What has changed one year since the Tallinn riots?

April 23rd, 2008 - 9:50 am ICT by admin  

By Aleks Tapinsh
Tallinn (Estonia), April 23 (DPA) After thousands of Russian-speaking youths looted stores, smashed windows and rioted in this Estonian capital last April, the Baltic nation of 1.35 million people became Russia’s enemy number one. The Estonian government’s decision to relocate a Soviet-era World War II memorial along with the remains of 12 Red Army soldiers from the city centre to a military cemetery had sparked the riots and a diplomatic row abroad, leading to 900 arrests and the death of one Russian citizen.

Estonians see the Bronze Soldier monument as a symbol of their country’s illegal occupation by the Soviet Union, but most ethnic Russians see it as a tribute to Russians’ sacrifice in the victory over Nazism.

Jolting ethnic Estonians, the Tallinn riots - dubbed the Bronze Night - exposed a divided society where local Russians, who make up about 25 percent of the population, live in a parallel universe alongside with Estonians.

Most local Russians ended up in Estonia under Soviet immigration policies in the Baltics and since the riots, more of them chose to become Russian citizens. Some had chanted “Russia, Russia”, on the night of the disorder to protect the monument, known as the Bronze Soldier.

Economically, Russia - Estonia’s fourth largest export partner - halted its transit through the Baltic nation due to “railroad repairs”, which coincided with the riots.

The Russian transit was diverted through Estonia’s neighbour, Latvia. Estonians joke that Latvia should erect a statue to Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip as a sign of gratitude.

As a sign of souring bilateral relations last year, Estonian companies doing business in Russia had to conceal their Estonian origin.

The Kremlin-backed youth organisation Nashi staged protests outside the Estonian embassy in Moscow. Established with the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2005, Nashi (Ours) has become known for its protests against Estonian “fascism” following the last year’s riots.

As a result, Estonia replaced Latvia at the top of the Russia’s list of enemies.

Estonian authorities charged four men with organising the riots and alleged that Russia may also have been involved. The four - Dmitri Linter, Mark Siryk, Maksim Reva and Dmitri Klenski - began organising riots in mid-2006 with financial backing from Russia, Estonian authorities say.

Their trial is set to resume May 5.

The pro-Russian group Nochnoy Dozor (Night Watch) plans to stage a small picket in Tallinn, for which authorities haven’t given the green light yet.

Tourism hasn’t suffered, though. Many Russian tourists plan to travel to Tallinn at the end of April. Tickets on trains between St Petersburg and Tallinn have sold out in advance.

The riots exposed an information war between Russia and Estonia. Russia blamed the Estonian government for the riots, which could be seen in any Russian household in Estonia via satellite. The Estonian government defended its decision through the Estonian media, rarely read by the wide Russian audience.

This is why tech-savvy Estonians launched a government-funded Internet news portal shortly after the riots and debate rages on whether the government should pay for a second public channel targeting the local Russian audience.

Malicious hacker attacks on Internet servers of the Estonian government, media, and even banks during the riots has propelled Estonia to leader in the field of cyber defence.

The capital of Estonia, a member of NATO, will become the home of the alliance’s Cyber Defence Centre in May.

At the same time, the Estonian government is to erect a 26-metre Estonian Cross of Liberty, the symbol of the nation’s War of Independence, 90 years ago. The decision to erect the monument came in spite of economic downturn and public opposition.

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