Address at the memorial ceremony at the Russian Chapel
Vršič, 31.7.2011 | press release, speech
|The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, attended a memorial ceremony at the Russian Chapel at Vršič.|
In his address, given on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of building the Chapel, the President spoke of the consequences of the World War I and of recent European efforts for an open and fair society.
During the ceremony, President Türk and the Speaker of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Mr Boris Gryzlov, placed wreaths upon the tomb of Russian soldiers, the prisoners of war who died in a snow avalanche when building the road over the Vršič pass.
Address by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, at the memorial ceremony at the Russian Chapel
Vršič, 31 July 2011
Dear Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Mr Boris Gryzlov;
Chairman of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Pavel Gantar;
Head of the delegation of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Mr Vladimir Kulakow;
Bishop Kirill of Stavropol and Nevinnomyssk of the Russian Orthodox Church;
dear guests from the Russian Federation and from the Republic of Slovenia,
dear Mayor of Kranjska gora, Jure Žerjav;
members of the Slovenian-Russian Society,
We are gathered here today at this small but beautiful Russian Chapel to jointly commemorate the tragedy that occurred nearby 95 years ago. At that time, some 300 Russian prisoners of war tragically perished on these mountain slopes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who organised today's ceremony. I would also like to express my gratitude to the inhabitants of Kranjska gora and everyone else who has taken care of this chapel over the decades, thereby preserving the memory of the many Russian soldiers who faced the fate of being prisoners of war, and those who suffered and died in these mountains.
In our time, the road over Vršič – also known as the Russian Road – is a path that connects people and enables them to enjoy the views of this mysterious and beautiful mountains. But let us not forget that, nine decades ago, this was a road of suffering and war, a war that was one of the greatest disasters ever caused by man. The Soča Front was among the most hopeless of the First World War's many fronts. In the military operations that took place there, approximately one million soldiers met their death, and millions of tragedies befell countless families throughout Europe – from the Atlantic to the Urals.
The First World War was not a disaster that defies comprehension solely on account of the number of victims and devastation it caused, but also due to its consequences, which poisoned the conscience of the nations of Europe. It heralded the unprecedented militarisation of society. A cult of violence and death prevailed. All the twentieth century's many forms of totalitarianism, in one way or another, have their roots in the First World War. It was these consequences that defined the spiritual horizons of the post-war period and paved the way for further destruction and the Second World War; all of these consequences have left their mark on Europe and the world to the present day.
This is the mental picture that we must bear in mind on the occasion of today's ceremony. We need to be aware of how precious international peace is – a peace that we currently enjoy in Europe – and how serious our endeavours must be in order to preserve and strengthen this peace. We place high expectations on all our international institutions, including the United Nations and the European Union, which were indeed established for the purpose of preventing further conflict.
However, we must do more. Earlier this year, I proposed that a European path of peace be established along the entire Soča Front — from the Alps to the Adriatic, from Bovec to Devin: a path that would combine all the previous initiatives proposed in Slovenia and Italy, as well as contribute some additional content. This will result in a pan-European peace project which provides all the nations of Europe a space for remembrance and recollection – those who fought each other at the Soča Front and in the Great War, and those who today work together for a peaceful and prosperous Europe. I am delighted that this idea has been welcomed by the President of the Republic of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, and supported by many European statesman leaders. Let us join forces, so that the memory of the Soča Front can take its place in the mosaic of efforts for a common, peaceful and mature European present and future.
But there is still much more to be done. We must be steadfast in rejecting all forms of political violence and all political and religious motives that incubate aggression. We must overcome the current examples of racism, xenophobia and the hatred of others – of those who are different. We must repudiate all forms of extremism, whether ideological or religious. We must refuse any attempts to recall the demons of the past.
A week ago, we were taken aback by the sight of the mass murder of innocent people in Oslo, Norway. Horrified by this indescribable tragedy, we should reflect on the direction in which the Europe of today is heading. We must activate all instruments of democracy, as well as any intellectual and social potential, in order to preserve and promote our freedom, human rights and peace. We must fight daily for an open and just society – through political prudence and wisdom, constant endeavours for the respect of human rights and the principle of non-discrimination. However, in order to succeed, we need a higher standard of democracy and a more resolute political leadership than we have today.
These political tasks constitute a historic test of Europe' maturity. They must be tackled in every country. Indeed, in every country, including Slovenia, we must arrive at real solutions. Moreover, within the European Union, we must reaffirm the recognition — more now than ever before — that this growing European family is also a community that cherishes the values of democracy, ethnical and cultural equality and solidarity, and is capable of rejecting racism – the old European sin – in all its contemporary manifestations. And above all, Europe must not allow racism and the intolerance of foreigners to infiltrate the words and deeds of European politicians.
Today, Europe also needs true partnerships – with the United States, with its neighbours and, in particular, with the Russian Federation. Indeed, it is the partnerships that exist between the member states of the European Union and NATO, and the Russian Federation that now offer historically important opportunities. Let us take advantage of them, because history will not judge us kindly if we squander them. Let us follow the spirit of last year's NATO-Russian Summit in Lisbon and develop a new level of cooperation in order to consolidate our common security. Let us develop economic relations that pave the way towards rapid modernisation. Let us assist the Russian Federation in its aspirations to become a full member of the World Trade Organisation. And above all, let us facilitate the free movement of all people through visa liberalization and a universal flow of ideas and knowledge. Such a partnership will make us all safer, economically stronger, and better in terms of our political and general culture.
Slovenia and Russia have already developed a high level of mutual respect and trust, as well as excellent cooperation in all areas. We share a century-long mutual affection, cultural similarities and common experiences – also negative experiences, such as those involving war and totalitarian rule. But today, the hard times are behind us; as for the good of the future, we must pool our efforts. Together, we stand a much better chance of success. The annual gatherings at the Russian Chapel under Vršič are also an expression of our commitment to such endeavours.
Dear guests, dear citizens of Slovenia,
The great Russian novelist Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy wrote in his diary in 1905 that "the true progress of a society rests on increasing the cohesion of its people". This is a significant and visionary idea. Also today, perhaps now even more so than ever before, the progress of any society depends on cohesion. Let us not allow the level of unity already achieved to be undermined by violence, political or religious extremism, or the denial of human rights. Let us exercise solidarity in our common struggle. Let us become an even more cohesive society.
At the international level, our common progress, more than ever before, also depends on cohesion, the free flow of ideas, and on the partnerships between our countries – partnerships that will ensure a long-lasting peace and new levels of prosperity.
We also foster this spirit of cohesion through our annual gathering at the Russian Chapel under Vršič. Let the message of these gatherings gain strength every year. Long live the friendship between Slovenia and Russia.