Estonia expels Russian activists as "memorial war" burns on
Jun 11, 2007, 9:19 GMT
Tallinn/Moscow - Estonia has expelled two members of Russian nationalist youth group Nashi in a row over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial, officials said Monday.
'The two men were detained while standing in military clothes on (the memorial's former site of) Tonismagi, within an hour of each other on Saturday afternoon,' police spokeswoman Julia Garanca told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
'Both men had entered Estonia on tourist visas. Since such actions cannot be held to be consistent with tourist activity, their visas were cancelled and they were sent back to Russia' on Sunday evening, she added.
The two men, identified by Nashi as Dmitri Chamrov and Sergei Nozhov, were greeted in Moscow as 'heroes who did not give in to pressure from the Estonian authorities,' Nashi's website proclaimed.
They had travelled to Estonia to stand on the memorial's former site as 'living memorials' to the 'heroes of the Great Patriotic War who saved Estonia from fascism,' the site added.
Estonia and Russia have been at loggerheads since late April, when the Estonian government decided to relocate the Red Army war memorial from central Tallinn to a nearby war cemetery.
Estonians see the memorial as a reminder of their state's 50-year illegal occupation by the USSR, but most ethnic Russians see it as an almost-religious tribute to Russians' sacrifice in WWII.
The move sparked the worst rioting Tallinn has seen since the Russian Revolution as gangs mainly made up of ethnic Russian youths rampaged through the city, looting shops and battling police.
In the wake of the move, Russian politicians said that Estonia's criticism of the Red Army was an open declaration of fascist sympathies and an attempt to 'rewrite history.'
Pro-monument hackers launched large-scale attacks on Estonian government websites. According to the Estonian authorities, some of the attacks came from Russian government web servers.
And although the memorial was swiftly re-erected, unharmed, in a war cemetery, Nashi activists laid siege to the Estonian embassy in Moscow, demanding that it be returned to its former site.
The siege culminated in attacks on the Swedish and Estonian ambassadors, which drew the condemnation of the EU, NATO and the US.
On Saturday Nashi threatened to reopen the siege unless its activists were released.
That threat has now been lifted, but the movement intends to sue the Estonian government for wrongful arrest and expulsion, its website announced.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur