Recently the memory of the victims of Stalinist repressions was honored in Kurapaty. The only input of the state was militia in civilian clothes and road police that stopped everyone who came by car.
In many post-Soviet countries this day is an official commemoration day; whereas the Belarusan authorities continue to ignore it. However, the civil society remembers and honors it. About 40 activists gathered near the cross at the eastern part of the memorial, prayed, installed a memorable desk at the cross, read the surnames of the executes, which became known thanks to the research of LeanidMarakau, and placed flowers. After that the participants lit candles, installed them on the crosses that stand along the Kurapaty lane, and went along this starry cross way. At the elevation in the central part of the Kurapaty district civic activists held speeches and for the first time read the surnames of those, who are related to the crimes of the Stalinist repressions.
As “EuroBelarus” has earlier informed, n the eve of the demonstration memorial action titled "Memory Chain" took place near the KGB building in central Minsk. About 150 people came to the KGB headquarters to commemorate the Belarusian intellectuals that were executed during Stalin's rule. Ex-political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich had earlier called on people to come to the KGB buildings with candles. Among those 100 people attending were opposition figures Mikalai Statkevich with his wife, Uladzimir Niakliaeu, Anatoly Liabedzka, and Pavel Vinahradau.
Ihar Kuzniatsou, a historian and a researcher of political repressions told about the history of this memorable day in the interview with the “EuroBelarus” Information Service.
- In 2007, when we marked 70 years from the events of 1937 – the year of “Big terror” – a civic commission with three cochairmen – Kuzniatsou, Yakavenka, and Haletski. The book by Leanid Marakau about this night of execution was published on October 29, 1937. We initiated the Day of Victims of Stalinist repressions by Russia’s pattern, where October 30 was announced to be a day of memory in 1992.
We appealed to the Council of Ministers for support, but the answer came from the KGB, which sounded approximately like this: “There are two dates of commemoration of the dead – Radunitsa and Dziady, and this day isn’t actual for the country; thus, your appeal is declined”. I.e. the authorities answered that others can commemorate this day, while we don’t need it.
But back then we announced this commemoration day and for the first time on October 29, 2007 a memorial demonstration took part in Kurapaty.
Over these years we established five memorial desks at the graves, where exhumation was taking place. Last year there used to be a cross in memory of prisoners of KGB detention facility – i.e. political prisoners executed on the night of October 29.
Despite the senior age, the famous defender of Kurapaty Vaclav Niamkovich has been taking part in detour of execution places and in demonstration in Kurapaty district
The executions used to happen before October 29 and continued afterwards. But it was on that night that 103 persons were shot (133 according to specified lists). 22 people from these 103 are poets, writers, and literary critics; this list contains 95% of Belarusan intelligentsia. Belarus didn’t have so many literary men to shoot 22 people in a night.
This day is symbolic not only because the biggest execution took place; the question lies at a different level: when people say that “the best were shot”, I always ask, “Does it mean that the others were worse?” Because the value of life is equal for everyone.
- How did these surnames become known?
- We need to give credit for Leanid Markelau, who found this list in archive in Moscow. Thus, the list was provided neither by the authorities nor by the KGB. The state didn’t do anything for commemorating the memory; it came to be unable even to provide the researches with a possibility to work in the KGB archive. I said that I’m ready to work for free. They answered, “No; we don’t need people, who know, here”.
We announced this day in 2007, and in 2006 we started our first session of the public tribunal on crimes of Stalinism in Belarus. Within its frames the sign “To the victims of Stalinism” appeared on the stone on Kurapaty elevation. The second session of the tribunal took place in 2015. We had seven meetings. Basically, we have been collecting the evidence for 10 years. But even if were told to get it in a month, we would do that – there are numerous materials and documents from KGB archives that completely prove the fault of CPSU and Communist parties of the Soviet Union in committing crimes against their own people. Some countries classify it as genocide; others – as a crime against humanity; besides, there is also a crime against foreign citizens – officers of the Polish army and civilians shot in April 1940 (more than 15 thousand people); Lithuanians, Polish, and Germans shot on the basis of nationality. It is said in the first provision of the indictment read on October 28.
- Is there someone you could accuse of it?
- It wasn’t our aim; the direct executors aren’t alive now. But neither the regime, nor the ideology nor the party nor the punitive bodies that created this system are charged with it! Thus, what jural state are we talking about? If we had a chance to get the villains from their graves in order to call them to criminal liability, we would do that. But this is already impossible; so we need to evaluate that so that those who are working in law enforcement agencies knew that their predecessors who committed these crimes got the criminal liability and thought about it when carrying out their official duties.
The other important moment is the demands we announce to the state after 20 years of appeals. First, to provide the fulfillment of the decree adopted 25 years ago about memorialization of Kurapaty district. Secondly, to have a memorial to the victims of Stalinist repressions (because many relatives of the killed got the document which says that the place of execution and burial is unknown), while there are about 12 places of execution in Minsk where at least a symbolic sign should be installed.
We also demand to organize a number of other events: the creation of a national center, museum exhibitions, and introduce this topic to school program and mass media.
- In your opinion, should we expect the reaction from the state?
- If there is no reaction from the state, we’ll have reaction from the civil society. I understand that it’s hard to count on some changes any time soon. However, if the reaction doesn’t follow in a month, we will appeal the state bodies one last time with an indictment and start doing everything possible within the frames of the civic initiatives.
Belarus is the first country, which have reached the level of public tribunal and made an indictment. Neither Russia, which has such an opportunity, nor Ukraine has reached that level. We have the worst situation; and in these conditions we have made a very important step, which will serve as an example.