'Constipated' Courage and 'gay' Iwo Jima

The Courage monument in Brest, Belarus, during the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion on June 22, 2011. Image copyright AP
Image caption CNN listed the Courage Monument among the world's "ugliest" memorials

Last month the travel section of news network CNN's website ran a slideshow on ugly monuments around the world. The site displays a lot of these kinds of features - such as "hot hotels" "popular museums" and "amazing private island rentals".

The ugly monument article was a little different, however, in that it set off an international incident. One of the "ugly" memorials was the Courage Monument in the Belarusian city of Brest, near a fortress that the Russians defended against Nazi Germany during World War Two.

The article's author, British travel journalist Iain Aitch, wrote that the monument, featuring a stern-looking head carved out of the cliff face, "looks as if he's about to thump the West into submission before hurling North America at the sun" and "others say he simply looks constipated".

It appears to have taken several weeks for the Belarusians to notice the feature (not big CNN readers, I guess), but last week the story exploded in the media across the country and neighbouring Russia.

US Charge d'Affairs Ethan Goldrich was summoned to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday for a formal rebuke.

"The US diplomat has been told that the insulting character of the publication caused a wave of outrage and incredulity of ordinary Belarusian citizens and public organizations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by Interfax news agency. "Belarus lost its every third citizen during World War II and the memory of heroes killed fighting for the freedom of the country is sacred for Belarusians."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Russian news presenter said the Iwo Jima Memorial had a "very modern theme"

Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry told CNN Moscow Bureau chief Phil Black that "the mockery of the memory of Soviet soldiers, who gave their lives for the victory over fascism, cannot be justified or forgiven", according to Voice of Russia's website.

After initially editing and posting an apology on its website, CNN removed the article entirely later on Friday, and ran the following note:

CNN has withdrawn the story "The world's ugliest monuments" because it was not of the standard we would expect of a CNN report.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.

Of course, no international insult seems to go unanswered these days, so it shouldn't be surprising that on Sunday controversial Russian news presenter Dmitry Kiselyov took to the air on Rossiya state television and recounted the CNN incident. He then showed a picture of the Iwo Jima World War Two memorial near Washington DC and suggested it looked like the soldiers in the sculpture could be performing a sex act.

"A fevered subconscious could ascribe just about anything to it," the Associated Press quotes him as saying. "Take a closer look: A very modern theme, is it not?"

A theme may be modern, but idiocy is timeless.

Update: The article has now been completely removed from the CNN site, but on the internet content lives forever.

Update #2: CNN has revised its note to readers to add the following line: "Neither the piece that was commissioned nor the edits made by CNN were consistent with our standards".

The "constipated" line, it turns out, was added by editors and not a part of Aitch's original submission.