many parts of Europe in recent years, Russia has called on the United Nations and European Union to look at the situation in Estonia.

“The countries of the EU, especially PACE members, have taken a firm position in the past and will do so in the future against this kind of manifestation, which gives reference to the Nazi period, especially those who try to get public attention for whathappened in the past. It should never happen again and for that reason we are strongly against this kind of demonstrations,” said PACE President Rene van der Linden.

But the Estonian government denies it is allowing nationalism to flourish and believes this competition is a commemorative act only. Organisers of the event wonder why Russia has suddenly become offended by the event.

“The Russian military attache has always been our guest, but this year the situation has changed. I don't know why – maybe because this situation is in somebody's interest,” commented Aivar Riisalu, Vice President of Military Sporting Society.
The war games will continue over the next few days, but the war of words between Tallinn and Moscow is likely to go on.