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22 Dec, 2009 18:21

WWII memorial blown up in Georgia to be rebuilt in Moscow – Putin

The memorial to WWII veterans that was demolished in the Georgian city of Kutaisi earlier this month will be rebuilt in Moscow, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has declared.

The initiative to restore the memorial will be supported by the Moscow City Duma, writes RIA Novosti news agency, citing Andrey Metelsky, deputy chairman of the body.

The memorial to Georgians who died in the Second World War was taken down on December 19, according to official explanation, to make way for a building that will house parliament when it is relocated from the capital Tbilisi. When the 25-meter Glory Memorial was dynamited, two people – a woman and her eight-year-old daughter – were killed by accident.

Addressing a session of the government's presidium on Tuesday, Putin said the monument was of “artistic value”. However, he added, that was not the main point.

The Russian premier condemned the move, saying it was “another attempt to erase the former Soviet people's memory of their common and heroic past.”

“I believe it is possible to recreate this memorial in the capital of our former union state – Moscow,” Putin said.

Putin added, “Thankfully, the author of the monument [sculptor Merab Bedzenishvili] lives in Tbilisi and our specialists can help as well.”

The premier expressed hope that the Moscow government will manage to find a respectable place for the memorial to be rebuilt and the initiative will be supported by both Russian and Georgian communities.

“I am sure there will be enough people who would be willing to invest their money in order to erect a monument in Moscow to Georgians who perished in Great Patriotic War [WWII],”
he said. Putin added that he hoped that Georgian diaspora members will take the most active part.

The Prime Minister noted that despite measures being taken in Russia to support the veterans, “in some former USSR republics the process is quite the opposite.”

Russian MP Anatoly Korendyasev believes that the monument will enjoy a wide support.

”The monument that was demolished in Georgia was more than just a monument; it was the memory of the Georgian people. It is our duty, to honor the Georgian soldiers that fought for our common country, to restore justice,”
he said.

“I am sure that Prime Minister Putin's calls to re-erect the monument in Moscow will be hailed not only by the veterans of the Second World War, but also by the numerous Georgian Diaspora living in Russia.”

“During World War II, 700,000 Georgians went to the front line and a third of them died. Our sacred duty is to save the memory about the heroes of the Great Patriotic War,” said Vladimir Putin on Wednesday during a meeting on the possibility of rebuilding the monument in Moscow.

He also added that the creator of the memorial, sculptor Merab Berdzenishvili, might come under pressure from the Georgian government.

Berdzenishvili, in turn, told Itar-Tass in Tbilisi on Tuesday: "Unfortunately, neither the archives nor me have the blueprints of the Kutaisi memorial, and I have no energy to design the same monument anew. I am 80 years old. However, if a new memorial is planned in Kutaisi, Moscow or any other city in Georgia or Russia, I will be glad to provide consultations to specialists."

“We cannot allow rewriting of history”

Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS report that The Union of Georgians has also announced that it plans to a build a replica of the war memorial in Russia.

“At present, we are deciding where to build a replica of the monument demolished in Kutaisi – in Moscow or the Moscow region,” the union's president Mikhail Khubutia told the agency. “Many Georgian soldiers were killed in that war and we cannot allow the rewriting of history and demolishing of the memorial that honors soldiers of the Second World War.”

He said that currently the union “[is conducting] talks with the memorial sculptor Merab Berdzeneshvili.”

“As soon as the place for this monument is found we plan to restore it,” Khubutia concluded.

According to the union, over 1.5 million Georgians live in Russia.

Russian activists offer helping hand

Activists of Russia's Mestnye youth movement did not remain indifferent to the fate of the memorial either. They said they were ready to travel to Georgia to rebuild the Glory Memorial, Interfax agency reports.

“We are ready to arrange for our members to guard other World War II monuments in Georgian territory around-the-clock,” the movement's leader Tatiana Dmitriyeva is quoted as saying.

She said that now the group members are collecting evidence to prove violations of the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in order to ask the UN court at The Hague to order the payment of compensation to WWII veterans who live in Georgia.

“Earlier, countries that participated in World War II pledged to take care of military monuments located on their territory,” she added.

Demolition is “act of state vandalism”

Moscow has called the demolishment of the Georgian memorial an “act of state vandalism” that “insults the feelings of any civilized person.”

“Public protests in the country and the indignation of Georgian veterans were ignored,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement published Monday reads.

The ministry said the whole international community was defied by the incident.

Recently “the international community adopted a resolution at the UN General Assembly in which in which it expressed concern over continuous attempts to defile or vandalize monuments built in memory of those who fought against Nazism during World War II.”

“The blasphemy in Kutaisi is yet another shameful doing of the current Tbilisi leadership in its maniacal desire to erase the historical memory of its own people,” the ministry said.

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that the memorial was being “renovated” – not pulled down.

“The memorial in Kutaisi was damaged severely in the 1990s and that is why it requires the necessary rehabilitation works,” the Foreign Ministry said.

It dismissed an earlier statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on the situation around the memorial, calling the document an instance of “interference in Georgia's internal affairs.”

Russia’s remarks falling on deaf ears?

International relations analyst Natalia Narochnitskaya said that she is amazed at how no one in Europe is speaking out against the demolition of the monument.

“While Europe does not generally revile the memory of those who fought against Nazism, it has been practicing double standards of late,” she said. “For example, you may remember the situation with the memorial in Estonia. Nobody in Europe spoke out against it.”

“And the same thing is happening again today,” Narochnitskaya continued. “I'm amazed that European institutions, these workshops of democracy, which enjoy lecturing others on each and every subject, are keeping mum on this issue.”

Human rights activists are aslo puzzled by the international community’s silent reaction to the demolition of the memorial in the Georgian city of Kutaisi.

“Human rights activists around the world should speak loudly about this and other crimes of [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili,” the head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights Alexander Brod said, as quoted by ITAR-TASS.

“Why do we procrastinate?” questioned Brod, who is also a member of the Expert Council at the Commissioner on Human Rights in Russia and member of the Russia’s Public Chamber.

“There are more and more grounds for bringing charges against the incumbent regime in Georgia,” he said. “This is not a campaign against the Georgian people, but against the bloody and inhumane regime of the vandal dictator.”

Read also: Georgia's Saakashvili explodes his reputation