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18 Jan, 2007 01:10

Russia condemns Estonian law against Soviet memorials

Russia condemns Estonian law against Soviet memorials

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has condemned a new Estonian law which allows the reburial of remains of Soviet soldiers killed on Estonian territory and also permits monuments to be dismantled.

A resolution passed in the State Duma pursues three main goals.

Firstly, to stop all current contacts with the political forces in Estonia that initiated the law.

Secondly, the deputies called on the Russian President and the government, to reconsider relations between Russian and Estonia in accordance with Estonia's attitude towards the monuments to Soviet soldiers. Sanctions could eventually be applied on Estonia.

Finally, the deputies asked the government to consider the possible reburial of the graves. This point caused a lot of debate since the graves contain the remains of Soviet soldiers who were citizens of the republics that became independent states.

Moreover, the monuments are the links between Russia and the Russian ethnic minority who live in Estonia and account for almost one third of the Estonian population. Most of those people are currently stateless.

The resolution was proposed by the International Committee of the Sate Duma and was adopted by the majority of deputies.

“They [Estonian officials] want to get rid of the so-called bronze monument to the Soviet Soldier in the Estonian capital. Their arguments are simple – they say the place is wrong. But who determines the right place for that monument. Those who bring flowers to it or those who demand it's dismantled?” asked Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian Duma's Foreign affairs Committee.

According to the State Duma International Committee, the most dangerous thing about the Estonian law is that it might be a precedent leading to the wrong understanding of the Second World War history.

The bronze soldier was erected in 1947 to commemorate Soviet soldiers who died, liberating Estonia from Nazi occupation.  For years it symbolised the fight against fascism, but now the monument itself is outlawed in Estonia as a symbol of occupation.

After some clashes over the monument, Estonian officials said it is a source of political instability and must be removed.

For Russia, who lost 20 MLN people in World War II, it seemed to be a huge blow.

“These are Soviet soldiers that have liberated Europe and millions of their remains are scattered all over Europe. We must make all efforts so that Tallinn respects that and treats these remains in a proper way,” stressed Valdimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Liberal Democratic Party.

While some deputies in the Duma were calling for economic sanctions against Estonia, German Gref, Russia's Economics and Trade minister expressed his disagreement with that.

“To my mind, we have to first of all use talks instead. I think that we are managing to establish constructive relations with the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and I hope the same will be with Estonia. And here pragmatic interests, the interest to develop economies and co-operation will eventually prevail over other interests,” said Mr Gref.

For Russia, the issue is far from over. Moscow plans to take the issue to the European parliament.

Russian deputies said Estonia is violating the Geneva Convention.

Furthermore, they called on the Estonian officials to look at Germany and other countries that take care of WWII memorials. If Estonian officials do decide to dismantle the monument Russia may consider the reburial of the remains on Russian soil.

Meanwhile, the Estonian Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet, labelled the Russian Duma's response to a new Estonian law about the reburial of Soviet soldiers and war monuments as disproportionate.

Mr Paet, reportedly said that Estonia does not normally respond to ungrounded accusations.

He also claimed that targeting Estonia is a way for Russia to divert attention from its own social problems.