Global Voices Online
Friday, April 27, 2007
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.
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.
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 - 141 comments so far, and here's the last one:
mina: Just made a car-tour in downtown. [...]
And of course, scars of vandals are visible. Including Inglise Kolledž - windows smashed and Estonia Theatre ... but it was silent. I have never seen so silent city center - friday 2 am.