Belarus destroys massacre site crosses
The Belarus authorities have demolished 70 crosses unofficially marking the site of mass Stalinist executions in a forest at Kuropaty (pictured) near the capital Minsk.
The government says about 30,000 people are buried there but others estimate that up to 200,000 were killed at the site during the 1930s and 1940s.
The state-controlled Belarusian media reported that 15 activists were detained at the site by police, who have cordoned off the area.
MP Anna Kanopatskaya posted in Russian on Facebook: “It’s as if Satan came to Kuropaty. No Christian in the world raises a hand against a holy cross! All, ALL those who committed this blasphemy today will bring misfortune on themselves.”
In March, Belarus’ strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko, criticised the Kuropaty crucifixes.
“We’re going to restore order at Kuropaty, so that there are no demonstrations with crosses around the perimeter,” Lukashenko said.
The opposition United Civil Party posted pictures of the bulldozing on social media.
Lukashenko has run Belarus since 1994, maintaining Soviet-era symbology and security forces.
A Belarus forestry manager told state-run news agency Belta that “renovation work” was taking place at the site.
“At the same time we are removing the illegally erected crosses. They are disappearing in the place where fencing is going up,” said forestry chief Alexander Mironovich.
Exhumation of Stalin-era victims began in 1988.
In Brest, near the Polish border in southwestern Belarus, the remains of Jews killed by the Nazis in Second World War are being dug up from a mass grave recently unearthed during building work.
The secret mass grave in the city’s historic district contains more than 1,000 bodies.
It was Brest’s Jewish ghetto until the early 1940s when its 28,000 residents, roughly half the city’s population, were butchered by the Nazis.
The 1,214 bodies were uncovered in February by construction workers building apartments. Bones, estimated to be up to 2 metres deep, were found in a 40-metre pit.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles asked Belarus to halt the building project.
“We firmly believe that the mass murder sites of the Holocaust should not be tampered with, and should remain the final resting places of the victims and places of commemoration, memory and mourning,” wrote Efraim Zuroff of the Nazi-hunting centre.
The real estate developers and the Brest authorities are proposing that the apartments be built next to the site, which would instead be turned into a memorial.
“A Holocaust Memorial will most likely be created there,” said Alla Kondak, a Brest culture department chief, told the media.
Kuropaty’s crosses. Picture credit: Wikimedia