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Belarus in Focus 2011

9 Nov

Hanna Vasilevich, (Belarus)

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The Three Wounds of Belarus

Throughout the winter Belarus suffered the consequences of the post-election events. Spring, however, did not bring any relief. While commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ?arnobyl disaster and on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Nazi occupation during the WWII, Belarus faced an unexpected and terrible bomb explosion in the center of usually peaceful and safe Minsk.

If the recent and most aching wound caused by the bomb explosion united Belarusian society, any one of us or any member of our family could have been there at that moment, we have different attitudes toward the two previous events, though both directly affected Belarusian society and are still having an impact. 

WWII, or in the Soviet interpretation — the Great Patriotic War (since the major focus is placed on the events of 1941-45), has been glorified for decades, starting with the Soviet tradition of mass parades in Moscow and the remaining hero cities of the Soviet Union. This approach has evolved into a tradition promoted by the Belarusian President Lukašenka and aimed at continuing extensive and expensive commemoration through parades and other celebrations of WWII/GPW. The official position is that Belarusians should remember and appreciate the sacrifices of veterans, since the so-called brown threat of German Nazism was stopped thanks to the heroism of the Belarusian people during WWII . The significance of this event is evident throughout Belarusian public life. The majority of official state holidays are directly or indirectly related to the events of WWII: commemoration of both the beginning and victorious ending of the war, linkage of the nation’s Independence Day with the liberation of the capital Minsk from Nazi occupation, reconstruction of the Soviet line of military defense — Stalin’s line, etc. However, this commemoration is generally focused on the heroic past, omitting controversial aspects of some Belarusians’ collaboration with the Nazis’occupational regime. One should mention that this collaboration was often unavoidable, and helped save lives of many compatriots. Certain newly discovered facts from the history of WWII in Belarus are also being omitted —particularly those that can negatively affect or even ruin the unassailably sacred image of the WWII promoted by the Belarusian officials (for instance, the revision of the view on actual duration of the Brest Fortress defense based on the recent archive discoveries would definitely lead only to fundamental realignment of the fortress’museum exhibition but also initiate considerable revision of the society’s view on one of the main pillars of the state interpretation of the WWII).

Such a rather one-sided approach is explained by the interest of the Belarusian government and president in support of the older population — veterans who remember and support the Soviet-like policies.

At the same time, the wider propagation of those events and the role of Belarusians in them creates a basis for patriotic feelings and thus unifies the nation. Such a focus on this particular event in the Belarusian history is explained by some opposition members as the president’s vision of the starting point of the existence of the Belarusian nation, and thus ignorance of the previous achievements and developments of the Belarusian past.

This year, 9 May — Victory Day — was once again pompously celebrated. It was celebrated in the style of the old Soviet celebrations. This wound can be considered as a healing one, a bit exaggerated and needing to be reconsidered from the view of current research but still deserving to be commemorated and celebrated.

The other wound, the running sore of the ?arnobyl disaster, is now slowly healing. On April 26, 2011 Belarus commemorated the 25th anniversary of the catastrophe which affected and is still affecting Belarus and its population. Over 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout fell on the territory of Belarus, leading to the removal of 20 per cent of Belarus’ agricultural lands from economic usage and resulting in significantly increased percentages of cancer deaths and mutations among children. This is our ?arnobyl heritage, which we have faced every day for the past 25 years. Full information about this technogenic catastrophe was hidden from Belarusians — the nation that suffered most — by the Soviet government for two years, leaving the nation uninformed and without needed help. The subsequent dissolution of the USSR and the following economic crisis overshadowed ?arnobyl. The benevolent neglect of the issue by the regime on one hand, and its politicization through the annual demonstrations called “The ?arnobyl Way” (?arnobylski Šliach) on the other, have put this issue far from public discussion. The withdrawal of economic support by EU states five years ago left Belarus alone in overcoming the consequences of the biggest technogenic catastrophe in the history of mankind.

Unfortunately, some politicians are trying to avoid moral responsibility for their actions of 25 years ago (elsewhere in this issue you’ll find an article related to Gorbachev’s lack of transparency and continuing denials of official responsibility. Additionally, after several unsuccessful attempts by the Belarusian government to restore contaminated lands to use, based on the assumption that 20-25 years were enough to “clean” the territory, those talks have re-opened again. However, now those statements are made more carefully.

This spring brought us not only these sad memories but also a new open wound caused by the bomb explosion in the center of Minsk, at the connecting station“Kastry?nickaja” during rush hour. The result was: 15 dead, 20 still hospitalized and around 200 injured. Even more — shock and frustration — anyone could have been there. The regime’s claim of immediate arrests of those supposedly guilty is now being questioned. Spring 2011 brought us a lot of painful memories as well as new wounds on the body of Belarus. Let them not be forgotten

Hanna Vasilevich

This article appeared in Belarusian Review, Vol. 23, No. 2, section Editorial.
© 2011 Belarusian Review

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