01 February 2011

Monumental Brest

Brest is very close to the Polish border, and some say it is the most western of Belarusian cities because of this proximity. I'm not sure that Minsk isn't more western, but it certainly does feel more insular, tucked away in the heart of the country. Maybe because it's so close to the outside world, Brest has a decidedly monumental flavor, as though it is trying to prove itself as truly communist and nationalist. This is the statue of "Valour," a soldier's head carved from rock, an overwhelmingly large statement about the bravery of soviet men in the face of western aggression.
Brest fortress was the largest fortification in 19th century, its walls having a circumference of 30 kilometers. It was a major site in both world wars, and two regiments of Russian soldiers are famed for defending the fort for a month against an all out German attack. It is largely ruined, and it serves as a large war memorial. This is the entrance, which is unabashedly soviet.
This was the one place that we saw tourists in Belarus, but they all seemed to be either Belarusian or Russian. They come to Brest, I think, for reassurance and to experience larger-than-life reminders of the pride taken in persistence. After all, Belarus refuses to change. A lot of that has to do with the leadership and the heavy police and military influence in the county, but it also has to do with a people who chose a different path than others did, and are trying hard to make it work.
In the cold, cement-block district where we were staying, this strange thing sat beside the road. It is very Belarusian to me, because it feels like a vision from another era that overlaps with the present.
Passing through the fortress gate, soldier's songs and recordings of bombs and machine guns echo in the air. It's a haunting thing, and it is designed, I think, to create a sense of loss - a sense that everything that was once powerful and great about the soviet union has crumbled around this little country, that they are alone in the world, hemmed in by enemies who have attacked them before and old friends who have abandoned them.

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