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Belarus in Focus 2011

15 Nov

Agnieszka Kamińska, Polskie Radio (Poland)

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200 thousand nameless victims of Stalin in Kurapaty

“We know names and surnames only of a few victims - amidst many thousands of people buried in Kurapaty“, Lavon Barszczeuski, Belarusian oppositionist. says. “In the 90-ties, when we were members of the Supreme Council, we tried to get the data from the NKVD archives. However, the Belarusian KGB told that these archives were shipped to Moscow. We sent questions to KGB in Russia, but it brought no result. It was stated that these archives hadn’t been found” – he explains. Therefore wooden crosses are being brought to Kurapaty by people who do not know where their parents or grandparents died. Lavon Barszczeuski reminds that these crosses are regularly devastated by "unknown" vandals. The truth about Kurapaty reached Belarusians as late as in 1988. Zenon Pazniak, who became later the leader of the opposition, published an article about the place of mass Stalinist crime in the woods near Minsk. The article was based on the testimonies of people from local villages and on the archaeological research. After the publication of the article, thousands of Belarusians took part in huge demonstration, demanding the truth about Kurapaty. The communist government of Belarus in 1990 recognized the fact of the massacre and obliged itself to build Kurapaty memorial. Under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko some veterans claimed it was Germans who executed thousands of people in Kurapaty. Nevertheless, further investigations pointed again to NKVD, as the author of the massacre. “Then the authorities suddenly fell silent on this issue”, says Barszczeuski. He reminds there is no official monument in Kurapaty so far: “We have only a memorial created by Belarussian people. Every year they bring dozens of new crosses. Despite the fact that they are always being destroyed by vandals, there are more and more wooden crosses in this forest”.

Read the interview with Lavon Barszczeuski:

Raport Białoruś: Belarusian opposition organizes every year “Dzyady”, a mourning march from Minsk to Kurapaty.Lavon Barszczeuski, Belarussian oppositionist: It has not only a moral dimension. The truth revealed about Kurapaty and other places of Stalinist crimes was a factor of the political awakening of Belarussian people. From the beginning, it had to be a political action. The communist authorities and the current administration of Alexander Lukashenka have always tried to hinder the meeting. For example, it was stated in public TV that there was nothing like Kurapaty, that Stalin “was good” and so on. That context added to the gatherings in Kurapaty some political significance, even if some of the participants of Dzyady did not mean it.

In 1990 the communist authorities come to terms with the fact that Belarussian know about the crime - and they erected a memorial stone in Kurapaty. They made an obligation they will rise a monument to the victims of Kurapaty. That would have happened but after couple of years Alexander Lukashenka came to power. Immediately some strange “historians” appeared in state TV who claimed there was nothing like “Kurapaty”. That is, they admitted there were thousands of victims, but according to them they were killed by Germans. So until now there is no memorial in Kurapaty. In contrast, they erected some monuments to Stalin during these years. The current administration has never been interested in commemoriating the crimes of Stalinism.In 1988, Kurapaty it was a shock for all Belarussian people? Nobody knew about that?There were a few archaeologists who knew about it, perhaps already in the early 70's. But before perestroika they could not talk about it. The authorities would destroy the area, the bodies would be transported to unknown place, and nobody would have even heard about it in those days. Only once the Russian press began to write about Stalinist crimes, Zenon Pazniak made the truth about Kurapaty public. Zenon Pazniak and his colleagues have done interviews with the inhabitants of the nearest villages, who still remembered those times, they could testify about them. They were still alive at that time. He gathered also archaeological material. Then he managed to publish the article about Kurapaty in 1988, in the magazine "Litaratura i mastactwa". It was a sensational material. This issue of the magazine was sold out in a very short time. Everybody was talking about it.

Article was based on interviews with eye-witnesses to these events?Yes, it was based on the conversations with them, but not only. Pazniak was an archaeologist, he found some six, seven mass graves, skulls, bones, all in large amounts. However, he had to work carefully so that nobody noticed that something was going on in Kurapaty.

What was the reaction of the Belarusian people?At the beginning the authorities said that it can not be, there was no such thing as mass executions in Kurapaty. However, the commission of academy of science has demonstrated the existence of mass graves. It included the archaeologists who discovered the graves. So the commission found graves with 100 people, then 50 people, then 300 people. It was impossible to defy that there were victims – so later the authorities claimed that it was Nazi Germans who were the perpetrators. Of course, the Nazis killed many people in Minsk, but not in Kurapaty About that testified also the people who lived near Kurapaty.

Had Alexander Lukashenka’s administration conducted any further studies in Kurapaty?In the late 90's, there was a committee of so-called veterans, I think veterans of the NKVD, who wrote that the Nazis shot the victims of Kurapaty. Then the prosecution had to respond, because they previously determined that these were crimes of Stalin, there was also a report on this subject in 1990. In order to consider it again, they created a new committee of archaeologists from Academy of Sciences but this time without Zenon Pazniak, who was already in exile. The committee even found more detailed evidence, also the evidence, that Poles were executed there in 1940 – on some remnants were Polish words, sentences. Thecommittee therefore concluded once again that this was Stalinist crime.  Then it began to be silent on the matter. One no longer heard about “veterans”. But still no proper monument was erected. Belarusian people build their own memorial each year, bringing the crosses to the wood. These crosses are often destroyed by “vandals”, you may imagine who they are. Every year you can find dozens of broken crosses. The memorial left in Kurapaty by the U.S. President Bill Clinton also has been destroyed several times. Although it is difficult to devastate the bench made of granite, they managed to do it.

Belarusian historians cannot deal with this subject?Of course, the official historians can not deal with this issue. Kurapaty - it is a subject for young, amateur historians and for those historians who have been thrown out of work. Every year there are new publication concerning Kurapaty and other places of Stalinist crimes. Another thing is that the government still remains silent.

We still do not know, how many people rest in Kurapaty.Of course. Zenon Pazniak maintains that there were buried no less than 200 thousand people during five years. The official statement of the prosecution informs about tens of thousands of people, because some of the grave were empty. Of course, in the Soviet era they have begun the removal of the corpses. Fortunately, they did not manage to annihilate this place before making the truth about Kurapaty public.

Historian Norman Davies tells about 250 thousnads victims buried in Kurapaty. There are over 200 graves, from ten to fifteen meters long. In theory, it can be just as Zenon Pazniak had calculated. In this forest they treacherously killed a huge number of people. Do relatives of those people who may have died in Kurapaty somehow try to organize themselves, try to seek the truth about what had happened in this wood?At the time when we were deputies to the Supreme Council, we tried to get the data from the archives of the NKVD. However, the Belarusian KGB told us that these archives were transferred to Moscow. We sent questions to Moscow, but to no result. They stated that these archives had not been found. It's a terrible thing, but today we know the names of perhaps 5 or 6 people buried there. Besides, amidst tens of thousands victims - we do not know anyone. That's why people come here and put crosses, monuments, if they do not know where their grandparents were killed. They put crosses and sign them, because here are the graves of greatpart of Stalin’s victims. Many people who do not know where to find the tomb of their forefathers, they do like this. These are symbolic monuments, symbolic inscriptions. Despite the fact that they are always being destroyed by vandals, there are more and more wooden crosses in this forest. When we were in parliament, we made November 2nd, Dzyady, Forefathers 'Eve, or All Souls'Day, a national holiday. It was a day off from work and the celebration took place then. Lukashenko abolished this holiday in the late 90's and now we organize gatherings in Kurapaty on the last Sunday before the Forefathers' Eve.Polskie Radio

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