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Case Study:

Kurapaty (1937-1941): NKVD Mass Killings in Soviet Belarus

Last modified: 1 April 2008
Alexandra Goujon

March 2008

Cite this item

Alexandra Goujon, Kurapaty (1937-1941): NKVD Mass Killings in Soviet Belarus, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 27 March 2008, accessed 30 January 2015, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Kurapaty-1937-1941-NKVD-Mass-Killings-in-Soviet-Belarus, ISSN 1961-9898

After 1989, several crosses were posted in the forest by civic and religious organizations and by citizens in remembrance of a relative killed during the Stalinist repression.

Belarus became independent in August 1991 when the USSR collapsed. The political, social and economic transformations led the question of Kurapaty collective memory aside from official preoccupations. In 1993, Kurapaty was mentioned on the State register of historical and cultural values in Belarus as a historical monument of international importance. During the 1990s, rallies and meetings were still organized at Kurapaty, each November on Dziady, by political and civic opposition groups.

In January 1994, when United States President Bill Clinton came to Belarus with a "thank you" visit after Belarus agreed to ship nuclear weapons back to Russia, he visited the Kurapaty forest. He presented a small granite monument "To Belarusians from the American people", perhaps the first post-Soviet cultural artifact from the United States on Belarusian soil. The monument was damaged several times by unidentified vandals and re-erected in January 2002 (Charter 97, January 15, 2002).

After Alexander Lukashenko came to power as the Belarusian president in July 1994, Kurapaty is still a site of civic memory but ceases to be part of an official memory. There was no official memorial established by the Belarusian authorities. A new wave of civic memories began in September 2001 when, under a resolution signed by the Belarusian president, the expansion of the Minsk beltway began. The Civic initiative « For saving Kurapaty memorial » was created by historians, archeologists, journalists, civic activists for protesting against the expansion of the beltway which would destroy a significant part of the Kurapaty burial ground, and for creating a Memorial in Kurapaty. For several weeks, Belarusian opposition groups and non-governmental organizations had been protesting. The representatives of youth organizations under the initiative « Youth for saving of Kurapaty » guarded round the clock at the Kurapaty site.

After two weeks of protest, the Belarusian authorities sent riot police and bulldozers to tear down a tent camp set up near Kurapaty by youth opposition groups. Police detained some 30 protesters, which got jail sentences and fines. Small protest rallies by opposition activists took place at Kurapaty in the following days, but the road-reconstruction work proceeded under police protection (RFE/RL Newsline, November 13, 2001). On June 3, activists marked the end of a 250-day vigil at the site with a gathering in the Kurapaty forest outside Minsk. About 30 opposition activists delivered a petition to the Belarus government, demanding that the Kurapaty site be given adequate protection.

After theses protests, the Belarusian authorities expressed several times their unwillingness to engage themselves in the Kurapaty memorial construction. On December 2001, deputies of the House of Representatives (lower Chamber of the Parliament) voted against the inclusion into the budget-2002 of a provision, envisaging the financial support of the Kurapaty memorial construction. Speaker Vadim Popov reported that although “constructing the memorial complex at Kurapaty could be a good idea, it must not be funded at the expense of the State” (Charter 97, December 17, 2001). In May 2003, Tadeush Strujetsky, the head of the Department for science and national art at the Ministry of Culture, said at a press conference dedicated to the International museum day, that the state doesn’t intend to memorialize Kurapaty mass executions site in the next few years.

In October 2004, the Jewish community of Belarus installed a monument in memory of the Jews and other nationals who were murdered in the Kurapaty forest. The brown granite stone has two inscriptions in Yiddish and in Belarusian: "To our fellow-believers—Jews, Christians and the Muslims—the victims of Stalinism from the Belarusian Jews."

Kurapaty site regularly witnesses acts of vandalism. This was notably the case in November 2005 when the Clinton’s bench (a monument “To Belarusians from the American people”), a memorial plate “To victims of the Stalin regime” had disappeared, and many crosses and other memorial signed defiled (Charter 97, December 8, 2005). In December 2005, other acts of vandalism occurred. A case was initiated on charges relating violation of the Article 341 of the Belarusian Criminal Code (defilement of buildings and willful damage). But, according to some lawyers, law-enforcing agencies had given too mild legal treatment to the acts of vandalism which could have been assess under the Articles 130 (incitement of racial, national or religious enmity or discord) and 344 (intentional destruction or damage to historical or cultural monuments. On November 20, 2005, the United States and the European Union made a joint statement related to vandalism at Kurapaty in which they mentioned that "vandalizing these memorials dishonors the memory of those victims, and disrespects the Belarusian people as a whole". On December 1, ambassadors of the countries of the European Union, accredited in Belarus, visited the memorial area in Kurapaty to show respect and pay homage to the victims of repression.

Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence® - ISSN 1961-9898