Scratch that. The shit has hit the fan in such a spectacular fashion that I'm waking up with brown specks on my windows - and I'm over a hundred miles away from it all.
By end of business yesterday, a crowd of Russian youths began to assemble at the Bronze Soldier site. By nightfall the police had had enough of the crowd throwing stones at them, and a wall of riot cops, armed with tear gas and flashbangs, drove the protesters back.
What followed was a night of carnage in downtown Tallinn, with the youth mob breaking windows and looting shoops. The police did not confine the crowd, allowing them to disperse into main streets, where cars were overturned and at least one kiosk was set on fire. The TV news crew that was in the thick of it showed drunk, excited faces tearing open stolen cartons of cigarettes and chanting "Rossiya! Rossiya!". One kid was explaining to the reporter in accented Estonian what the mob was after - that history should be reevaluated with their opinion taken into consideration. When asked about the looting, he responded that this was just a few Russians feeling thirsty.
By 2 am the riot was mostly over. Main thoroughfares were blocked by lines of police officers, violent and drunk Russian youths were handcuffed to lamp posts, yelling death threats at TV cameras. Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, leader of the opposition and the main political force in Estonia ostensibly protecting the interests of the Russian voters, said that as of 2 o'clock the next day, sales of alcohol in the city would be suspended - at least until May 2nd, but the ban may be extended. This period includes Valpurgis Night, the eve of May 1st, traditionally a grassroots carnival night in Estonia.
An emergency session of the government's crisis committee, made up of the Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Interior Minister Jüri Pihl and Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, recommended that the Bronze Soldier statue be relocated immediately, in order to prevent further rioting. As of this morning the statue has been moved to the military cemetary, and is being guarded by the police.
Late-night reports tell of the North Prefecture (the authority responsible for all the police in Tallinn and around) have called up every person on the roster, even those whose shifts have ended. The armed police forces have been deployed on Tallinn streets.
The mob's Estonian counterparts are rumored to be gathering later today in Hirve Park; the nationalists are fewer in number, but gearing up for a fight.
Qui bono? Qui culpa? Certainly Ansip is to blame for the timing. Had the excavation been scheduled after May 9th (Victory Day for the Great Patriotic War in Russia), and that day been kept peaceful, the critical mass would probably never have been reached. And while the hatred in local Russians was obviously nurtured by the Russian media (inevitably Kremlin-controlled), what is known publically at this point does not suggest that the riot was planned and executed by the Nochnoy Dozor or any other local pro-Russian groups.
The actions of the police, while perhaps operationally questionable - in that they did not manage to prevent the looting - were strategically sound and politically firmly in Ansip's favor. By allowing the crowd to disperse, they prevented civilian injuries and perhaps deaths on a larger scale; and at the same time the mob exceeded expectations by reducing itself to looting and violence.
With protectors of the Bronze Soldier, and by association local Russians in general, obviously shown to be violent, uncivilized, unreasonable and uncontrollable, Ansip now has a carte blanche. Even Savisaar appears to be stunned by the extent of the riot, and his "I told you so" is rather muted. Ansip's personal success at the elections has given him a carte blanche, and obviously his coalition partners aren't likely to protest any measures aimed against the Russians.
There is no benefit to the Kremlin that I can see right now, for much the same reasons - it is now painfully obvious that Estonia, as a country and as a nation, is facing the sort of sentiment and activity that nobody in Europe or the First World in general appreciates. By consistently and publically protesting the relocation of the memorial, the Russian authorities have now become inextricably linked to the riot, and everybody's going to be convinced, at least subconsciously, that they had something to do with it. I don't think Russia planned the riot, but Russia certainly caused it, and in terms of international politics, Russia is going to take the blame. And for most of Estonians, this is going to be a fight against an external enemy, an infiltrator, rather than a civil war.
The old curse appears to have come true - we are living in interesting times.
Reflections on the latest disturbances
1 month ago