Russian Memorial

                       Russian WW II Memorials in Estonia                       

Flag of USSR             Day of Victory Banner      Flag of Russian Federation
Memorials and celebrations honoring those Russian and Soviet soldiers who died in the Great Patriotic War dot the Estonian landscape.   Below are some of the memorials and celebrations I visited while living in Estonia in the early 1990s, just after the USSR collapsed.

                                                                 THE BRONZE SOLDIER

This is the most contentious Soviet monument in Estonia and the cause of serious disagreements between Estonians and Russians, both in Estonia and Russia.   

This monument is officially titled the “Monument for the Liberators of Tallinn”; however, the local Estonians derisively refer to it as “Aljosa”, or the “Bronze Soldier”.  It was dedicated on September 21, 1947.  The bronze statue was cast by Enn Roos and the architect was Arnold Alas - both Estonians.  There has been some conjecture as to who the soldier was modeled after, but the face resembles that of a famous Estonian sportsman of the late 1930s.  An Eternal Flame was lit in front of the monument in 1964, which was extinguished in 1991 when Estonia broke away from the USSR.  The Estonian government determined that there were 14 bodies buried by the monument.

This monument has been controversial for the local Estonians throughout its history because they view it as a celebration of Soviet conquest and occupation, while the Russians consider it as an heroic symbol of their defeat of fascism during WW II.  Each May 9, the Russians celebrate their “День Победа”, “Day of Victory” by gathering by this monument with flowers to sing old songs, like “Katusha”, and to recall the valor of their troops during WW II.  However, the Estonians feel that during the past decades these gatherings have taken on a more political motivation of instilling Russian nationalism in the Russian residents of Estonia. 

                                                SAD SAGA OF THE BRONZE SOLDIER

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the Estonians have been debating what to do with this monument which reminds them of Soviet invasion and occupation.  Its original location was juxtaposed with the new National Library of Estonia which was deemed unacceptable by the Estonian people.  Sometimes, unknown people would come in the dead of night to desecrate the monument with trash or paint. 

Besides, each May 9 thousands of Russians would gather around the monument to celebrate the Red Army Victory Day, "День Победа".  An irritant
 to the Estonian people.

During the four years (1993 - 96) I lived in Tallinn it was obvious to me that the newly freed Estonian people despised this monument and were determined to tear it down and put a stop to the Russian celebration of their Victory Day.  The crescendo of emotions peaked in 1996 when the government made the foolish decision to impede the Russian celebration of Victory Day by fencing in the monument and turning the ground into a muddy slop just prior to May 9.   

The 2007 decision by the Estonian government to relocate this monument from the busy street intersection in the center of Tallinn to the dignified Tallinn Military Cemetery led to looting,  riots, and vandalism by some Russians in various towns of Estonia. The bodies of dead soldiers buried under the monument were also dug up and reburied.

I took the following photos in the spring of 1996.                             

    First the names of the 14 Red Army soldiers were taken off the memorial and the monument.  1996

                          Then, a fence was put around this monument to keep the people away.  1996


The stone tiles were torn out and taken away, leaving a muddy place in front of the memorial. Spring 1996


The Russians told the government that if the fence was not taken down and people allowed to visit the monument on May 9 Day of Victory, there would be demonstrations in Tallinn.  The government relented.      

The Russians, young and old, came to stick flowers in the muddy earth and pay respect to the Red Army sacrifices of WW II.   The people sang WW II-era songs and said their prayers at the monument for those who died in the Red Army.   May 9, 1996.

Then, on the night of May 16, 1996, sombody dabbed the Bronze Soldier with yellow paint. The news media was there to record this desecration.  The next day the Russians cleaned up the monument.   There have been several instances of vandalism directed at this monument.  A few weeks prior to the May 9, 1996 Victory Day celebrations, someone had dumped a pile of trash in front of the monument.

                                                                       RELOCATED BRONZE SOLDIER
Initially the Estonian government had planned to dismantle the monument and cut up the bronze soldier, but after an intense uproar by the Russians and some Jewish organizations, the government decided to relocate the monument to the Tallinn Military cemetery and make it a monument for all victims of WW II.  However, the Russians of Estonia still view this monument as their symbol for the Red Army soldiers who died during the Great Patriotic war and gather by it every May 9. 

                                                                                   "For those who perished in the Second World War"

This Tallinn Military Cemetery is a much more dignified place for the Bronze Soldier monument than the former location at a busy street intersection. The initial Russian anger over the relocation has dissipated.  The Russians still place flowers at the foot of this monument.

The bronze plaques, in Estonian and Russian, on oposite sides of the statue now dedicate this monument to all victims of WW II, instead of just honoring the Soviet soldiers who captured Tallinn in the fall of 1944.


                   Rows of Red Army war dead                                 To the sailors on the Russian submarine which
                                                                                               sank in 1941.

                                                     SOME OTHER RUSSIAN WAR MEMORIALS IN ESTONIA

Monuments to each of the Russian and Estonian soldiers of the Red Army who died during the amphibious assault on the island of Saaremaa off the coast of Estonia in the fall of 1944.   The message on the left monument reads: "To the Soviet warriors who fell during the Great Fatherland War.


A Russian T-34 memorial to WW II along the road that leads from Narva to Narva Jõesuu.   Young Russian newlyweds come here to celebrate with champaign and flowers.  They often festoon the tank with colorful ribbons.

The sign on the monument plaque says:  "Glory to the heros who fell for Estonian freedom and liberation".   Of course, the Estonian people do not view the Red Army in those terms.   They consider the Red Army as invaders of their country who brought only Stalinist executions and shipment of people to Siberian gulags. The Estonians never recognized their communist government as legitimate.

This naval memorial had been damaged by cowardly individuals who come at night to desecrate Russian memorials to WW II.   The Russians repaired this monument.   

A common burial plot for Russian soldiers in Estonia.  The young soldier on the left died a hero judging from his orders and medals.

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