CNN has issued an apology for a story that ran this week calling the famous “Courage” Monument in Brest, Belarus “the world’s ugliest monument.” Not to be outcome on the stupidity scale, Russian Senator Igor Morozov has proposed a temporary ban on CNN (I guess until their tastes change in conformity with state demands). I do not happen to agree that such memorials should be immune from artistic or architectural criticism. Indeed, I have criticized some of our own memorials. However, I was most struck the harsh critique. I find the memorial to be refreshingly different from the usual flaming torch or sword. CNN however appears to have taken down the story, which raises concerns over withdrawing a piece due to unpopular opinions. I happen to disagree with the author, but what is the standard for post-publication deletion of opinion pieces? This was not racist or sexist or even categorically false. It was an opinion.
CNN’s Iain Aitch listed the stone soldier carving called Courage among others that he called “the world’s ugliest monuments,” suggesting that the face of a dying stone warrior was anger at the West or even “constipation.”
The monument was designed to commemorate the battle in the summer of 1941 at the start of the German attack under Operation Barbarossa on Russia. The fortress was defended against overwhelming odds by Soviet soldiers against the German Wehrmacht. The face represents the first Soviet soldiers who died in that seemingly hopeless struggle.
CNN released the following statement:
CNN has withdrawn the story “The world’s ugliest monuments” because it was not of the standard we would expect of a CNN report.
The story caused unnecessary upset in Russia and Belarus with its description of the Courage Monument in Brest, Belarus.
CNN apologizes for the unintended offense caused by an article from a contributor that was intended to be a humorous look at monumental architecture worldwide.
We recognize that the Courage Monument carries deep and significant symbolism in honoring the soldiers who gave their lives defending their nation.
I happen to like the monument which captures Soviet art styles and the sense of determined strength of the famed Soviet defenders.
It is far better than the memorial to the Second Division that is located near the White House at a prime location in Washington.
It is unimaginative and offers nothing in terms of its artistic expression. The Second Division deserves better as does the Washington Mall. I have been equally critical of the memorial at the Pentagon. I am also critical of the unimaginative and rather Prussian looking World War II memorial though it does have a good space and flow for visitors.
The point is that memorials are some of the most important public art works. We should not be hesitant to criticize the art, which has nothing to do with our respect or admiration or gratitude for those who are honored. Indeed, such criticism can be magnified by a sense of cheating honored fallen with low-grade art.
My problem with CNN is that Aitch was simply wrong, but of course this is a matter of taste and opinion. CNN could have simply noted that this was an opinion and not meant to insult the memory of the fallen. Free speech of all kinds have found greater limits in Russia. If the Russian senator wants to ban a whole cable network due to an unpopular opinion, it would demonstrate that the problem facing Russia is not about artistic criticism but free speech.
When you search for the World’s Ugliest Monuments segment on CNN, the apology and nothing else comes up.