On April 13, representatives of pro-government organizations took part in a ‘subbotnik’, a so-called volunteer clean-up, in Kurapaty, a Stalin-era mass grave site near Minsk, where the NKVD executed and buried tens of thousands of people in 1930-40s. At the same time, the special services continued to remove Kurapaty crosses.
Alyaksandr Miranovich, Head of Baraulyany forestry, instructed the ‘volunteers’ to ignore those who are protesting against the authorities’ actions in Kurapaty. As it happened earlier, on Saturday plainclothes policemen were keeping the watch while about 30 crosses set in memory of the victims were being taken down near Minsk Ring Road.
On April 4, the news about driving bulldozers and other building machinery to Kurapaty Forest hit the headlines in domestic and foreign media outlets. About 70 crosses were rooted out; over a dozen activists and politicians defending Kurapaty were detained, including Pavel Sevyarynets, Zmitser Dashkevich, Dzyanis Urbanovich, Valyantsina Yaromenak, Nina Bahinskaya.
Interestingly, Viktar Malinouski, Chairman of Minsk Regional Association of Trade Unions, called the pro-government organizations’ participation in the controversial event ‘cleaning up the mess’.
“This is our traditional action before Easter and Day of Rejoicing. The Federation of Trade Unions contributed to the establishment of the plaque; we work in Kurapaty, clean up the mess so that everyone could come and remember what once happened here.”
Hundreds of crosses were installed by Belarusian activists who felt it their duty to pay the tribute to the memory of the executed. It was not until 2018 that the authorities directed their attention to Kurapaty: an official memorial to the victims was erected at the order of the Federation of the Trade Unions. Back in 1989, the BSSR Council of Ministers signed a decree to perpetuate the memory of the victims in Kurapaty. In 1993, the memorial was granted the status of historical and cultural value of international importance. However, after Lukashenka came to power, the Kurapaty topic was silenced. Incidentally, over his 25-year rule, the head of the country has never visited the place.
It should be noted that the crosses and the work on their installation cost the Belarusian people thousands of rubles. The state did not allocate a penny; a fundraising campaign was launched to collect the corresponding sum of money.
Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Head of the Catholic Church in Belarus, called on the officials to put an end to the blasphemy in Kurapaty and take the people’s opinion in account. In fact, Many Belarusians are outraged at the fact that the attack on crosses is happening during Lent.
“It boggles the mind that they are pulling the crosses out, planting trees, and say it is a great Cristian tradition,” activist Yauhen Batura said.
“In the depth of their souls, they [officials] realize that it is an offense case against God and the Belarusian nation, against the memory of people who were tortured here,” Hanna Shaputska, a coordinator of the Save Kurapaty Memorial public initiative, told Belsat.
But the officials and workers do not dare to disobey the Belarusian leader’s order. As reported earlier, the decision the ‘anti-cross’ campaign started after Lukashenka slammed ‘ demonstrating with crosses’ in Kurapaty during The Big Conversation With President on March, 1. However, he also promised that there would never be sort of Stalinism in Belarus, even ‘under the dictatorship of Lukashenka’.
However, while the authorities call the dismantling of the crosses ‘site improvement’, Kurapaty defenders believe it to be a state-run vandalism act. Apparently, the so-called ‘improvement’ has tarnished the image of the Belarusian authorities.