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UPDATED: 20:34, August 24, 2004
Russia: Estonia WWII monument disgraceful
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Russia on Monday called the unveiling of a monument commemorating Estonians who fought in the German army during World War II a "disgraceful act" and urged NATO and the European Union to take notice.

In an angry statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the monument unveiled Friday in the northwestern Estonian town of Lihula was part of what it called an increasingly visible process of "making heroes out of" Estonian volunteers who fought alongside the Nazis and against Soviet troops.

The monument, financed by Estonian war veterans, features a sculpture of an Estonian soldier and a plaque reading: "To Estonian men who fought in 1940-1945 against Bolshevism and for the restoration of Estonian independence."

The Russian statement called the unveiling a "disgraceful act, insulting the memory of victims of fascism in all countries." The statement said it "looks particularly blasphemous against the background of the recent celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy" and preparations for events next year commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany.

About 2,000 people attended the unveiling on the anniversary of the small Baltic Sea nation's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Estonia's recent accession to NATO and the EU "raises the question of how those in Brussels view the increasing activity in Estonia of former fascist henchmen."

Tensions between Russia and Baltic states over the World War II era remain high, and Russian officials repeatedly have accused Estonia and neighboring Latvia of persecuting former Soviet officials while lionizing the Nazis.

The countries were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 following a secret pact in which Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin divided eastern Europe. But Germany violated the nonaggression pact and after the 1941-44 Nazi occupation of the Baltic nations during which a large majority of the nations' Jews were killed Soviet troops returned and remained until the states gained independence in the Soviet collapse.

The Estonian monument also has been criticized by Russian Jewish leaders, who last year appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to oppose what they called "the rehabilitation of Nazi criminals" in Estonia and Latvia.

Source: Agencies

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