Vladimir Putin and President of Slovenia Borut Pahor took part in a memorial ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of a Russian chapel built near the Vršič Pass in memory of Russian soldiers who died there during the First World War.
Vršič Pass, all photos by Marijan Zlobec
In July 1915, a camp for Russian prisoners of war was set up near the city of Kranjska Gora, and its inmates built the road across the Vršič Pass. In March 1916, more than 300 people died there in an avalanche. To honour their memory, the prisoners erected a small wooden chapel near their barracks in the same year.
All in all, some 10,000 people died in the camp in 1915–1917 from harsh working conditions and hunger. In 1920, their remains were moved to a common grave by the chapel, and an obelisk with an inscription “To the sons of Russia” was erected over it in the 1930s.
Saša Geržina in Kranjska Gora
During the memorial ceremony, Vladimir Putin and Borut Pahor, accompanied by the Chairman of Slovenia-Russia Friendship Association Saša Geržina, laid wreaths at the obelisk.
The Russian Chapel is currently listed as a monument of culture and is protected by the state, while the adjacent territory has been transformed into a memorial park. The road from Kranjska Gora to the Vršič Pass is called the “Russian Road.”
President of Slovenia Borut Pahor (retranslated):President Vladimir Putin, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen!
We have gathered here because we care. We care about the Russian prisoners of war who were unfortunate to be buried under an avalanche one hundred years ago. But even before that their souls and lungs were overpowered by the frightening smell of gunpowder, suffering and death.
We care about all the innocent victims of the Great War. On the gloomy Soča Front alone wide streams of blood of hundreds of thousands of people fighting on both sides poured into the blue-green waters of the Soča, celebrated by Slovenian poet Simon Gregorčič.
We care about the victims of all wars. The First World War, also called the Great War, was followed by the Second World War, an even more terrible conflict that left behind it a legacy of sorrow and a moral burden that knows no equal.
Since the First World War was followed by the Second, the idea that a third conflict of this kind might ensue seems quite logical. People who have gathered here today and people across the world do care whether we will have war or peace.
We do not believe war to be inevitable in the logic of history. It is our belief that war and peace always result from political choices. We refuse to believe that war is inevitable, and take responsibility for ensuring peaceful settlement of disputes — all of them. We want peace to be permanent. We have gathered here, because we care.
The world is changing. It seems that the very notions of war and peace no longer have the same meaning they always had. As the world faces new kinds of violence, it is becoming impossible to draw a clear line between war and peace.
New forms of terrorism in today’s world create ever-increasing security threats even in the societies and countries that we consider to be peaceful and safe.
Time and again after every tragedy in brotherly France or Germany or Russia, in the Middle East or anywhere in the world we strongly emphasise that this will not make us give up our free and open way of life. Nevertheless, it is true that this frantic violence not only causes dismay, but also makes us anxious.
The problem with radical terrorism today is that it is ruthless, meaningless and purposeless. Behind this violence there is no political programme that we could discuss or negotiate upon peacefully. At least, this is how we currently see it. Its irrational nature is something new, and that causes us the most concern.
Nevertheless, we will not give up. We will find new, innovative ways to ensure peace and security in response to new forms of extremist and cruel terrorism. This is possible. We will succeed on a single condition: if all freethinking people who aspire to freedom come together. The challenge we are facing is so great, that we need to overcome even the greatest obstacles and the most profound differences between us to address this challenge. We need dialogue, dialogue and even more dialogue. This is not easy and never will be. We will have to overcome mutual distrust and many other barriers, but the objective we are pursuing is vital, and our intentions are noble. We must find ways to ensure permanent peace and security.
Mr. President, ladies ad gentlemen. I am standing in front of a Russian Chapel that has been here for one hundred years. It is a reminder that peace is always possible but is never a given. The main force behind peace, apart from the memory of the horrors of war, should be the dream of building a wonderful future for our children, all of them, be they Slovenian or Russian, regardless of their origin, colour of their skin or religion. I would like to whole-heartedly thank everybody who has been taking care of the Chapel. You have made a very personal contribution to the cause of peace and friendship between the people of Slovenia and Russia, and to some extent between all the peoples of the world. The Russian Chapel near the Vršič Pass is a small, but invaluable contribution to the idea of peace and friendship.
From here today, we extend our greetings to the whole world. Let us live in peace and friendship.
Thank you for your attention.”