Victory Day has its own history: heroic and sacred. The Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. May 9th is dear to every Belarusian — and requires no explanation. Since childhood, we’ve understood its significance and have passed on our reverence to the younger generation. Most other countries refer to those years as the Second World War but it was Soviet soldiers who liberated most of Europe. Monuments to them have been erected in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe.
Where nationalists defile them, they demonstrate their own inadequacies, intolerance and disrespect for the memory of the dead. We know about French and Italian partisans and about the Resistance movement in the north — in the Norwegian fiords. We bow our heads to all who fought and died battling the evils of Nazism.
The Great Patriotic War was a severe test for Belarus. Around three million people died, 209 towns and over 9 000 villages were destroyed, while 380 000 Belarusians were enslaved in Germany. The Nazis organised over 260 death camps in Belarus, alongside hundreds of prisons and ghettos, where hundreds of thousands of old men, women and children died during the occupation. It’s impossible to forget and it’s no wonder that an unprecedented Resistance movement started in Belarus. They gave the enemy restless days and nights.
Meanwhile, over 1 500 000 Belarusians fought at the front, to the bitter end in Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad and Kiev. They helped liberate settlements in their homeland, and also throughout eastern and central Europe. Around 400 Belarusian immigrants became generals and admirals and were in charge of the army and fleet during the war. In addition, 448 Belarusians were awarded the honorary title of Hero of the Soviet Union, with four awarded twice for actions beyond the call of duty in defense of their homeland.
The degree of confrontation was unreasonably high: every third citizen died. Such was the price of freedom. We remember and want others to know. The role of the Belarusian Republic in the battle against fascism was highly estimated by the world community, with Belarus becoming a co-founder of the United Nations Organisation.
Time moves on, and the world (as politicians say) is changing. However, real values cannot alter. Belarus builds relations with other states on principles of neighbourliness — it is our contemporary political creed. The Eastern Partnership Initiative in Europe is a new programme of co-operation, launched in May at the summit in Prague. Belarus’ membership hails a new stage of interrelations with the European Union (see more on the summit in ‘Prague accents’).
Partnership is based on pragmatism, as displayed by all states in the international sphere. ‘Good news from the Eternal City’ details the sensational visit of the Belarusian President to the Vatican in Italy. The meeting between Mr. Lukashenko and Benedict ХVІ will have wide political and inter-confessional implications. President Lukashenko advanced an important initiative in Rome, which, once realised, will be of world-wide importance; he invited the Pope to come to Belarus. Belarus is laying a road to Europe through Rome and Mr. Lukashenko’s meetings with Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi will assist no end.
There are many interesting articles in this issue of the magazine. Speaking of our neighbour Ukraine, ‘Roads of Alexander Silvashko’ looks at Lieutenant Silvashko’s achievements — known as the most famous Soviet soldier in the Second World War. He is even famous in the West, where our joint victory alongside the coalition against Hitler is remembered. The whole world recalls the photo where he was seen hugging American Lieutenant Bill Robertson on a destroyed bridge in the German town of Torgau — shot on April 25, 1945. The legendary moment has become part of the photographic legacy of those years; each example sears the memory. He was a commander of the Red Army, inspiring soldiers to battle. He planted a standard over the Reichstag and saw action on the River Elbe. Alexander Silvashko personifies all those who fought, world-wide. He is an enduring symbol yet lives a simple, retiring life.
Mr. Silvashko came from Ukraine, joining the front from there — yet his post-war life was connected with Belarus, where he now lives. Such are human destinies.
Viktor Kharkov, magazine editor Беларусь. Belarus
Let life continue
Victory Day has its own history: heroic and sacred. The Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. May 9th is dear to every Belarusian — and requires no explanation. Since childhood, we’ve understood its significance and have passed on our reverence to the younger generation. Most other countries refer to those years as the Second World War but it was Soviet soldiers who liberated most of Europe. Monuments to them have been erected in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe