Red defeat in Belarus Xmas 'star wars'

Star of Bethlehem on New Year tree, Maladzyechna, Belarus, 2018 Image copyright Eduard Balanchuk
Image caption 'Following yonder star'

The spirit of Christmas has won through in Belarus, where a campaigner has persuaded a city council to put the traditional Star of Bethlehem atop its official festive fir tree, in place of a Communist-era red star.

Local historian Lyavon Tsimokhin raised the alert after passing through Central Square in Maladzyechna, north-west of the capital Minsk, where he noticed a large five-pointed Kremlin Star - a symbol of Soviet power dating back to the days of dictator Joseph Stalin - perched on top of the tall, brightly-decorated tree, the RG news site reports.

The red steel-and-glass stars earned their name after Stalin ordered them installed on the towers of the Moscow Kremlin in the 1930s, to replace the copper two-headed eagles associated with the pre-revolutionary Tsarist regime.

Throughout the post-war period, the Kremlin star became associated with the New Year celebrations that the authorities promoted in an attempt to eclipse Christmas and Epiphany.

Image copyright Фёдор Гусляров/Wikimedia Commons
Image caption The Kremlin star was linked to New Year in Soviet symbolism

It can still touch a raw nerve with many people in former Soviet countries who associate it with Communist repression.

This is particularly the case in Belarus, where the pro-Russian government often praises the Soviet legacy - down to the interior minister dressing in a Stalinist secret-police uniform at a parade last year. Local human-rights campaigner Eduard Balanchuk certainly lost no time in making his feelings felt.

'Thank you for listening'

Image copyright Ruslan Kiselev/YouTube
Image caption 'Red star at night': the Central Square Kremlin star didn't last long

"I went to the district executive committee to get the ruby-red 'Kremlin' star taken down," he told RG. "The five-pointed star is not a Christian symbol, and it violates the rights of believers who are celebrating Christmas."

Protests of this sort do not often prevail in Belarus at either government or local level, as Mr Balanchuk knows well. The veteran activist spent 15 days in jail last year for monitoring a peaceful protest as an official representative of the Belarusian Helskini Committee human-rights group.

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On this occasion he was pleased to thank the committee's deputy chief, Alyesya Lukouskaya, for "listening to us. Now the Star of Bethlehem has pride of place".

Happy to be the bearer of good news, he added that the festive fir tree on Old Town Square is also crowned by a traditional Christmas star.

Image copyright Eduard Balanchuk
Image caption The Old Town Square also has a Star of Bethlehem

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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