It so happened that Joseph Stalin, in whose time mass repressions were carried out in the USSR, was a Georgian. This, of course, has no relation to today's story, but attention to one of the places of the Great Terror - Kurapaty near Minsk - has been attracted recently by the newspaper "SB - Belarus Today", and with good intentions. Let's talk about motivated and reasons for that with the chief editor of the country's main state newspaper Pavel Yakubovich. He is now in our studio.
Pavel Izotovich, hello.
Pavel Yakubovich, chief editor of the Belarus Presidential Administration's institution "Publishing office of the newspaper "Sovetskaya Belorussiya":
The topic of Kurapaty was actualized by SB - Belarus today. Just this week we have seen on air your round table. Although this topic has been used by numerous forces over the past 25-27 years. "SB - Belarus Today", as I understand it, would like to pay public's attention to this subject and maybe even a little bit smoothen some tensions. Or how to explain that in the correct way? What are the motives?
You can talk about motives, but I just do not agree that this story, this date and this place is used by numerous forces in different ways. It happened that someone used it, but the state, to our deep regret, has been silent for years. And if there is a vacuum, many different versions appear that even come into a contradiction with the very idea. The whole idea was that Kurapaty is not a platform for the demonstration of some political opinions (good or bad does not matter in this case). This is a cemetery, but with a special status - the tragic cemetery, a place where the victims of political, illegal, immoral terror of Stalin's time lie. That whole era was controversial and Kurapaty is too, because there are buried priests, atheists, peasants and aristocrats, commanders of the Red Army and NKVD secret police officers, which had been previously engaged in investigations and enforcement of sentences. There is such a complex historical situation. Now a lot of people shout: "What are the names of executioners?" I agree with this approach and say that executioners were such people as Stalin and he created a system that encouraged, ordered, forced NKVD as a party tool to perform these repression and execution instructions. It was done by the NKVD. But they themselves were victims of the same thing. This is an ax, which was taken off the wall, as in Dostoevsky's work, and this ax began to chop their own heads.
Why shouldn't we dig in archives but just forget and reconcile?
No, we can't put the question like this. Firstly, there are white spots. And we still need historians to fill them. For historians, for writers and sociologists this period is as vast as space, it is necessary to study it as deeply as possible.
Modern historians might not understand much.
The task is to plunge into the past to understand the future. Not let that happen again. Therefore, for historians, sociologists, for those interested the archives should be opened. Another thing is that some ordinary citizens would like authorities to name executioners. I'll tell you a little story. There was a time when the government changed, the Soviet Union collapsed and the parliamentary commission was established in Minsk to investigate the activities of the Emergency Committee. There was a group, myself included, I was an activist, a well-known journalist, I was included in the composition as the press officer of the group. There was also Mikhail Marinich - a man of extreme kindness and sensitivity. And the situation was unclear. This commission was given more rights than Dzerzhinsky or Trotsky or Robespierre. According to the status of the commission we could prosecute, remove officials. Marinich asked me: "What do I do? It is necessary to arrest them?" He was also the Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade. I told him: "Misha, do you have a visa?" He said yes. I said: "Go some time." Then in 1991, to go abroad you needed some extra important reason. He left me all forms, facsimiles and so on and left. In an hour, people came from the Minsk City Executive Committee. They told me that we needed to remove some people and arrest some too. I calmed them down. And suddenly a parliamentary delegation comes and says: "Mr Yakubovich, since you are authorized, let's open the KGB archives and see. That's what I said then: "Guys, believe me, I'd give much to see that history, who wrote denunciations against me and so on. But I cannot do it. I will not shoulder this responsibility to open these archives. What would happen if all Belarusians find out about who accused their own relatives?"
You believe Belarusians would avenge each other for grandmothers and grandfathers?
Yes, exactly. And what will we get? Descendants will war against descendants, moreover those who don't have any relation to affairs of those days. This is the most frightening thing. We cannot renew this historical drama and war against each other for who is wrong and who is right. History dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's.
And we need to find some reconciliation.
We need to know. We are not talking about reconciliation. It's about understanding and national cleansing. Understanding that that was a great tragedy. Moreover, it's false to say that Russian NKVD officers came to Belarus to kill Belarusians, as some young people with little knowledge of history think today. The Stalinist apparatus was not directed against any social group. It must be understood. It is not very difficult. If a person understands this, he will understand something else: that Kurapaty is a very grand and tragic place in the history of Belarus. And this is the place needs to be turned into a memorial so that the public and the state unite to understand one thing: we are the people of Belarus, we should love and respect each other, and think about how to make our state stronger, because today is a very important moment for all of us.
What is the importance of the moment? What happened today?
Now a number of circumstances have coincided. Our first feeling needs to be a response to the current circumstances. The complexity is economic and also political: the presence of Ukraine, which is a living example of the tragedy when political doctrines are quickly detached from real life and bloodshed happens. On the other hand, we see that we have contradictions with Russia at the high level but these will be sorted out as we work further. However, I see that a whole segment of Russian media, including television, are carrying out some work, almost preparatory work, for some events. There appear some conversations about the fact that Belarus is not a full-fledged state, that it is very good that people protest against decree number 3. Because before they said that Bandera fans protest in Belarus and now they already say that these protesters are people with progressive views. I see reverence and respect in these words. Some circles of Russia (someone is apparently behind them, someone finances them) are directly working to weaken Belarus' internal stability. Anyway, I do not really believe in approving words that sound from the western vector, because sometimes it is positive, and sometimes I even see some deliberate desire to use the complex and ambivalent situation and somehow pull us away from Russia, it is not very sensible, because it violates cooperative, human and other ties.
What do you mean? Most people love Russia and are pro-Russian. There is now a part of people who love Western Europe. What is there to hide? This is a normal thing. Western Europe is a developed part.
Both are normal.
But it may so happen that our Belarusians will be divided.
This is our greatest concern. When someone begins to show love for the European Union, some for Russia. I think the main thing for us is to take care of our own country and the future of our country. And other countries have not.
In other words, it is a national idea. Remember, during the Big Conversation with the President, at least five variants of the national idea were voiced by those present and all of them can be discussed. But the fact is that if we have so many options, there is no one obvious option that is indisputable.
The obvious alternative is: what do you love? - Belarus. - It loves you too. Here is our entire national idea, concentrated in a few words.
Whatever it is I like it.
In Western countries economy lies at the heart of the national idea.
It may be so in Belarus too. Just do not make the national idea artificially. Our national idea is to preserve the independence of Belarus and make Belarus stronger. And it all depends on our capabilities and it is in our hands. We all have to internally agree with this.
"Buy Belarusian products", so to speak, cannot be a national idea.
Of course not. Why buy something that is obviously worse because the manufacturer is lazy. Why buy bad shoes? Just because they are Belarusian?
So, we need to make shoes that are better than Italian.
Or worse anyway. And if is possible, but for some reason it does not work. I have recently read a story on Radio Svaboda - it is not my favorite site, but I read an interesting discussion between the journalist of Nasha Niva Mr Pankavets and social activist from Vitsebsk Mrs Karach. Pankovets said metaphorically that Lukashenko is anyway better than Moscow. Karach replied that Lukashenko is Moscow. But I don't agree, because Lukashenko is independence and the creation of all institutions of the state. It's been the case for 20 years. The more we tear this topic to pieces, the more is the danger that we become food for neighbors or for those wishing Belarus bad things and so on. That is the question, this is why we pay so much attention to Kurapaty. We're looking for some symbols, even tragic. Kurapaty is of course a tragic symbol (the cemetery cannot be a symbol). We are talking about joint suffering of the people of Belarus. The Belarusian nation should unite around common sense and self-preservation instinct. We have a country and we must overcome all sorts of likes and dislikes and think about the country. Just like a normal, sane person thinks about his house, because this is where his ancestors lived, he lives and his grandchildren will live. Everything else is superficial: symbols and slogans... The main thing is the people of Belarus, the Republic of Belarus.
We can endlessly talk with Mr Yakubovich about the national idea and mention Kurapaty in this sense. But most importantly, if I convey your thoughts correctly, now we need to be united or at least not let Belarusians be divided by the topic of Kurapaty, other topics, "candies" of the West, offensive behavior of Russia in the field of economy.
You're absolutely right. You conveyed my feelings exactly as I wanted to say.