Estonian to ban display of Nazi and Soviet symbols

Posted in Europe | 03-Dec-06

TALLINN, Nov 30 (Reuters) - The Estonian government on Thursday approved a change to the penal code that would ban the display of Soviet and Nazi symbols and flags, saying the hammer and sickle and swastika both incite hatred.

Both the Nazi and Soviet regimes occupied Estonia at various times from 1941 to 1991, leaving bitter memories behind.

"The government at its session today passed the amendment and sent it to parliament for approval," said government spokeswoman Inga Jagomae.

She said with the government coalition holding a majority in parliament, the amendment will likely pass.

Jagomae said the bill was intended to refine existing law to make clear that the public display of both Soviet symbols and Nazi emblems break laws against incitement of hatred.

However, free speech supporter Juri Estam saw the bill as fraught with problems.

"It is good to have a consistent standard for treating these totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, but government attempts to define and punish hate crime are full of problems and it is better left to free speech," he said.

The debate in Estonia over its Soviet-era past has heated up in the last two months, centring around the fate of a larger-than-life bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, as the nation of just 1.3 million heads into national elections in March 2007.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has vowed to move the statue to a local cemetery if parliament passes a bill giving the government the power to decide the location of monuments.

Russia and Estonia's Russian minority have both expressed outrage at the proposal.