Why do we commemorate Kurapaty?

Nowadays, as the world is concerned about conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East, about human rights violations in China and international terrorism, another tragedy is yet again regaining importance for our Eastern European country Belarus' - the Kurapaty tragedy.

Kurapaty is only one of the places in Belarus where the Stalinist power machine eliminated the flower of the nation, her best sons - intellectuals and hard-working peasants who fed the nation - and thousands and thousands of other innocent people. The roots of an entire people were thus destroyed, with the only intention of intimidating and breaking the people, of turning it into a faceless grey mass of obedient Soviet people.

Everybody knows that the Stalin regime was one of the most terrible totalitarian regimes in the history of mankind, but not everybody is aware of what deep wound it has left, what terrible heritage the peoples of the former Soviet empire have to cope with. Over 70 years the totalitarian regime gradually destroyed the cultural identity of each and every people within the Soviet Union, it stole their history and deprived them of their future.

The demonstration

Demonstration in support of Belarusian independence...
Minsk, 1989 - End of Soviet Era

Belarus and the Belarusians are only one example. At the beginning of the 20th century, according to national census data, 12 million people lived on ethnically Belarusian territory. Today there are only 10 million left...

The consequences of this tragedy are as obvious here as in no other country. One of the main reasons for this is the mentality of the Belarusian people, their "silent endurance". The Belarusians never showed aggressive behaviour against other peoples and were not even capable of putting up real resistance against their oppressors. Belarus endured any treatment, silently, hoping that everything would be all right.

Consequently the republic which was seen as a "monument of communism" at the time of the USSR, which even today seems to live in the past, became the place where one of the most sinister experiments was carried out successfully. Soviet leaders had always dreamed of it - the creation of a new human being, the representative of the "Soviet people". Such a "Homo Sovieticus" does not remember his historical heritage and does not know his roots. He is easy to rule, with the help of standard slogans. He has a short memory. He quickly forgets even a tragedy like Kurapaty. But to forget such a thing means to agree, to accept it and to pave the way for new evil. When a society and a people wipe out the tragedy of an entire generation from their collective memory, they will inevitably move towards new disaster.

The demonstration

A demonstrator shows his bloodstained shirt to a policeman...
Minsk, April 1996 - Beginning of ...?

Is it not lunacy when people who are trying to preserve and protect their national history, culture and symbols, and even those who simply converse in their mother tongue - Belarusian - , are compared with fascists? Is it normal when labels such as "enemy of the people" or "Western agent" are used again, and when our Western neighbours are referred to as "exporters of aggression"? Only in our worst nightmares could we imagine groups of people dressed in civilian clothes beating someone up in the street, putting a wristlock on him and pushing him into a car. When he asks them "Where are we going?", the cynical answer is "To Kurapaty." .... It's absurd ... No, unfortunately, it's reality. It's Belarus' in the late 20th century.

... The example of Kurapaty, the example of Belarus' is only one among many more in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, it's a special example which links the past with the present, as it were, with a black thread.

... It is true that only the people itself can decide upon their fate and its future, but can the people find a way out of this impasse by themselves, in a totalitarian regime, and overshadowed by such a past? How to overcome the burdens of the past is not just the problem of Belarus' herself. It concerns her neighbours too, and maybe even the whole world. The symptoms of this "disease" are very specific. We have seen them before, in other places. We might face the great danger of another Cold War.

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  This page is part of The Virtual Guide to Belarus