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6 Feb, 2014 16:13

CNN enrages Belarus with ‘ugliest monument’ nod to revered WWII memorial

CNN enrages Belarus with ‘ugliest monument’ nod to revered WWII memorial

A CNN list compiling the 'world’s ugliest monuments' has been decried as 'sacrilege' in Belarus for including the country’s most important World War II monument. CNN apologized for the offense caused by the list, which it ascribed to a “contributor.”

The administration of the Brest Fortress site has demanded that the broadcaster issue an apology for including the monument, which is often referred to simply as “Courage.”

“What they [CNN] did was vile and blasphemous. [Fine], so you cannot relate to the monument. Indeed it is not just some work of art, but more than anything, a monument to those who died. Creating a negative list of such monuments is, in my opinion, out of bounds,” Gregory Bysyuk, director of the memorial complex, told Interfax news agency.

“At the moment we do not know where to file a complaint,” Bysyuk said, adding CNN’s actions at the very minimum called for “a formal and public apology.”

The CNN list throws together a motley assortment of monuments, from a chintzy Michael Jackson statue in London, to a hydra-like depiction of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Junior, in Ohio.

A monument given to the United States by Russia to commemorate 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing also does not miss the author’s acerbic write up. The New Jersey-based monument, called “The Struggle Against World Terrorism,” is annotated with the phrase "To the struggle against kitsch tributes."

A Belarussian guard of honour stands at the memorial at Hero fortress in the western city of Brest, some 360 km southeast of Minsk, June 22, 2013. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

But while a revered civil rights leader, Pope John Paul II and a September-11 monument showed the authors were more than willing to poke fun at sacred Western cows for alleged-aesthetic crimes, the characterization of the Courage Monument was viewed as beyond the pale in Belarus.

Despite the fact that the Soviet Union was one of the “big three” allied powers, the author says the stern-faced Belarusian emerging from the mountainous block appears as if “he’s about to thump the West into submission before hurling North America at the sun.”

The writer glibly adds: “He also serves as a reminder not to mess with Belarus - ever. Others say he simply looks constipated.”

Bysyuk finds himself at a loss for words at how sarcasm could be employed regarding such a grave subject matter, viewing the comments as “simply horrible.”

“I think Americans simply do not know what war is and don’t read up on history. They simply don’t know what the Brest Fortress is.”

When asked how he came upon the list, Bysyuk said, as an avid reader of news on the internet, he simply stumbled upon the list. He later received a call from an upset woman in the capital of Minsk who also told him about the article.

“It’s good that people are not indifferent, and even better that it wasn’t a veteran [who called.] I can imagine if some veterans stumbled upon such a list, they would simply have a heart attack.”

Bysyuk says he will take the matter up with the country’s Ministry of Culture on Friday, though he does not imagine it will have much impact.

Belarussian guards of honour carry boxes with the remains of two soviet soldiers killed in 1941 during their reburial at the Hero fortress in the western city of Brest, some 360 km southeast of Minsk, June 21, 2013. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

Some, including Nikolay Cherghinets, chairman of the Union of Writers of Belarus and head of the Public Council on Morality, was far less reserved in his criticism of the broadcaster.

“Cases of political adventurism are taken with particular pain in our country. Those who give such a ranking to the monument don’t know what it means to be met with the face of real fascism. In Belarus during the time of the Great Patriotic War (Eastern Front), every third man died. Our relationship to the Brest Fortress is special,” he said.

Cherghinets believes the article was not only insulting to former Soviet states, but to all progressive peoples whose children fought and died to stem the tide of fascism.

"We believe that CNN’s statement is a mockery to the memory of all those who fought for victory in the Great Patriotic War,” he said.

Anatoly Novikov, from the National Council of veterans’ affairs in the country, said there are those who resist all efforts to “perpetuate the memory of Soviet soldiers.”

“If the author of this list has at least the remnants of a conscience, they should apologize and correct their mistake."

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet soldiers defended Brest Fortress against the Nazi war machine during the first days of the war. Having held out longer than expected, the fort became a symbol of Soviet resistance and was granted the title of Hero Fortress in 1965. A Russian film dramatizing the event was released in 2010.

On Thursday, CNN offered the following editor’s note to clarify its position: “We understand that the inclusion of the Brest Hero-Fortress in this article from a contributor has caused offense in Belarus and Russia. This was unintended and we apologize. The article was intended to be a light-hearted look at monumental architecture worldwide. CNN recognizes that the monument is of solemn significance to many people honoring the sacrifice of soldiers.