RFE/RL: Vera Rich, a British Translator from Belarusian, Dies at 73
Belarus is a lonely country and Belarusian is a lonely language ignored by its own state and by most Belarusians, who almost exclusively use Russian in their everyday life. The death of Vera Rich is a big loss for Belarus although most Belarusians will hardly even hear of it. And it is God's big gift to us that there were and there are foreign friends of Belarus like her. Vera Rich has also been known as a translator of Ukrainian literature to English. However, her work was much more vital and important for Belarus than for Ukraine, where the national language and the national culture are in a much better state. Ukraine has awarded Vera Rich with the Order of Queen Olga, one of the country's most important awards. But despite her significant work in promoting Belarusian culture, she has been ignored by Belarusian officials who since mid 1990s continue the Soviet policy of Russification and discrimination of Belarusian national culture.
Her first translation of Belarusian literature to English was published by the Belarusian Munich newspaper Baćkaŭščyna in 1957. Vera Rich translated works by Janka Kupala, Jakub Kolas, Natallia Arsiennieva, Maksim Bahdanovič, Aleś Harun, Ciotka, Larysa Hienijuš, Zmitrok Biadulia, Kandrat Krapiva, Voĺha Ipatava, Nil Hilievič and others. Vera Rich was born April 24, 1936 in London. In 1960 she published Outlines, her first collection of poetry. In 1963 she published her second collection of poems called Portents and Images. In 1969, the magazine Nature appointed Vera Rich as correspondent for Eastern Europe and the USSR. She has for the first time visited Belarus only in 1991. After that, she has been visiting Belarus every year or every six months. In 1971, under the patronage of UNESCO, she published the first-ever anthology of Belarusian poetry translated into a Western language: Like Water, Like Fire: An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day. The book was banned in the USSR. In 1977 she published a translation of Taras na Parnasie together with Arnold McMillin. In 2004 Vera Rich published a new collection of Belarusian poetry: Poems on Liberty: Reflections for Belarus.
EU Sanctions: the Longer the More Surreal
Members of the European Parliament agreed to prolong sanctions against Belarus while at the same time postponing their application. A resolution adopted Dec. 17 delays the imposition of travel restrictions on top Belarusian officials until Oct. 2010.
The EU also promises to lift the restrictions “at any time, in light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights,” to discuss easing visa rules for Belarusian citizens, and even to negotiate a new bilateral cooperation accord with Minsk. As soon as it holds free and fair parliamentary elections, Belarus will also be invited to participate fully in the Eastern Partnership Assembly.
While some see the adopted measures as punishment, the carrots seem to by far outweigh the EU sticks. The recent decision may well be another feather in the cap of the Belarusian president, who is skillfully balancing between the East and the West, receiving substantial economic benefits in exchange for symbolic gestures, and half-hearted measures.
The signs of progress that the EU is referring to are releasing a number of political prisoners, allowing the distribution of two independent newspapers, and ensuring “constructive and active participation” of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership.
There seem to be even more things belonging on the EU’s naughty list, however:
1. Refusal to register political parties (e.g. Belarusian Christian Democracy), NGOs (Viasna) and independent media (TV Belsat).
2. Continued repression of political opposition.
3. A violent crack down on a demonstration of solidarity with the families of disappeared politicians in Minsk on Oct. 16.
4. Continued imposition of death sentences (most recently, a rejection of an appeal from Andrej Žuk).
5. Violation of freedom of religion (in particular, persecution of the New Life Church).
6. Failure to protect the rights of minorities (in particular, refusal to recognize the Union of Poles).
7. Lack of progress in the areas of electoral code reform.
Based on the track record of the Belarusian authorities, suspending the application of sanctions seems reasonable only if one admits that the sanctions have been useless. Indeed, the effect of the EU sanctions is hard to discern. Cosmetic changes that have occurred in Belarus resulted from the economic crisis and the rising tensions between Belarus and Russia rather than from the Western pressure.
Unlike the regular Belarusians, who have to pay nearly twice as much as Russians to obtain Schengen visas and are too broke to afford leaving the country anyway, the Belarusian ministers barred from traveling to Western Europe have plenty of warmer places to enjoy during the holiday season.
So far even the US sanctions against Belarus’ state-controlled company Belneftekhim did not hit the nail on the head. Freezing Belneftekhim’s assets and prohibiting US companies to do business with it did little more than inconvenience the staff of the US embassy in Minsk, who were given hours to leave before being declared personae non gratae.