A cemetary in Jõhvi torched a propaganda attack


A cemetery in Estonian town Jõhvi caused lots of discussion on Russian media. This case has become a pretext for blaming Estonians as being Russophobe, minority discriminations, fabricating history and practising fascism.

On 5th of June, a letter was sent by Sirje Luck to National Heritage Board and Ida-Viru (county in Estonia) media outlets. The conclusion of the content is a demand, to protect the cemetery’s Estonian cultural heritage. It calls upon not burying people from other cultural backgrounds, with a description of differences that Slavic and Estonian burials have. Also, it is referred, that a nearby Orthodox cemetery also has lots of space. 58 people signed the letter.

Ida-Virumaa weekly Infopress is the first one in media to publish the story; later it is posted on Russian Delfi. The tone of the article is calm –  “Slavic people are asked not to be buried in Estonian Jõhvi cemetery”.

On 12th of June, the article is published by Russian portal Rossiiskaja Gazeta, which has already some propaganda elements added to it. The article is headed “Church garden is not for Slavic people”, a subheading claims that Russians might be forbidden to be buried in Estonian cemeteries (leaving the impression that all of the stories is a state action). The letter is called out as scandalous, also leading to believe that the event is a big thing in Estonian social media.

On 13th of June, Russian government-owned tv-channel Rossija 24 publishes an extremely tilted video, where the letter is associated with a massive minority discrimination in Estonia. It is emphasised, as there is an action for collecting signatures for burial support. The text and video create the impression, as Russians are treated the same way in Estonia, as did the Nazi-Germany with the Jews. To reassert the discrimination, they present the number of people without citizenship and also add language issues (as Russian is not a second state language). Kremlin-minded activist Dmitri Linter is calling the events around the cemetery as history fabrication and denial. Without any elaboration, it is mentioned, how Jõhvi has become the place where people associate themselves with Waffen SS. On the background it is shown misleading footage, as there is yet another attack in Jõhvi, on Red Army memorials. The story contains many hints as if the situation with Russians in Estonia is awful.

Rossija 24 leads the way for the attitude in Russian media. Propaganda channels as lenta.ru publish a story with a heading “Until death do us apart”, describing how Estonia is busy with after-death segregation. Next portal Newinform published an article with a title “Russophobes until the bones”,  News Frontpresents the story to be “wild”, which is taken from a political scientist Pavel Rudjakovi. Local Estonian Sputnik also publishes many articles. After all of these propagandistic articles, there is a general idea, as now “Estonians will start burying Russians separately”.

Propastop agrees that the reason for various attacks come from parts of the original letter, which is unappropriated. People from other nationalities are generalised to be all Slavic and bringing extra attention to the ethnic backgrounds of the new graves. Russian burial culture is described negatively, using stereotypes as constant use of extremely colourful plastic flowers.

Nonetheless, for propaganda media the details are unimportant. Even when everything was 100% politically correct, it would still give fuel to publish anti-Estonian messages online. The fact that in Estonia and Russia, many cemeteries are distinguished by religion, nationality, or parishes is of no importance to propaganda media. Russian propaganda media is not journalism, that wishes to find the truth, unveil the entity or reflect various standpoints. The attitude and storyline are predetermined, and just waiting for the reason to activate. Jõhvi cemetery is yet another trigger, similar to Kiviõli (Eastern-Estonian town) glacial boulder, firing Russian girl in Tallinn or some news tomorrow, that provides substance for showing the life of Russians in Estonia.

Photo: Jõhvi funeral chapel, photo from Jõhvi cemetery homepage, screenshot from Rossija 24 video, and from referenced article in Sputnik.