Minsk, April 12, Interfax - The crosses dismantled on the orders of authorities in the Kuropaty forest were not duly registered and have nothing to do with commemorating victims of the Stalinist regime, the Belarusian Ministry of Forestry said.
"These installations are not reflected in the existing property passport and have nothing to do with 'the perpetuation of the memory of Stalin terror victims'. This is confirmed by numerous archaeological research," the Ministry of Forestry said in a statement published on its official website.
"Therefore, statements about "insulting the memory" and so on made by certain activists have virtually no historic basis and essentially, they deliberately mislead the public," the ministry said.
The Borovlyany (Barauliany) forestry service dismantled the crosses in the period from April 4 - 9 as part of scheduled works conducted in implementation of Paragraph 10 of the concept of the historical and cultural property preservation area, and in compliance with Government Decree N675 and the Culture Code, it said.
The first stage of works that envisaged erecting the Kuropaty Memorial and marking the existing public path in the forest finished in the area of historical and cultural property in November 2018. "The works conducted in April 2019 are an extension to beautification works in this area," the Belarusian ministry said.
All crosses earlier erected in the territory in accordance with the law were preserved during the works, it added. "Inside the memorial area one can find, among other things, one of the first crosses, which is indicative of the government's very special attitude toward preservation of memory," it said.
As reported earlier, crosses installed by opposition activists last summer were removed in the morning of April 4.
Belarusian Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and several legislators and opposition activists, including Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, condemned 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. The victims were people of various ethnic origins and nationalities, including Russians, Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, and, naturally, Belarusians. The memorial site occupies an area of 15 ha and is protected by the government.