The Journal of Belarusian Studies: Between Belarus and the West
On 9 June Belarusian state television reported the launch of the Journal of Belarusian Studies in London. It appears that even the Belarusian state TV channel, usually silent about such initiatives, appreciated the importance of the event – the oldest academic journal on Belarus making its return after a 25 year break.
Published by the Centre for Transition Studies and the Anglo-Belarusian Society, the Journal remains faithful to the original mission to promote Belarusian studies in the West. But unlike in the past, the revived Journal will come out in two languages: Belarusian and English to serve as a bridge between Belarusian and Western scholars.
Helping Western Scholars Discover Belarus
The Journal builds on a long tradition. Fr Alexander Nadson, one of the founders of the Journal and the librarian of Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in London, explained to Belarus Digest that back in 1950s they wanted to promote Belarusian culture in the United Kingdom.
Fr Nadson underlines that these were primarily British people who pushed the whole project forward. Among them was Lord Auberon Herbert and Anglo-French lawyer Guy Picarda, who both took an active role in publishing the Journal. Already in 1960s the Anglo-Belarusian Society began organising public lectures about Belarus in London. Guy Picarda came up with the idea of publishing a journal which would cover Belarus from different academic angles.
In 1965 the first issue of the Journal came out. Professor Robert Auty from Oxford University wrote in the introduction that its mission was to be "a source of information for non-specialist readers about a little-known East European people and its contribution to civilisation". Although Belarus did not exist as an independent state between 1965 and 1988 the Journal of Byelorussian Studies, as it was known in the past, presented Belarusian culture and history to the English-language readership.
The Journal Launches at the University College London
On 21 May 2013 those who were involved with the journal in the past and with its resurrection gathered for a formal launch at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies – one of the world's leading specialist institutions for the study of Central and Eastern Europe. The panel included Fr Alexandr Nadson, Professor Arnold McMillin and the Journal's editor Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi.
The panellists recalled the history of the Journal and that the renewed Journal aims to cover a broad spectrum of disciplines such as Belarusian culture, history for the Western readership. According to Yaraslau Kryvoi the new vision of Journal also includes an ambition to become a platform for Belarusian and Western academics to share their ideas. In addition to academic articles, the Journal will also include a chronicle of current events of the Anglo-Belarusian Society, as well as sections reviewing books and Internet resources.
The revived Journal of Belarusian Studies is a joint initiative of Anglo-Belarusian Society and the Centre for Transition Studies, an independent think tank with analysts based in London and Minsk. Dr Kryvoi explained that the two most important challenges included finding a team of dedicated people and funding.
Although the idea to put out the journal was already established in 2011, raising money and putting together an editorial team, translators and designers took a while. Attracting high quality academics required not only management skills but also relying on personal connections and the reputation of the Journal which it had developed since 1965.
A Platform to Exchange Ideas between Western and Belarusian Scholars
The renewed Journal represents a truly international and interdisciplinary publication. It features articles from the social science and humanities disciplines ranging from literature and history to political science.
In the new issue, Journal's editorial is followed by an article of Dr Andrej Kotljarchuk from Stockholm who deals with memory politics in Belarus and how Belarusian authorities are using it to achieve their own ends. He presents and interprets contemporary trends in memory politics of the authorities. In particular, through the way the state commemorations of the World War II tragedies such the Holocaust, genocide of the Roma people and mass killings of the representatives of the Polish minority.
President of the North American Association of Belarusian Studies Professor David Marples looks at foreign policy of Belarus towards the West and Russia. He examined relations between Brussels and Minsk between 2006 until the 2010 presidential elections. The author sheds light upon the reaction of the European Union to the aftermath of the elections and the effect of sanctions imposed on Belarusian authorities.
Natalia Sliz, a scholar from Hrodna, describes the rules of noblewomen's dowry within the legal system in the 16th and 17th centuries Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Many consider the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as the golden age of Belarusian history. The Belarusian element was particularly prominent during the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The core of its territory occupied by what is today Belarus, the language was old Belarusian and it had a slavic population constituted the majority of population.
Professor Emeritus Arnold McMillin’s of University College London wrote on the poetry of Belarusian prisoners serving their sentences for political crimes under Russian, Polish, Soviet and today's rulers. Father Alexander Nadson prepared a bibliography of the assets Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library which deal with proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic in 1918.
Readers and libraries can order hard copies of the Journal online. Since the main idea is to popularise Belarusian studies for a wide English-language readership, the archive of all issues of the Journal, including the most recent issue are available free of charge at belarusjournal.com. The editorial board has already opened a call for papers for the next issue. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis and the final deadline is 31 August 2013.
10 Years Without Bykau
On 22 June, ten years will have passed since the great Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau passed away. Bykau’s works have become regarded as masterpieces of world literature. Foreign publishing companies translated his books into more than 40 languages, and the overall copies put out have reached up into the millions. The new film In the Fog was based on one of his books and has already won several awards in Europe.
For Belarus, Bykau symbolizes something more than just a writer. He arose at the beginning of the Belarusian independence, helped the Belarusian Popular Front and publicly and consistently opposed Lukashenka's authoritarianism. His civil activity set an example of civic responsibility which public figures should live by.
Writer of the War
Many know Bykau as a talented writer. His works depicted the war through the eyes of an ordinary soldier – the tragedy of a person and a human soul. He saw the war not from the position of the Communist logistical commissioners, but as a soldier who journeyed through the whole of Europe. It is precisely this, the centring of a person within a moral tragedy, that is found foremost in his books, a conscience choice made to force out the traditional Soviet pomposity of its great victory.
During World War II enemy forces wounded him several times, and he nearly died. His parents even received a letter that Vasil Bykau died in a fight, and the authorities embossed his name on a mass grave obelisk. However, he continued his military service and marched through Europe in a squad in the Red Army. Later, Bykau would say that Stalin took the victory away from the people, as “we achieved victory, but not freedom”.
After the war, Bykau started writing. He published his first book "The Last Fighter" in 1958. In 1965, Bykau published the novelette “No Pain for the Dead”. The Soviet authorities “appreciated” the book. However, “Unknown people” threw stones at his windows, showered his wife with tomatoes and beat the writer. The Communists hated Bykau and tried to do everything to make him emigrate.
Regardless, Bykau survived the harassment and soon the political thaw came. The authorities started giving Bykau state awards and adapting his novels to film. However, everyone knew it was just a game. In the end, it was clear that Vasil Bykau and the Soviet authorities distrusted each other.
Belarus – the Years of Revival
The Belarusian revival started in Kurapaty, the stove where the Soviet authorities committed mass executions of ordinary Belarusians. A prominent Belarusian politician Zianon Paznyak published an article about the discovery of the truth about Kurapaty in 1988, but his article saw the light of day thanks only to Vasil Bykau. He wrote an introduction to the article and pursued its publication.
Approximately at the same time Bykau had become “the Godfather” of the Belarusian Popular Front, the movement that helped to achieve the country’s independence. Bykau protected the Front from the KGB provocations by his personal authority and helped the democrats to get into Parliament. Former MP Syarhei Navumchyk recalls that he got his mandate due to the words of support from Vasil Bykau, which were printed in his promo leaflets.
Later, Vasil Bykau became the member of the BPF Board and the main authority for the Belarusian opposition. However, Bykau defended not only Belarusians. When the Soviet troops invaded with their tanks in Vilnius back in 1991, Bykau supported the Lithuanians in their fight for independence. When the Communists made an attempt to preserve the USSR forcibly in the same 1991, Bykau bravely stood against them.
At the presidential elections in 1994, Vasil Bykau worked as part of the democratic candidate Zyanon Paznyak’s team. They lost the election to Lukashenka.
When Lukashenka arrived on the national stage, the state publishing companies accepted Vasil Bykau’s works more and more rarely. One script idly remained with a publishing company for three years. They say that the KGB monitored Bykau’s phone conversations and watched his every move and state propaganda smeared the writer. The state newspaper "Nioman" called him a “corpse” when he was alive. Bykau used to say he felt no fear for his life, but “cannot write without freedom”. During Soviet times Bykau managed to handle all this, but it caused him great health problems.
In 1998, Vasil Bykau accepted the invitation of the Finnish PEN-centre and went to write first to Sweden, and then to Finland. In 2000, Bykau returned for a short time, but decided to leave again. This time he moved to Germany for two years. The state propagandists rather enjoyed making light of the fact that in his elderly age Bykau emigrated to the country he fought against in his youth.
In 2002, President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel invited Vasil Bykau to live in the Czech Republic. The writer accepted the invitation but did not stay there for long. His health was deteriorating and even Havel’s personal physician could not help. Vasil Bykau decided to return to Belarus until his last days were upon him.
Vsil Bykau passed away on 22 June 2003. Tens of thousands of people came to bid him farewell, with the column or mourners stretching up to 15 kilometres. The official delegation left the funeral when Bykau’s son covered the coffin with the white-red-white flag. Current PM Milhail Myasnikovich attended the funeral, one of the few authorities to do so. Lukashenka did not attend the funeral, while the state TV only briefly mentioned the event. Meanwhile, the Russian television made Bykau’s funeral top news.
Bykau has always remained Lukashenka’s enemy. He defended Belarusian independence while Lukashenka signed unification agreements with Russia. The great writer openly accused the authorities of murdering politicians and journalists. Still, Lukashenka disliked Bykau the most for his position of authority in Belarusian society.
In 2010, more than 100,000 Belarusians signed a petition to name one of the streets in Minsk after Vasil Bykau, but the authorities continue to ignore their request. Even the memory of what many consider to be the greatest Belarusian remains a danger for Lukashenka's regime.
In 2005 Zina Gimpelevich from the University of Waterloo published “Vasil Bykau: His Life and Works”, the only biography of Vasil Bykau in English. Before he died, Bykau wrote an autobiography “The Long Road Home”. To this day, it remains a text in search of its translator.