Clinton in Kurapaty, Nixon in Khatyn: US Presidents’ trips to Belarus

20 years ago President Clinton visited Belarus: this act aimed to pay respect to the fact that our country had gained its neclear-weapon-free status on its own initiative.

In his book politician and journalist Siarhei Navumchyk who was engaged in preparations in 1993 goes into detail describing the visit. According to him, the authorities did their best to prevent the U.S. President from visiting Kurapaty [mass executions site in Stalin’s times] and from meeting with oppositionists.

{movie}US President Clinton in Kurapaty.|right|14265{/movie}

Stanislau Shushkevich, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, was waiting for Mr Clinton at the airport, Mr Navumchyk recollects. Their opponents in the Council were eager to drop him before the visit; they hoped in this case Mr Clinton would not have arrived in Minsk. According to the author, the cancellation would have played into Moscow’s hands: the eastern neighbour did not want to draw international media’s attention to the independence of Belarus. However, Viachaslau Kebich, the then Prime Minister, decided to trumpet himself before the first presidential elections in the history of Belarus with help of Mr Clinton’s visit.

It is interesting that the U.S. President met with Zianon Pazniak, leader of the Belarusian People’s Front twice.

Few people know that another U.S. President, Richard Nixon, also made a visit to our country 1974. ‘Having met with Secretary General Brezhnev, they flew from the crimea and stayed here for two days. They attended a military parade, laid flowers to monuments, visited Khatyn [memorial which became a symbol of mass killings of the civilian population during the fighting between partisans, German troops, and collaborators],’ journalist Aliaksandr Lukashuk says in his book. At the same time, western media emphasized that the village of KHATYN had been chosen not by coincidence: the soviet Authorities aimed at covering up the case of KATYN near Smolensk, where thousands of Polish officers had been executed by the NKVD in 1939-40.

Belsat TV draws your attention to Nixon’s toast during the luncheon in Minsk on July 1, 1974:

‘Mr. President of the Republic, Mr. Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Mr. Secretary of the Party:

On behalf of all our American guests, I wish to express our appreciation for this beautiful luncheon. And I want all of you to know that when the General Secretary, Mr. Brezhnev, picked the city and the Republic in which we would come, I now know why he picked Minsk.

I thought first it might be because Minsk and Byelorussia is famous the world over for a tiny girl, a pert girl, Olga Korbut. But I have found in my conversations with my friends from the right and the left seated here that not only are the women of Byelorussia beautiful but they are strong and courageous.

It is difficult to know the meaning of war until one has an opportunity to come in contact with it on an individual basis. And I find that both the Secretary on my right and the President on my left have come into contact with war as fighters in the war, but also who know war because they have close relatives and, in their case, their own mothers who were killed in the war.

And the question is, why has this city been designated a hero city for the Soviet Union? First, because it suffered so much, along with the whole Republic of Byelorussia. Second, because not only the men but the women fought and were courageous throughout the war. And third, despite the long years of occupation, the city and the Republic hascome back, until now it is on the way to its greatest years in the period ahead.

And so, this is truly a hero city and a hero Republic. And I think General Secretary Brezhnev wanted Mrs. Nixon and me to visit this city in order to help you celebrate this great day in which you complete 30 years since liberation.

How do we best celebrate such a day? With a magnificent luncheon like this, with fine food, good wines, and good company; by a parade yesterday and by visits to memorials that we will be privileged to make later in the afternoon.

Richard Nixon in Victory Square, Minsk, phot. rianovostiRichard Nixon in Victory Square, Minsk, phot. rianovosti

But the best way to celebrate a day which marks the ending of a war is to build peace. And the greatest and best memorial that we can build to the one-fourth of all the citizens of this Republic who were killed in World War II is to build a structure of peace so that their children and grandchildren will not die in another war.

As I saw these fine looking young men who served us, this thought crossed my mind: What we who served in World War II have on our hands is the responsibility of determining whether these young men will grow up in a period of peace or whether they, too, will have to go through the horrors of war. And I can assure you that in our first two meetings-the first in Moscow, the next in Washington and other parts of the United States-and the third here in the Soviet Union, that the General Secretary and his colleagues and the members of our party have been devoting our full time toward the great goal to see to it that the two strongest peoples and the two strongest nations in the world will not devote their efforts and waste their young men in war, but will work together for peace between themselves and for all people in the world.

And it is very appropriate that in this city and in this Republic that has known war for so many centuries, that today we speak in terms of peace and friendship for all people.

May Minsk in the future not be remembered simply where virtually every generation a battle is fought, but as a great city which contributed to prosperity and peace for all the people in this Republic.

So, therefore, I will propose that we raise our glasses to our hosts, the President, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of the Party, to the Hero City of Minsk, to all of those brave men and women who died and suffered during World War II, and to the new generation which will grow up in peace because of what we are able to do.’

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