The Bronze Soldier
The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn
is a Soviet monument dedicated to the soldiers who gave their lives in WWII
, i.e. when the USSR
also began its occupation of Estonia
. Though small in size, compared to other Soviet-era statuary, it is easily the single most controversial item left of the Soviet legacy in Estonia. This is primarily so because the government decided to remove the sculpture in 2007, which triggered violent protests by ethnic Russians. It can now be found in a rather peaceful location but far from the centre.
More background info:
The Bronze Soldier was unveiled on 22 September 1947, exactly three years after the Soviet Union
from the Germans
. So it is a victory monument but also one commemorating those who lost their lives in this Great Patriotic War, as it is known in the East.
It used to stand in the city centre on Tõnismäe square near the National Library, hence its other common name, Tõnismäe monument. The statue is also informally referred to as Alyosha, a diminutive of Alexei, a common name for Soviet/Russian military statues (cf. for instance Murmansk
Around the monument was also a war cemetery of sorts, and it used to function as a kind of tomb of the unknown soldier. An “eternal flame” used to be part of the memorial too.
To Estonians the monument was not just a war memorial but also a symbol of the Soviet occupation of their country, while for the Russians living in Tallinn it was a symbolic link to their homeland. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991 and the Soviet Union collapsed, this difference in symbolic meaning became ever more divisive.
In the spring of 2007, the Estonian government decided to remove the Bronze Soldier (and rebury the associated war dead) – and this triggered protests on the part of the ethnic Russian population, culminating in riots and violent clashes with the police for two nights at the end of April, during which one young Russian was killed (exactly how remained unclear). Dozens were injured and hundreds arrested for looting and vandalism.
The first night of violence actually accelerated the removal of the Bronze Soldier. The remaining stone structure was taken away and rebuilt later. The war dead were reburied, those bodies that were claimed by relatives were taken away to other locations for reburial, the remainder were reburied at the monument's new location.
This new location does make sense in its own way, as it is now within the grounds of the cemetery of the Estonian Defence Forces. But as this is far out from the original city centre location, it has negative symbolic significance from the Russian point of view.
The topic is still a hot one, even though the violence has long since gone away. But it is still a sensitive political issue. At the time it was feared that the events may lead to prolonged ethnic confrontations and Russia
certainly wasn't happy with the developments. There were protests at the Estonian embassy in Moscow
in the wake of the clashes in Tallinn
as well. Investigations regarding the handling of the situation by the police carried on into 2013. Apparently the treatment of some of the people arrested did indeed violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
As a visitor, however, you wouldn't know, these days, that the former site of the monument was once such a bone of contention. But if you look closely you can find symbolic references to the Bronze Soldier (e.g. on T-shirts) and I found a DVD with a documentary on the events of the so-called “Bronze Night” riots in the Occupation Museum
. So it is still a subject that remains current to a degree.
What there is to see: When you've finally found the Bronze Soldier in its current location (see below) your first thought may well be: “What? That's it? All that effort for this?!?”.
As a war memorial it is indeed a rather average one. The Bronze Soldier himself is the central part of the monument. It is a slightly larger-than-real-life Red Army soldier of stocky build, overcoat slung over his back, helmet in his right arm at the hip, head down, presumably in mourning for his fallen comrades. He stands in a niche of a ca. 20 feet (7m) wide stone wall and is flanked by bronze plaques in Estonian and Russian dedicating the memorial the fallen of the war, without mention of nationality.
There are normally some flowers and wreaths by his feet, typically with Russian
flags – testimony to the importance this memorial still has for the Russians resident in Estonia
(about a fifth to a quarter of the population!).
That is indeed it – apart from the rest of the military cemetery around it, as well as all the military presence in the adjacent army barracks.
This is really only for the very dedicated dark tourists, who don't shy away from making the pilgrimage out here, but it is hardly a top sight by any standards.
quite a long way out, ca. 2 miles (3 km) south from Tallinn
's city centre, in the military cemetery by the army barracks in a suburb near the motorway that runs just north of Ülemiste lake.
Access and costs:
far from the city centre of Tallinn
and a bit hidden, but not too difficult to get to; free.
To get to the military cemetery where the Bronze Soldier now stands you need some determination. If you're up for a little hike you can walk it all the way from the city centre – it takes about half an hour, but parts of the walk are not especially scenic. Part of the journey could be done by public transport (by taking one of the trams or buses that go down Tartu Maantee boulevard, but you have to walk the last bit from the bus station to the cemetery in any case. Some guided tours also include a stop by the Bronze Soldier – see under Soviet Tallinn
(and especially the sponsored page
To get there independently first make your way to Tallinn's modern bus station (Bussijaam) at Lastekodu 46, just off Odra street. But then carry on in a south-western direction along Odra street, which then becomes Filtri Tee. This will eventually lead to the motorway, so don't walk too far. Near where Toonela Tee branches off to the right – the street that leads to the civilian cemetery (don't get the two cemeteries confused … I did at first and had to retrace my steps!) – there's a rough path leading straight ahead. That's the route you want! It leads along the perimeter wall of a military barracks and then suddenly an opening in the wall takes you straight into the military cemetery. All this is within view of the army barracks and its fleet of olive-coloured trucks and tanks. From where you enter the cemetery your won't see the Bronze Soldier yet as it is hidden behind a small grove of trees and faces the other way. So walk towards the centre of the cemetery or round its western or eastern edges until you can spot the monument.
It may seem a disproportionate effort to find this spot – but on the bright side: at least it is free of charge.
Time required: to actually see the Bronze Soldier you only need a couple of minutes – getting there takes a whole lot longer. But while you're there you could just as well take a look around the rest of the military cemetery for about half an hour or so.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The Bronze Soldier is only one of a range of monuments at this location, and parts of the military cemetery may also be worth a look. For instance, note the rows of (symbolic?) graves for British
Royal Navy members who apparently gave their lives in the defence of the country in the Estonian War of Independence that followed World War One
. Also keep your eyes open for the odd hammer-and-sickle symbol on some of the grave stones. One stone commemorates the Soviet submariners who perished aboard the M-103 in 1941.
The other, more major dark attractions of this city are all located some distance away from this isolated place – see under Tallinn
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
nothing in the vicinity – rather head back to the centre of Tallinn
- 01 - Bronze Soldier
- 02 - in the military cemetery
- 03 - relocated here from the city centre in 2007
- 04 - still a focus for Russian war commemoration
- 05 - war graves
- 06 - another memorial
- 07 - main memorial
- 08 - British graves
- 09 - submariners
- 10 - military barracks next door
- 11 - approach to the cemetery from the east