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Belarus: Island of Tears

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Island of Tears | Belarus | Europe

[Visited: May 2014]

After walking around the few streets of the Old Town of Minsk, which in reality are reconstructed buildings from after the Second World War, I walk to the Island of Tears. Here, a tall, chapel-like monument has been created to commemorate the Belorussian soldiers who died in the war the Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan. The superpower was defeated, proving once again that no matter how big your army, conquering a country and subduing it, is not that easy. History is, of course, full of examples of big powers finding their much smaller enemy impossible to defeat. With all the war memorials in Belarus, most of which are erected to commemorate the suffering and final victory in the Great Patriotic War, it is something else to see a monument for those fallen in a lost, more recent, war.

Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Looking up the chapel surrounded by statues of wailing women on the Island of Tears

Loud music comes from the other side of the river Svislach in which the island is located. It is early summer, and time to celebrate life. The contrast could not be bigger. The chapel is open on all sides, and is flanked by statues of women in mourning: the mothers, daughters, and widows of the fallen soldiers in a far away country. Their faces look solemn, some desperate even, silent witnesses of grief, of suffering for a cause that was much less heroic than the fight against Nazism, and which is normally, preferably, forgotten. Countries tend not to boast about lost wars. Inside, on the walls of the the four spaces, the names of fallen soldiers are engraved, with the inevitable fake flowers. Iron threads hang down from the ceiling far above, on which memory bells hang in the floor, together with sand from the battlegrounds in Afghanistan. There are frescoes on the walls, on which the sunlight is falling. My eyes go over the names: behind each name, and try to imagine the suffering for the families behind each and every one of them upon receiving the fatal news.

Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Detail of the face of one of the women at the chapel for the Afghanistan War

The monument has a heavy atmosphere of sorrow around it. Still, when I walk to the gilded statue of an angel at the far side of a lane, I wonder about those who died in Afghanistan - the fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who died at the hand of the invaders. Did they not deserve a memorial, too? A word, a sign of regret for the terrible invasion? They had been attacked full force by a superpower, they had suffered greatly in the ill-fated attack on their country. When I reached the angel, I noticed it is actually "weeping": water drips down from its face into a small pool below, while it looks at the monument a little higher up. Yes, this is the Island of Tears, although its official name if the Island of Courage and Grief. You could say there is a little too much drama here. This is the guardian angel of Belarus. The beat of the music from across the river makes the ground vibrate when I walk around the islet one more time in the early summer evening light, wondering why man is unable to prevent wars, and always regrets them when it is too late.

Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Looking up the chapel with the statues of wailing women
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus):
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Names of deceased soldiers inside the chapel on the Island of Tears
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Sad face of a woman sculpted around the chapel on the Island of Tears
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): The chapel seen from the inside, looking up
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Somber looking women representing those who lost loved ones during the Afghanistan War
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Chapel with weeping women on the Island of Tears
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): One of the weeping women sculpted around the chapel on the Island of Tears
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Silhouette of the weeping angel facing the chapel
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Statue of wailing woman and chapel of Island of Tears
Picture of Island of Tears (Belarus): Religious sculpture at the entrance of the Island of Tears

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