Soviet symbols in public

30.10.2020

One day, while walking in the Old Town of Tallinn, I looked up at the My City hotel building, located at the intersection of Müürivahe and Suur-Karja streets, and at the front corner of the rooftop was a blatant red star. The bas-relief, which depicts an anchor placed on a wreath surrounded by branches, above which is a red star-pentagon, is clearly well restored and painted in strikingly pure tones.

Hundreds of similar and significantly more blatant combinations of Soviet-era symbolism, featuring a sickle and hammer and a red star, can be found in hundreds of Estonian public places.

Soviet symbols are found on buildings, monuments and tombstones. In dozens of cases, they are not old dusty remnants of the past, but have received new bright renovations during the now re-independent Estonia.

On the one hand, it is a forced history memory, and on the other hand, it has points of ideological reference in the modern information space, which is still being used to undermine Estonia.

Due to their age, many buildings and other objects are under the protection of the National Heritage Board, which also ensures the preservation of Soviet symbols and, too often, their renovation.

For example, the Soviet coat of arms with a sickle, hammer and red star has undergone a refreshing adorns the door of the renovated Kohtla-Järve culture house and in front of the Sompa culture house. A wreath with a sickle and a hammer, adorns for example, the entrance of the newly renovated Saku Gymnasium. In Tartu, three images of sickles and hammers adorn the facade of one building in the Town Hall Square.

In Tallinn, you can find the symbols of the Soviet era at the Hollywood club building, at the Dvigatel dormitory opposite Stockman’s, at the Russian Cultural Center and elsewhere.

More active use of Soviet insignia in the architecture of buildings dates back to Stalinist times, and it has been written about at length in Delfi news and in a book published by the Tallinn Cultural Heritage Board.

A separate topic is the monuments and tombstones with Soviet symbols, which we wrote about in connection with the Front Line Club and their renovation of these monuments to reflect the former glory of the Soviet Union. One of the most egregious examples of Soviet insignia on monuments is the tomb of the brotherhood monument in the center of Rakvere.

The use of Soviet symbols at public events is banned in both Latvia and Lithuania and this matter has been discussed in Estonia, but so far, it has not been banned here.

In 2018, Adidas and Walmart became the recipients of resentment and bad press when they used Soviet symbols on their products. In the same year, we had the incident of Postimees’ infographics, which had a sickle and a hammer in a red star-pentagon chosen as a symbol for non-Estonians.

Propastop believes that Estonian society needs a debate on whether such visual symbols should exist in the public space of independent Estonia or whether they should be liquidated or provided with an explanation that reveals their historical background and meaning as a bearer of memories from Soviet occupation.

We will first launch a discussion on Propastop’s Facebook page. Come and discuss on what should be done with such symbols in public places.

Photos: Propastop, Kohtla-Järve Culture House photo from arunaehitus.ee