Hanna Shaputska, Dzyanis Urbanowich, Valery Rabtsau, Vital Tryhubau and Zmitser Kazakevich have registered an appeal to president Alyaksandr Lukashenka on April, 10. The activists demand 70 crosses taken down in Kurapaty, a Stalin-era mass grave near Minsk, be restored.
In their open letter, the activists state that April 4, 2019 was a ‘tragic day for the Belarusian society’.
“By giving the order to destroy Kurapaty crosses that citizens of the Republic of Belarus set up in memory of Belarusians who were tortured and killed by Stalinists in the 1930-40s, you have unleashed the was against the people,” the appeal reads.
They recall that the crosses and the work on their installation cost 11,000 Belarusian rubles; a fundraising campaign was launched to collect the corresponding sum of money. Moreover, according to the activists, in 2002, Maya Klyashtornaya, a research adviser at Kurapaty memorial and daughter of the executed poet Todar Klyashtorny, agreed the perimeter of mounting with the authorities. Thus, the law was not violated, the petitioners stress.
On April 4, bulldozers and other building machinery were driven to Kurapaty Forest near Minsk, where the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police executed and buried up to 250,000 persons in the 1930-40s. About 70 wooden crosses were rooted out; over a dozen activists and politicians defending Kurapaty were detained.
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 Alyaksandr 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 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’.
While the authorities call the dismantling of the crosses ‘site improvement’, Kurapaty defenders believe it to be ‘state-run vandalism’. Apparently, the so-called ‘improvement’ has tarnished the image of the Belarusian authorities.