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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disputed War Memorial Opens

Russian government and Moscow city authorities will stretch an olive branch to the veterans of World War II on Sunday when they open a massive Soviet-era memorial that has been the focus of fierce controversy for nearly two decades.


The debate over Victory Park, an expansive 135-hectare complex on Poklonnaya Gora at the city's western edge, has been a painful one for World War II veterans, many of whom donated money out of their own pockets for the building of a monument to the heroic resistance against Nazi Germany.


President Boris Yeltsin has said that he will attend the opening ceremonies, which are to include a parade and concert for at least 1, 200 veterans, according to Igor Bugayev, chairman of the city government's cultural committee, which is organizing the celebration.


The park, which has sat half-finished for nearly a decade as city authorities fought over its future, is on a site historically linked to the defense of Moscow against invaders.


Legend has it that Napoleon waited in vain on the top of the hill for Kremlin envoys to hand him the keys to the city, only to discover that Moscow had been abandoned.


Poklonnaya Gora, once the highest hill in Moscow, was razed in the late 1970s to build the monument, whose centerpiece was to have been a towering 70-meter Stanlinesque sculpture of heroic figures holding a giant flag in red granite.


But in 1987, one of the first and loudest public protests of the early glasnost years led to a competition in which a more subdued design for the memorial was chosen.


What is opening Sunday is the park surrounding a partially completed, crescent-shaped building off Kutuzovsky Prospekt beyond the triumphal arch. The building is now scheduled to open in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. A small rock stands on the site where the redesigned monument is to be erected.


Construction workers and soldiers have been rushing this week to put the finishing touches on the park, where vast walkways are lined with World War II-era tanks, rocket launchers, and airplanes - some from Germany, Japan and the United States.