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100th anniversary of Russian chapel at Vršič Pass

July 30, 2016, The Vršič Pass, Kranjska Gora

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.

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.

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.”

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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.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, friends. Thank you very much for inviting us.

I am very glad to be visiting once again friendly Slovenia, where guests from Russia always find a very warm welcome. Visiting this place, the St Vladimir Russian Chapel is a moving experience for me and for all my compatriots.

It was erected one hundred years ago to the day to honour the memory of Russian soldiers who tragically lost their lives here during the First World War. The fact that it was erected by Russian soldiers in memory of their fallen comrades is remarkable.

It is an established fact that about 10,000 Russian soldiers died in this prisoner of war camp alone from strenuous work, hunger and deprivation.

When I came here and saw this modest chapel I thought: “Among those who built this modest structure, who could have thought that in one hundred years we will gather here to remember those who fell in the First World War?” I do not think that any of them could have imagined it.

Nevertheless, we are here today, which is due to the representatives of various confessions, including the Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as the Muslim community. Credit also goes to many generations of Kranjska Gora residents and Slovenians.

I would like to whole-heartedly thank Slovenia and Slovenians on behalf of Russia and on my personal behalf for what you are doing to preserve the memory of the victims that all of us, including Russia, sacrificed for the victory in the First, as well as the Second World War.

I say it again: Thank you, Slovenia!

The road across the pass was built by Russian soldiers, and is called the Russian Road for a reason. This chapel has become a symbol of friendship between the people of Russian and Slovenia, a symbol of our shared commitment to peace, cooperation and prosperity.

Today, the President of Slovenia and I will unveil in Ljubljana a monument to Russian and Soviet soldiers who fell in Slovenia during the two world wars. It will remind us of the dedication of the Russian soldiers and the Soviet Union’s decisive contribution to the liberation of Europe from Nazism, the immortal exploit of the victory generation. This monument will reflect our common principled opposition to any attempts to distort or rewrite history and justify crimes that had cost lives to millions of people.

It is for this reason that together we will continue awareness-raising efforts, primarily among the younger generation. It is important that we not only remember the horrors of war, but work together to promote mutual understanding, trust and security in Europe and across the world.

Today, during talks with the President of Slovenia, we will not fail to outline new promising projects to develop our relations across the board.

I would like to conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Slovenian authorities, members of the Slovenia-Russia Friendship Association and other civil society groups, as well as all Slovenians for their caring attitude towards our shared history and remembering Russians who were involved in the tragic events that took place on Slovenia land.

I would like to thank you for the sincere commitment and efforts to strengthen European unity, which should serve as a foundation for the future of Europe.

Thank you.

Chairman of Slovenia-Russia Friendship Association Saša Geržina (retranslated): Distinguished guests, dear friends, welcome to this extraordinary place.

Following a long-standing tradition, we have gathered here, near the Russian Chapel, to mark its 100th anniversary, and honour the memory of the sons of Russia, prisoners of war who died during the First World War. I would like to thank everyone who came here today.

It is a great honour for us that two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Borut Pahor, alongside other important guests, honoured this celebration with their presence. Once again, let me express my sincere gratitude to all who supported us, who generously volunteered to help us through all these years, especially the elder of our Association, Saša Slavec. We have been working together for 25 years. Today is your day, too.

We are proud that over the last decade the Russian Chapel has become a symbol that shows with so much clarity the senselessness of war and the need for peace, cooperation and close communication between the people.

In this connection, I would like to express special thanks to several generations of Kranjska Gora residents who have been taking care of this unique Russian monument for a century. I hope that the presidents present here will forgive me, but I must say that this care has nothing to do with politics, but an expression of humanity that knows no boundaries, a reflection of brotherly love that still inspires us.

Glory to the fallen sons of Russia.

July 30, 2016, The Vršič Pass, Kranjska Gora