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Estonia: “A Russian Rebellion”

As Tallinn seems to have entered the second night of rioting over the removal of a Soviet war memorial, here's a blogger's recap (with photos, RUS, by LJ user mrprophet) of what happened the previous night:

A Russian rebellion

Today I've been to a true Russian rebellion, senseless and relentless.

For those not following the events: Estonian government has decided to begin excavations at the burial site of the Soviet soldiers and the Warrior-Liberator monument at [Tonismagi] Hill in downtown Tallinn today. In the afternoon, the police fenced off the monument and surrounding areas and covered the monument with a non-transparent cloth. Something like this has long been expected, so around 5 pm a predominantly Russian crowd started gathering near the National Library, located right by the monument.

I learned about it around 6 pm, when one of my friends called me. When I arrived at [Tonismagi], 2 to 3 thousand people were already there, chanting “Shame!” and “Fascists!”. The crowd was slowly but consistently growing, though the demonstration was extremely unorganized, due to the spontaneity of it all. Most people came to the square after learning about what was taking place from friends, over the phone, on the internet or in forums. Most people were young, but in general the crowd was pretty diverse.

In the meantime, the police cordoned off the whole square with a circle of OMON [riot police]. Nothing was happening for a long time. There were no speeches, people just stood and yelled slogans in defense of the monument to the fallen in the Great Patriotic War. The police and OMON acted calm. I witnessed only a couple of fights, when someone either threw himself on the cordon or something like that. They were using tear gas in response, but it didn't lead to mass aggression. At around 8 pm, the protesters spontaneously blocked [one of the streets adjacent to the square], and in response the police demanded that everyone disperse.

A helicopter was hovering above the crowd, some extra cordon fences were delivered, a water cannon arrived. From the crowd flew bottles, eggs, insults. The police didn't really react to that. No incidents happened while I was there – people, instead, were trying to stand there in an organized manner and to prevent provokers from throwing bottles into the first rows of the crowd. The first rows were comprised of all kinds of folks, from schoolkids to elderly people.

The truly tough stuff started happening around 9 pm. The police must've gotten tired of yelling into their megaphones for the rally to disperse, and OMON moved forward on the protesters. We were being pushed from the crossing near the library quite crudely. They were beating [us] with [rubber] sticks, and washing [us] lavishly with tear gas. Here's when the decisive moment came. The crowd got wild and the real Paris Commune began. The crowd was retreating, but all kinds of things were flying from it toward the police: stones that were ripped from the pavement, garbage containers, street poles. Everybody was yelling, “Fascists!” and “Russia!”

Here was when I decided that my life was more valuable than the lively photography, and so I moved away from the front rows. In front of me, OMON was fighting the retreating crowd. By that time, everyone had already been pushed from the square in front of the monument and OMON had begun using rubber bullets. The crowd ran, then stopped, shattering everything in its way. Ironically, at [Tonismagi] Street, where it was all taking place, there's the HQ of the ruling Reform Party, whose leader is Estonia's prime minister and whose initiative it was to start excavations at the Warrior-Liberator monument.

Finally, the people reached the turn to Parnu Highway (there's a small square there) and blocked the traffic completely. There were no police in this area at all, and so the crowd was overwhelmed by the real thugs. The protesters gone mad blocked all the paths with barricades made of sidewalk fences that they tore out, they started breaking windows, lighting fires and breaking into shops and kiosks. They nearly set on fire one of the houses near the highway, but the cooler heads, fortunately, extinguished the fire soon.

I stood behind this chaos a bit longer and went home. Police sirens became audible to me only when I was already far away from the place where it was all taking place. The police turned out to be absolutely unprepared to what took place after OMON began to push the crowd out. Pogroms went on for 20 more minutes before I left the square, and I'm not sure they've stopped already. The unrest continues.

[photos]

The conclusions offer no consolation, of course. The police started dispersing the demonstration in a rather harsh way for no reason (whether it was needed or not isn't for me to decide), and the demonstration didn't want to be dispersed, so it responded even more harshly. Those who stood around me weren't thugs, but they were ready to fight till the end and to respond to every blow of the law enforcement forces with a blow twice as strong. The police were absolutely not ready to what happened as a result, when chaos prevailed.

It's crazy. The people have shown that they are capable of [fighting back] the authorities completely spontaneously, without the support of parties and movements. And it was just the first day. Can you imagine what's going to happen there on Victory Day, for which many people gather even without such reasons?

Anyway, I'm scared for my country. I'm scared because those reasonable people I saw at the beginning of the rally were beaten up during the rally's dispersal – and, very suddenly, they were replaced by the demented thugs. It all began as a spontaneous attempt to defend the monument. And it ended… the way it ended.

***

A set of pogrom pictures by Flickr user neoroma is here. (Update: Unfortunately, the viewing mode for this set seems to have been set to “private” at some point, so the link no longer works.)

***

A rather heated English-language discussion of the situation in Tallinn is currently taking place at Itching for Eestimaa – in the comment section to this post (131 comments so far).

34 comments

  • The Bear Growls:…

    A clash over an Estonian effort to move a Russian military monument is described by Veronica Khokhlova at Global Voices as the suppression of a Russian minority in Estonia seeking to defend their heritage. But La Russophobe depicts it as……

  • To Pajamas Media, a correction: this is Veronica Khokhlova’s translation of a post by a Tallinn-based blogger, not her personal view of the events. Thanks.

  • M

    There is no OMON in Estonia, OMON is russian, in Estonia we have riot police

  • VERONICA:

    Kommersant has reported that the Kremlin filled Tallinn with Nashi youth cult members and provoked this confrontation on purpose. Sounding just like the Chechen terorists, the Nashi fanatics said they had a “surprise” in store for the Estonian government, and they sure did.

    http://www.kommersant.com/p762639/Estonia,_Bronze_Soldier,_Russia,_WWII/

    When the “Other Russia” marches peacefully, the crazed Russian nationalists feel they have the right to crush them. But when Nashi riots in Estonia, the government must leave them alone? Chechnya is a “domestic” problem and other nations can’t interfere, but Estonia is part of Russia and Russia may interfere?

    This is the “thinking” that brought the USSR to its knees. So amazing that Russias will go right back down this road again, and so soon!

  • Michael

    Estonia officially glorifies Estonian legioners of Hitler’s SS forces. Those Estonian SS forces, which exterminated Jews in fascist death camps in Estonia during Holocaust. At the same time Estonia practices apartheid against ethnic Russians – children of those people, who saved millions of Europeans of fascism and death, by paying with their lives in the battle with German Nazis. Yesturday, crushing a riot against apartheid and fascism, Estonian police killed the first ethnic Russian, wounded a few dozens, and arrested several hundreds of people just because of their Russian ethnicity. Those arrested are currently interned in a harbor warehouse as they were livestock. All this happend right in the middle of EU and all the Europeans and Americans applaud Estonia. I just want to remind all of you a well known German priest Nimeller’s phrase about fascists: “At first time they came for Jews.” If Europeans will keep silence today, some day the will repeat: “At first time they came for Russians”.

  • La Russophobe,

    You write that “Kommersant has reported that the Kremlin filled Tallinn with Nashi youth cult members” and that “the Nashi fanatics said they had a ‘surprise’ in store for the Estonian government.”

    Here’s the actual quote from the Kommersant piece you’re linking to:

    “…according to the Tallinn newspaper Postimees, activists from Russia’s Nashi movement have moved into the Meriton Grand Hotel Tallinn (69 euros a night) a few hundred meters from the monument. In addition, Dmitry Linter, one of the leaders of the “Night Watch,” has also recently promised that “surprises are in the works” for the Estonian authorities.”

    Here’s more on the Night Watch – which you have confused with Nashi – from the same Kommersant piece:

    “Support for the defenders of the monument does not run very high in the country, even among Estonia’s Russian-speaking population. In the last parliamentary elections, the Constitution Party, which joined politically with “Night Watch” to build its campaign around the defense of the Bronze Soldier, garnered only 1% of the vote. The majority of the Russian-speaking citizens of Estonia supported the Centrist Party of current Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar. whose position on the question of the monument is fairly contradictory.”

    Still, thank you for the link.

  • It will be intresting to see how this pans out.

  • M,

    I do specify in the translation that OMON stands for ‘riot police’ when I first mention it – but replacing one for the other in all instances seemed like straying from the original a bit too much. Thank you.

  • Draakon

    Dear Michael – I don’t know where the hell you get your information from. I live in Tallinn and here’s my overview about the situation.

    At first – to respond Veronica’s overview – this protest there was spontaneous, without every permission from authorities. It was hostile and tehrefore police decided to use force. What followed was vandalism, crime wave and shoplifting series.
    The Russian citizen Michael mentioned, was stabbed by his fellow demontrator, not killed by police.

    The main purpose of police forces has been to keep everything calm in last days. People have been warned to stay home and not go downtown. In riot it is hard to determin, who is rioting and who’s just curiously watching, so police have detained more than 800 people, BOTH Russians end Estonians. Mostly Russians.

    For today night, it’s practically peaceful here.

  • Draakon

    Next thing – this monument itself.

    It has been a place for Red Army veteran meetings in 9th of May for 15 years. It didn’t bother really Estonians, we are peaceful and tolerating nation. We understand that those old men have their own history, their friends who died at war.

    In last couple of years those 9th May events have turned very provocative. People who gathers there are young. They have nothing in common with war. They wave with red Soviet Union flags and drink vodka on those graves. Their minds are set against Estonians – they have attacked physically Estonians there, they have desecrated Estonian flags.

    Estonians are very calm and peaceful, but in this situation we couldn’t tolerate such provocations here in Tallinn downtown. The more radical Estonians demanded removal of this statue. Tensions got high and Russian government has done its utmost to increase the tensions and use this monument in its propaganda-war against Estonia.

    And look what those protesters did now in Tallinn. They come here with intention to violence. They chant “Rossiya, rossiya”. They don’t have anything in common with this monument – it’s just an excuse to vandalize, riot and act as a victims, accusing police afterwards.

    Estonians still remain peaceful. Nobody plans to demolish this monument – it’s going to be removed where it belongs to: Soldiers cemetary in Tallinn. Russian veterans can still gather there every year to remember their history.

    People who know Estonian history wander – how could you stand this statue for 15 years. They know what Soviet occupation and Red Army have done in Estonia. Those crimes are equal to nazis’ crimes. There’s no difference for Estonians – Nazis or Red Army. All the same.

    So, dear Michael, next time before you comment on something like that, please get at least some information about what’s really happening.

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