Speaking to ETV news program “Ringvaade” on Friday, Danilson-Järg said the main point of disturbance came when a symbol or other decoration seemed to glorify or justify the Soviet occupation of Estonia, years 1940 to 1991; such iconography shall by law be removed.
However, the Minister said: “My personal opinion is that if there is a pentagon (see cover image – editor’s note) anywhere but which is merely a symbol of its time, and does not directly justify or support the occupation regime that existed in Estonia, then it can continue to be located there freely What bothers me the most is the coat of arms and state symbols of the Soviet Union.
“There are some on buildings in Sillamäe, and also in Tallinn – for example, the Russian Cultural Center, which has a lot of these symbols on it,” she added.
The government on Thursday approved amendments to legislation dealing with building codes that will allow the removal of such objects, following a nationwide campaign to remove grand Soviet-era buildings such as memorials and graves. of war, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A special commission will be set up to decide in case of dispute and will include representatives of culture and heritage, keeping in mind the gray area between triumphalist objects and those with a certain aesthetic value.
An example of the latter is the painting of the interior ceiling of the Estonian Opera (Rahvusooper) and Ballet House, part of the Estonian Theatre, Tallinn.
Danilson-Järg said that could stay in place.
She said: “My personal opinion is that it still bothers me that it’s on the ceiling. But going so far as to remove it? It wouldn’t be a good idea, because it’s still a work of art. Like the current theater the director (Ott Maaten – ed.) said that they would prefer to cover it so that it might not normally be visible to the public and visitors, but if people specifically wanted to see the painting from a historical perspective, it would also be perfectly viable to open it up for viewing.”
“In the case of the painting on the ceiling, one could also say that it has an artistic element. When we speak of statues, however, then these certainly carry, in addition to an aesthetic dimension, an important symbolism in terms of of power, the one that justifies the regime that erected them. In this case, perhaps, the approaches should be bolder,” she added.
A concrete, to some extent literal, example of the latter is the Soviet-era memorial at Maarjmäe, located close to a much more recent memorial to the victims of communism, Bear Pirita, to the east of the capital.
The Minister stated that this area could be reclassified as a cemetery area, since according to the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut) there are unmarked graves in the area which have been disturbed during construction of the now dilapidated facility.
The best option here would be to leave the area as a designated cemetery, rather than risk any further desecration of graves beyond that already committed by the Soviet authorities when building the monstrosity.
Any overtly Soviet symbolism on the site should be removed, the minister added.
On the whole, symbols, icons, frescoes, paintings, statues, monuments, slogans, etc. that clearly justify, support or glorify the Soviet occupation of Estonia are not appropriate in public spaces in Estonia, the minister added, noting that they also present a false narrative of history.
The issue has also seen a difference of opinion between Danilson-Järg’s Department of Justice and the Department of Culture, primarily over the latter’s concerns about the removal of material with some inherent heritage value under the new law.
If it is possible to request the placing under heritage protection of objects which are not already protected, the new law will give a period of three months to the owners of the building in question to remove the offending installations.
The Minister of Justice said that for national security reasons, the Ministry of Culture and its subordinate agencies and other cultural bodies are not qualified to speak on such matters.
So far, most conversations have tended to focus on purely artistic merit rather than on the ironic, Soviet-kitsch dimension, in light of which some traces of the former occupation, such as those in and near the Ülemiste Tehnopolis, are from Tallinn.
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