When many decades separate us from past events, we perceive them differently: less emotionally and with a more balanced and analytical eye. Today, much research is appearing relating to tactics and military strategy, with young historians seeking definite answers to fundamental questions regarding who is to blame and why. The numbers of those killed and wounded are being exactly calculated, as are material losses. Of course, all this is correct and necessary but we should not forget the faces behind the dry figures and scientific facts. The tragedies of millions are compartmentalised by contemporary researchers as ‘victims of military actions’ yet all were someone’s children or parents. They were given beautiful names, warming their loved ones with the warmth of their hands, inspiring with a glance and speaking kind words. The war was merciless in taking their lives but the pain of those who survived remains and will never fade…
Commemoratives services dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War have taken place at Brest Fortress, attended by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
The number of those who witnessed the initial terrible battles on the Belarusian border first hand falls each year. Some veterans were unable to come to Brest due to ill health but their relatives, children and grandchildren attended, bringing photos, documents, letters and other materials to donate to the Brest Fortress Defence Museum. Its collection is constantly expanding, allowing us to create a picture of the fates of those who found themselves caught up in the slaughter of war. Interestingly, many artefacts have been donated by the descendants of German soldiers. 70 years on, when emotions have calmed, these sources of information allow us to create a fuller and more objective picture of the war.
On the evening of June 22nd, Mr. Lukashenko took part in commemorative events at Brest Hero Fortress Memorial Complex, recalling the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. The Head of State laid a wreath at the newly unveiled sculpture — dedicated to ‘Border Heroes, Women and Children Who Stepped into Immortality with Courage’. Flowers were also laid at the bottom of the sculpture by Great Patriotic War veterans.
Mr. Lukashenko handed battle standards to the military units of the Belarusian border guards and warmly communicated with war veterans. He then visited St. Nicholas Garrison Church, where he lit a candle in memory of war victims. The President also chatted to Russian journalists taking part in a press tour of Belarus, who were attending the events. One journalist asked Mr. Lukashenko what the Great Patriotic War and the notion of memory mean to him. He replied, “Our Great Victory is our grand heritage — belonging to Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and to the entire Soviet Union. It belongs to the Soviet people and to others. Recently, we have seen attempts to steal this grand heritage away. We’ve even been accused of actually starting the war. Who doubts today that there are attempts to bury this in oblivion and steal this Victory, this great heritage, away from us? Nobody doubts it today and we must not give it away!” underlined the Belarusian leader.
He notes that this has been especially revealed in attitudes towards Belarus. “Today, they try to bow us — unfortunately, there are quite a few in Russia and, especially, in the West. They want to teach us a lesson. However, I always remind them that our veterans are still living, as are those who were children during the war. There are many who remember the contribution and the great role that the Soviet people played in saving the world from the ‘brown plague’,” noted Mr. Lukashenko.
Mr. Lukashenko expressed confidence that most Russians would join Belarus in protecting their Fatherland, if necessary. “Here was the bulwark of our Fatherland; here, will it remain,” added the Belarusian President. Speaking before a requiem concert at Brest Fortress, featuring musicians from Belarus and Russia, he noted that work continues in some countries to rewrite the historical truth. “Perverse ideas of good and evil are being implanted in young people’s minds. New moral standards are being spread in society; these justify aggression and domination of some states over others,” the President asserted.
The Head of State stated regretfully that, in some ‘super-civilised and democratic nations’, Soviet soldiers are viewed in the same way as the Nazis — with show trials against Soviet soldiers organised. “Yegorov and Kantaria — the soldiers who planted the Red Banner on the defeated Reichstag — would have hardly imagined that the Red Banner of Victory would be banned. Today, there are many examples,” said Mr. Lukashenko. “A glorious war hero, having earned his decorations in bloody combat, could hardly imagine that his face would be spat at and his decorations and medals be torn off his chest. This is exactly how brazen-faced thugs behave in ‘democratic’ countries.”
The President of Belarus believes it is the ultimate in meanness and cynicism to honour Waffen-SS soldiers — whose hands are covered with the blood of civilians and prisoners of concentration camps. According to the Head of State, Brest — as the first to face Nazi attack — understands the past as none other. “The message is summed up by antifascist Julius Fucik, who said: ‘People, be vigilant!’. Do not allow Nazism, xenophobia, racial and religious intolerance or the horror of war to be revived. Do not believe in the smooth words of those advocating new crusades against sovereign nations and states,” emphasised Mr. Lukashenko.
He called our war heroes’ legacy a keystone for the Belarusian nation and urged that we will never allow the history of the war to be revised. “We’ll always raise our young people to respect the glorious past, showing humanism, patriotism and love for mankind. We will never forget our relationship with those who suffered, struggled and won,” assured the Belarusian leader.
Recollecting one of the most tragic dates in our history — June 22nd, 1941 — Mr. Lukashenko noted that humanity would have found itself in hopeless fascist slavery had the multi-national Soviet nation not united in battling our common enemies. The President noted the deeply symbolic nature of the events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War being hosted by Brest Fortress. “This is not only because the war began there. We should remind everyone once again that the road to the Great Victory began there. From these ancient walls, where stones melted, hearts hardened,” noted the Head of State.
“Belarus paid a high price for victory and freedom, with a third of our population hurt in this cruellest war. The economy was completely destroyed and the cultural heritage of the nation was stolen and sacked. Belarus was almost wiped from the planet’s map,” reminded Mr. Lukashenko. However, Belarusians didn’t bend to the aggressor. “When the hour of trial arrived, our peaceful people — men, women and, even, children — showed the whole world examples of courage, endurance and patriotism. We then undertook a second heroic deed of labour, reviving our land from ruins and ash. These acts are evidence of our Belarusian character,” noted the President.
Mr. Lukashenko emphasised that Belarusians will always be grateful to those who faced that terrible war without bending their knee or bowing their head. “Veterans in our country are surrounded by honour and state support. They are our spiritual backbone and the basis of a civil society,” underlined the Belarusian leader. He added that commemorating the heroic deeds of the defenders of the Fatherland is a nationwide concern. The new Belarusian State Museum of Great Patriotic War History (Europe’s largest) is currently being constructed in Minsk Hero-City. It will become a visible embodiment of our gratitude towards the generation of victors.