05 April 2019, 10:47
Beautification works, dismantling of illegally erected crosses underway at Kuropaty
Minsk, April 5, Interfax - The Belarusian Ministry of Forestry has commented on reports about the ongoing dismantling of crosses earlier installed by activists on Kuropaty mass graves near Minsk.
"The Ministry [...] is to inform the public that scheduled forest beautification works are underway. These works are taking place in Kuropaty in particular, as the territory is a historic and cultural asset and part of the lands of the State Forestry Fund," the Ministry of Forestry said in a statement.
As part of the works, "fences are being erected and certain structures removed," it said. "Only those structures built without a duly documented permission, in other words, those installed illegally, are being demolished now," the Belarusian ministry said.
According to reports, crosses installed last summer by opposition activists in the Kuropaty forest were dismantled on Thursday.
The authorities declined to comment on the demolition works until Thursday afternoon. Belarusian Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and several opposition activists, including Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, protested the removal of crosses.
The Kuropaty forest outside Minsk is a place where thousands of Stalin terror victims were buried. According to various estimates, dozens to hundreds of thousands may be buried in mass graves in Kuropaty. Not only Belarusians, but people of various ethnic origins, including Russians, Poles, Jews and Lithuanians, are buried there. The memorial site occupies an area of 15 ha and is protected by the government.
Several acts of vandalism have been recorded on the graves this year. Early this year, unidentified individuals broke the so-called Clinton's bench - a memorial sign presented to the Belarusian people by then U.S. president Bill Clinton, which was installed 25 years ago. In March, several graves were desecrated by vandals drawing on them.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a clean-up in Kuropaty last year. "The fuss on the bones" must be stopped, he said.
This year, Lukashenko has said that he strongly opposes any unpermitted public events on the memorial site. "And there should be no demonstrations carrying crosses around the perimeter either. Why did you set out those white crosses there? This is a demonstration. I am against the demonstration," Lukashenko said.