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James V. Wertsch Collective Memory and Narrative Templates O N THE EV E N IN G OF APRIL 2 6 , 2 0 0 7 , ROVING BA N D S OF YO UTH IN Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, ransacked autos, storefronts, and other buildings. The next day the city remained tense, and violence erupted again that evening, despite the presence of a large contingent of riot police. By the tim e these two days of civil unrest were over, 1 young m an had been killed, 100 people, including 13 police officers had been injured, and nearly 1,000 people had been arrested. These developments came as a shock, both to this veiy orderly and law-governed county and to the outside world. The cause of civil disorder in this case was not some new policy about the future. Instead, it was a disagreement over the past, namely a disagreem ent between two “mnem onic com m unities” over how events in World War II and the Soviet period should be remembered. The first com m unity is made up of 1 million ethnic Estonians, about two-thirds o f the country’s population, and the second is com prised of ethnic Russians who make up m ost of the rest of the country and who derive prim arily from im m igration w hen Estonia was a Soviet republic that did not control its borders. As will become clear, the Russian mnem onic com m unity actually extends well beyond the borders of Estonia to include the leadership and segments of the population in neighboring Russia. In media reports of the April events in Tallinn, the rioters were described as being prim arily “Russian-speaking” (that is, ethnic Russian) youth. At least by some accounts, many of them were Russian citizens social research Voi 75 : No 1 : Spring 2008 133 who had come into Estonia in the days preceding the April events. In contrast, m ost of the police who were involved in controlling the social unrest were ethnic Estonians, but roughly one-third were ethnic Russians. In the view of some Estonian authorities, ethnic identity had little to do w ith the grievances or actions of the rioters. From this perspective the episode am ounted to a spring rampage, organized by outsiders and fueled by boredom and alcohol looted from the city’s stores. A variation of this explanation is that the civil unrest reflected the kind of anomie that affects second- and third-generation im migrants in many settings. Most observers, however, recognized th at the outbreak reflected a deeper set of forces having to do w ith nationality and grievances over the past. The spark for this civil unrest was the decision by Estonian authorities to move the “Bronze Soldier” m em orial from central Tallinn to a m ilitary cem etery elsewhere in the city. Erected in 1947 in com m em oration of the Red Army’s arrival in Tallinn in 1944, this mem orial is som ething of a sacred site for Russians. It was comprised of the Bronze Soldier statue and the graves of several Soviet troops in a small surrounding park. Before the events ofApril 2007 this park in the center of Tallinn had become the location of an increasing num ber of commemorative events such as field trips for schoolchildren from the Russian speaking area of Estonia. Some of these children carried red flags and even portraits of Stalin. Viewing such activities as provocative and capable of leading to nationalist conflict, the Estonian parliam ent and other authorities had for several m onths been discussing plans to move the memorial to a less central location in the city. The small park in w hich the Bronze Soldier stood also included a burial site for Soviet soldiers who had died near the end of W orld W ar II in Tallinn. In addition to dism antling and moving the statue in April, workers disinterred the remains of 12 of these soldiers. Most of the bodies were moved to the other cemetery in Tallinn, but in several cases they were claimed by families in Russia and re-interred there. 134 social research...


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