Monuments and museums remind of tragic past

Belarus celebrates 200th anniversary of 1812 War and prepares for 100th anniversary of WWI

By Viktar Andrejeu

In 1812, the French Emperor attacked the Russian Empire via Belarusian lands; they suffered from the war most of all. A century later, WWI again brought innumerable human victims and the destruction of our historical-cultural heritage. The scale of our loss is still being comprehended.

The National History Museum recently launched its 1812 War in Minsk’s History exhibition. “Despite the scale of that war, many Belarusians still connect it exclusively to Russia and France. This exhibition aims to show an objective and historically exact picture of events (with Minsk as an example),” explains the National History Museum’s Director, Sergey Vecher.

It showcases hand held weapons and guns, uniforms, military articles, documents, maps, medals and historical reconstructions, displaying items from the National History Museum, the Vitebsk and Mogilev regional local history museums, Kobrin Military-Historical Museum (named after Suvorov), the National Historical Archives and the National Library. Afterwards, the items will be on permanent show at Volkovysk’s Military-Historical Museum (named after General Piotr Bagration). It was there that, in June 1812, the headquarters of the 2nd Russian army was situated, commanded by Bagration. Its four halls house original artefacts from the history of Belarus and Europe, dating from the late 18th century until 1812.

Ancient pictures show Napoleon’s coming to power and the creation of the French Empire, alongside the attack on Russia. 18th-19th century guns and hand held weapons (including sabres) are on show, in addition to musical instruments such as horns and drums. A special section is devoted to exhibits discovered on former battlefields: bullets, fragments of shells, buckshot and a German stiletto dagger. The uniform of Napoleon’s multi-national army can be viewed, as can Russian and French dresses.

Debates are being held on how best to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI. The Fraternal Cemetery of WWI Victims has been restored in Minsk’s Storozhevskaya Street and regularly hosts prayer services by various confessions, with official delegations of foreign states laying wreaths. In Belarus, 147 sites of military burial are state registered, all dating from WWI, and others are still being sought. In 1995, the Defence Ministry formed a specialised battalion to seek out graves from the first and second world wars.

The Culture Ministry believes that, as the anniversary of WWI is fast approaching, it would be useful to inform foreigners about the fate of Belarus and detail its losses during WWI and WWII. In 2014, a monument complex is to open in Smorgon (which suffered most of all during WWI) — funded by the Belarus-Russia Union State.

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