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How Stalin’s stay in Minsk changed city’s fate

These are shots of German newsreels from August 1941. Adolf Hitler is flying over occupied Minsk. He is looking towards the Government House and campus buildings from the window of his plane.

In four years, the same region faced another protagonist of World War II who stayed in Minsk. It was Joseph Stalin. The head of the Soviet Union rarely left the country, but it was a special case then.

The leader of the Communist party was going  to defeated Germany, to the Potsdam Conference, which was to decide the future of the new world. His way lay through Minsk. The visit of July 15, 1945 lasted only 25 minutes, but it became crucial for the capital of Belarus.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Minsk was a strategically important city for Stalin. In July 1919, he stayed in Minsk for five days as a commissioner of the Defense Board and guided the city's defense under the impending Polish intervention. According to contemporaries’ recollections, having learnt that Minsk was captured by the Nazis in June 1941, Stalin was frustrated for a few days. It should be admitted that allies in the anti-Hitler coalition understood the importance of Minsk on battlefields of World War II.

Immediately after Minsk’s liberation, which Stalin celebrated with military leaders as a momentous event, the leader received a congratulatory message from Winston Churchill.

In July 1945, the fate of Minsk as a new big city, political and industrial center was determined. Having approved Ponomarenko’s proposal [Panteleimon Ponomarenko was the First Secretary of the Belarusian Communist Party at that time], Stalin ordered to create large enterprises of all-Union importance - tractor and automobile factories with dozens, and later hundreds of thousands of workers, which would contribute to Minsk’s rapid rebuilding and development. The city got a new planning and a unique building system.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
The authors of one of the city guides written in English said that “the city was restored from ashes during Stalin’s days, and up to now, Minsk architecture and atmosphere reflect majestic aesthetics, which was appropriate to Stalin’s taste, better than any other place of the former USSR".

Thus, Minsk was being built in the Stalinist Empire style. In the postwar years, an eye pleasing architectural ensemble was erected on the place of destroyed buildings. Stalin wished to reward the western outpost of the Soviet empire for the resistance against the Third Reich.

In 1945 and 1948, there were two All-Union competitions for the creation of an ensemble on Tsentralnaya Square. The jury failed to choose the best project among 15 ones. A group of architects were entrusted with the designing of the ensemble. Mikhail Parusnikov was the head of the group.

It was a period of change in the socio-economic life as well. In 1947, Stalin initiated a monetary reform, with the rationing system abolished. A lot of industrial plants and canals were being built. Minsk was one of such cities.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
The main central highway of new Minsk was built as a gift for Stalin’s 70th anniversary, which was celebrated in 1949. In 1952, the highway got called Stalin Avenue. And a monument to the leader of the Soviet Union was unveiled on Tsentralnaya Square (today’s Oktyabrskaya Square).

Formation of Tsentralnaya Square was being carried out on the place of destroyed neighborhoods along former Sovietskaya Street. By 1950 the ruins of most of the buildings had already been removed; buildings of the former Dominican monastery were still standing there. According to the plans of architects, the monastery does not fit in the place where the monument to Stalin was supposed to be, which is why there was taken a decision to blow up those buildings as soon as possible.

At the moment, there is a project to reconstruct the Dominican church on its historical place, on the corner of Engelsa Street and Internatsionalnaya Street.

The monument to Stalin was inaugurated about six months before the death of the head of the Soviet Union. Later, the Palace of Trade Unions, the telegraph building and the building of the Executive Committee were erected on that area, but, unfortunately, a uniform architectural ensemble in the style of the main avenue of the 50s was never created.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev, the country's new leader, denounced the scope of his predecessor’s brutal repressions. Thus, there began a wave of de-Stalinization in the USSR.

In Minsk, the monument to the leader on Central Square was dismantled, Stalin Avenue became Lenin Avenue, and Stalin District was renamed Zavodskoy District (Factory District). The leader’s profile from one of the high reliefs on Victory Monument also disappeared.

But a reminder about the Stalin’s era was saved in Minsk. Thus, monumental portraits of the leader can be seen in the Zair Azgur Museum. Zair Azgur was a Belarusian sculptor and one of the creators of the most important monument to Stalin in Minsk.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Of course, there are tragic reminders of the massive repressions of the 1930s. For example, Kurapaty. It is a place where thousands of the executed were buried during those grim years. There are reminders connected with the first days of the Great Patriotic War. The famous complex Stalin Line, a chain of pre-war fortifications, opened in 2005. A bust of the leader was installed there.

Fretwork with Stalin's name remained on the facades of the Suvorov Military School. The names of the leaders and the classic writers of Marxism-Leninism are mentioned here. Stalin's name was not so popular in the 60-70s for obvious reasons, but it was restored in the early 2000s.

Some symbolic time marks remained on the buildings which are circling Privokzalnaya Square. There are bas-reliefs on their walls which have a form of trains, on which Stalin’s name was carved. The train is like a reminder of that Stalin’s train and that very crucial decision.

How Stalin’s stay in Minsk changed city’s fate