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    FM Lavrov lambasts Estonia's Soviet war memorial demolition law

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    Russia's foreign minister sharply criticized the Estonian parliament Thursday for passing a bill that would open the way to the demolition of Soviet war memorials in Estonia, describing the move as a blunder and a disgrace.

    MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister sharply criticized the Estonian parliament Thursday for passing a bill that would open the way to the demolition of Soviet war memorials in Estonia, describing the move as a blunder and a disgrace.

    "I consider the passage of this bill in its third [and final] reading, despite protests from many countries, to be a blunder and a disgraceful act, one that is unacceptable in today's Europe and that contradicts European values and the principles of organizations to which Estonia belongs," Sergei Lavrov said, adding that he was referring primarily to the European Union, which the Baltic nation joined in May 2004.

    The controversial draft, which got through the 101-strong assembly in a 46-44 vote earlier Thursday, will allow Estonian authorities to dismantle the "Bronze Soldier" in downtown Tallinn, and other monuments glorifying the Baltic nation's Soviet past.

    Estonia, along with neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, was taken over by the Soviet Union in 1940, and the Soviets regained control of the three Baltic nations from Nazi Germany in 1944.

    While Russia maintains that the Red Army came to the Baltics to liberate it from Nazi invaders, many local residents see the advent of Soviet soldiers as an act of aggression.

    The six-foot "Bronze Soldier," erected in 1947, and other Soviet-era memorials have in recent years become rallying points for ethnic Russians living in Estonia.

    Moscow has repeatedly accused Tallinn of discriminating against the Russian-speaking community, which accounts for about a third of the 1.3-million-strong population, yet is denied many basic rights and freedoms.

    At its Thursday's session, Estonia's parliament also passed amendments to a bill on public holidays, establishing September 22 as Resistance Remembrance Day to commemorate Estonians who fought in Nazi units against the Soviet "invasion."

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