THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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16 posts categorized "Belarus"

25 March 2018

The Centenary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic

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I remember very vividly my confusion when in March 1990 I found myself on a park bench reading a thin samizdat publication, Dzien Voli (‘Freedom Day’), dedicated to the anniversary of Belarusian independence. It was delivered to Minsk from Vilnius where much Belarusian samizdat was published at that time. In the Soviet Union, we were told that Belarus and Belarusians had always been part of something else – of other countries and peoples.

From Dzien Voli I learned for the first time a story of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (also translated as Belarusian People’s Republic; BNR in its Belarusian abbreviation). It was proclaimed independent by representatives of civic and political organisations and parties in Minsk on 25 March 1918. They used a very short window of opportunity – just a few days – between the Russian Bolshevik army leaving Minsk and the advancing Germans entering the city.

Belarus Nationalemblems8296tt46
Flag and state coat of arms of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, frontispiece from Za Dziarzhaunuiu Nezalezhnasts' Belarusi = For national independence of Byelorussia (London, 1960). 8296.tt.46

Neither the occupying German authorities nor the Russian Bolshevik government fully recognised the BNR, though both had to take its existence into account. The BNR government in Minsk attempted to form its own army, school system, local authorities, trade and diplomatic missions. It was most successful in building relations with the Ukrainian Democratic Republic, which had declared its independence three months earlier and secured recognition from the occupying German authorities. The BNR’s main income came from forest wood sold to the Ukrainian government in exchange for cash and food supplies. The BNR government managed to established diplomatic missions in several other countries and took part in the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War.

BelarusGovernment_of_BNRNational Secretariat (the first government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic). Reproduced in  Uladzimir Arloŭ, This country called Belarus: an illustrated history. (Bratislava, 2013). YD.2013.b.892

In January 1919, the BNR government left Minsk before the advancing Bolshevik army. It later operated in Vilnius, Hrodna (Grodno), Berlin and Prague. After the Second World War the Belarusian diaspora sustained its existence. Its role as a government in exile has always been symbolic, but symbols are capable of communicating memories and inspiring the strongest feelings.

Without BNR, the Bolshevik government might never have permitted the creation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which was among the founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922. Having their own state entity as part of the Soviet Union, though powerless in many respects, allowed the Belarusians to survive and develop further as a nation until full independence in 1991.

The BNR’s proclamation of independence was preceded by two other charters from the same body of civic and political representatives in February-March 1918. They confirmed the intention to build the future national state on democratic principles which can be easily found in the contemporary Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The BNR government adopted the ancient Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s coat of arms as the state emblem and the white-red-white flag as the state flag. The independent post-Soviet Republic of Belarus initially adopted the same symbols. They were replaced, however, with variations of the BSSR symbols four years later –society was not yet ready for radical changes.

Belarus StampPahonia_(25_Hrošaŭ _Blue) _Stamp_of_Belarusian_People's_Republic

Pahonia: Stamp of Belarusian Democratic Republic (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

For decades, the BNR was the subject of ideological wars and myths. The discourse started acquiring a more evidence-based form when in 1998 two monumental volumes Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (‘Archives of the Belarusian Democratic Republic’) were published. These contained about 60 percent of documents from the early years of the BNR government. These documents survived in the State Historical Archives of the Lithuanian Republic  in Vilnius. Until the end of the Soviet Union, only selected and approved researchers had access to them. After Lithuania regained its independence, Siarhiej Šupa, a talented  journalist and translator (among his translations into Belarusian were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984), stumbled upon them almost by chance and spent six years preparing their publication.

BelarusArkhivyBNR
Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (Vilnius, 1998) YA.2001.a.24459

In Belarus, the consensus about the Belarusian Democratic Republic is still in its infancy. The topic has been politicised to an extreme degree until very recently. A new political situation, partly prompted by the events in Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas, has forced the authorities to re-examine the nation’s foundational events. The newspaper Nasha Niva recently reported that the Presidential Administration commissioned a report on the role of the BNR from the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History. The report has not been made public, but its essence can be deduced from the book to which the Director of the Institute referred the journalist investigating the story. In the Institute’s collective work Historyia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (‘A history of Belarusian statehood from the end of 18th to the beginning of 21st centuries’) the BNR is characterised as the first attempt at a national Belarusian state.

BelarusHistoryiaHistoryia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (Minsk, 2011-2012) ZF.9.a.9153

A new generation of civic leaders, more pragmatic than those who led the political opposition in Belarus in the last twenty years, worked on getting permission from the authorities to celebrate the BNR centenary publicly. They also run a large and successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the celebrations. Among the events the authorities agreed on is a large open-air concert in Minsk and the installation of a memorial plaque on the building in which the independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 25 March 1918. It is fascinating to see how a sleepy (until very recently) country gets busy on rethinking its own past and how this past may shape the nation’s future.

Ihar IvanouHead of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

Further reading:

D. Michaluk, ‘From the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: the Idea of Belarusian Statehood, 1915-1919’Journal of Belarusian studies vol 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 3-36. ZC.9.a.9127

Pers Anders Rudling, The Rise and Fall of Belarusian nationalism, 1906-1931. (Pittsburg, 2015). YC.2016.a.6887

Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus: at a crossroads in history (Boulder, 1993). YC.1995.b.7225

The proclamation of Byelorussian independence, 25th of March 1918. (London, 1968). X.709/26118.

Siarhiej Šupa talks about his research [in Belarusian]: https://www.svaboda.org/a/29048119.html 

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

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The written culture of Belarus is over 11 centuries old. Many of us correctly associate the Belarusian language with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, many texts, in both Old Belarusian and the modern literary language (1850s onwards) were originally written and published in Latin characters. The existence of these two graphic systems in the Belarusian written tradition reflects the rich and complex cultural influences the country experienced at different periods. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Arabic alphabet was also used for writing in Belarusian. For that we should be grateful to the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

For centuries, Cyrillic script (kirylica) was the most commonly used graphic system of the Old Belarusian language both for religious and secular literature. The oldest Belarusian book known to us is the Turaŭ [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Turaŭ, a town in the south of contemporary Belarus. It is preserved in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  in Vilnius. The manuscript is written in the Church Slavonic language, in uncial script (ustav) - the oldest type of Cyrillic writing.

Starting from the 14th century, a more economical half-uncial script was widely used in East Slavonic manuscripts. When the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, established his press in the early 16th century, he chose a font based on handwritten half-uncial Cyrillic script.

All three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were written in Cyrillic too. There is no academic consensus regarding their language. Most Belarusian scholars call it Old Belarusian, but others refer to it as Ruthenian or Chancery Slavonic. In any case, the texts of the Statutes became important precursors of the modern Belarusian language. Unlike the first two Statutes, the version of 1588 was printed; a Cyrillic font imitating an italic script (skoropis) of that time was used. This script was used for civil publications, while religious books continued to be printed in a more elaborate half-uncial script.

BelarusianAlphabetsStatute1588(2)
Title-page of the facsimile edition of the Statute of 1588 in : Statuty Velykoho Kniazivstva Lytovs'koho (Odessa, 2002-2004), Vol. 3, book 1,  ZF.9.a.951

The organic development of the Cyrillic form of the Belarusian language was interrupted by the increased use of the Polish language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th-18th centuries. Polish was replaced by Russian in official use after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland were partitioned by their stronger neighbours at the end of the 18th century.

A civil script, grazhdanka, developed for the Russian alphabet under Tsar Peter the Great’s supervision, was adopted by newspaper and book publishers after publishing in Belarusian became legal in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. After a short period of experimentation, the Belarusian alphabet settled into its current form. It is very close to the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets, but has its own particularities, e.g. the letter ў (ŭ) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

A monument celebrating the character in Polack, the oldest Belarusian city and the birthplace of the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna. (Photo by Pasacern7 CC BY-SA 4.0  from Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin script (lacinka) was used widely in Belarus for writing in Latin and Polish. From the 16th century, we also have examples of Belarusian texts, usually written in Latin script using the Polish alphabet.

19th-century publications in Belarusian are dominated by lacinka: the folklorist Jan Čačot, the author Jan Barščeŭski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič, and the first major national poet, Francišak Bahuševič – all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first – illegal then – Belarusian newspaper, Mužyckaja praŭda, was published by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, also using Latin script.

BelarusianAlphabetsRypinskiTitlepageCover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczyścik, Ballada Białoruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


BelarusianAlphabetsDudka Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushėvich, Dudka białaruskaja (Minsk, 1990). YA.1999.a.4633

The earliest Belarusian newspapers and books published legally under the Russian Empire used both Cyrillic and Latin scripts, which they referred to as “Russian and Polish characters”. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet – for Roman Catholics. The Naša Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

BelarusianAlphabetsNashaNivaPage from a facsimile edition of Nasha Niva (Minsk, 1992). ZA.9.d.379

The Latin script continued to be widely used in the western part of Belarus, which from 1919-1939 was under Polish rule. Here, the outstanding linguist Branislaŭ Taraškievič proposed a version of the Belarusian Latin alphabet which broke away from the earlier conventions; for example, instead of digraphs common in Polish (cz, sz), letters with diacritics (č, š) were introduced. This version was quickly and widely adopted by publishers in western Belarus.

In Soviet Belarus, the possibility of adopting the Latin script was discussed only once, during the Academic Conference for Reform of the Belarusian Grammar and Alphabet in 1926. The conference agreed that such a change would be the best solution, but premature at that time. Three years later, the Bolsheviks described such views as sabotage and tearing Belarusian culture away from that of Russia. Mass purges of the Belarusian intelligentsia followed soon after.

A slightly modified version of Branislaŭ Taraškievič’s lacinka has recently been adopted by the Belarusian government for transliterating Belarusian geographic names into Latin script and recommended for use by the United Nations.

From the 14th century, Tatars from Crimea, the Volga region and the Caucasus settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – some were invited to join the Duchy’s army, while others were refugees or prisoners of war. Many of their settlements survived until very recently in contemporary Belarus, and even now the small town of Iŭje is primarily known for its Tatar community. In literature, they are referred to as Lipka Tatars.

 The Tatars adopted the vernaculars of the peoples they lived among, and used them in their own manuscripts – translations of and commentaries on the Quran, prayer books and books of religious instruction. Belarusian dialects predominate in Lipka Tatar manuscripts, particularly in the oldest known to us, dating from the 17th-18th centuries. The Tatars preserved the Arabic script for writing and recorded phonetics of the language they – and people among whom they lived – spoke. These manuscripts are an important source about the development of the Belarusian language: many characteristics of the contemporary Belarusian language can be seen in Lipka Tatar writings from centuries ago.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

References / Further reading:

Peter J. Mayo, ‘The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

George Meredith Owens/Alexander Nadson, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and their Writings’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 2/2 (1970), pp. 141-176.

Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish, Tatar and Karaite Communal Dialects and their Importance for Byelorussian Historical Linguistics’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 41-54.

Shirin Akiner, ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 55-84.

Shirin Akiner, Religious language of a Belarusian Tatar Kitab: a cultural monument of Islam in Europe (Wiesbaden, 2009). EDM.2009.a.41

Barys Sachanka, Belaruskaia mova: ėntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, ‘Turauskae Evanhelle – samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi’, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22–32. ZF.9.b.69

 

06 August 2017

Belarus Celebrates 500 Years of Printing

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On 6 August, Belarus will celebrate 500 years of printing, and also 500 years of East Slavonic printing. On that day in 1517 Francysk Skaryna (in various traditions his name has also been spelt as Francis Skaryna, Frantsisk Skorina, Franciscus Scorina and more) published the Psalter, one of the books of the Bible.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f242r Portrait of Skaryna from his translation of the Old Testament Books of Samuel and Kings, Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv (Prague, 1518). C.36.f.4

Skaryna was born in the oldest Belarusian city, Polatsk. He was educated in universities in Kraków and Padua, and started his publishing endeavours in Prague – then one of the main centres of printing – and continued in Vilnius, which remained the most important centre of Belarusian culture and history from medieval times until the 1920s.

In the Belarusian cultural pantheon, Francysk Skaryna has a very special place. He was the most outstanding figure of the Renaissance and its humanist tradition in Belarus. He is also the most important Belarusian writer and translator of the period; an educator, philosopher and theologian, a fascinating entrepreneur and innovator, and an example of passionate patriotism.

Skaryna intended to publish the whole Bible. Between 1517 and 1519/20 he managed to produce more than half of the Old Testament – 23 books. These were translated into the Belarusian version of the Church Slavonic language then widely used in the Orthodox Church. Skaryna’s translation is close to the ‘Benatska Bible’ published in the Czech language in Venice in 1506 (C.18.b.2.); however, he consulted texts in ancient Biblical languages, as well as Church Slavonic manuscripts. The text of his Ruthenian Bible (Bivliia ruska) was supplemented by the translator’s prologues and commentaries in the Old Belarusian language.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f001rBeginning of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In the prologue to the Psalter Skaryna explained his motives: “Seeing the usefulness of this small book, I decided to print the Psalter in Ruthenian words in Slavonic language for the glory of God in the first place [...] and for the good of everyone, because the merciful God sent me to the world from this people.” Skaryna intended his books for distribution among the common people (pospolityj lud) and other classes of his compatriots, the people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (contemporary Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine). Interestingly, in virtually all prologues to his books, the printer mentioned his birthplace, the glorious city of Polack.

In 1520, Skaryna left Prague for Vilnius, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to open his own printing house. Printed Cyrillic books were still a novelty there, and the underdeveloped market dictated a different kind of literature. In Vilnius, Skaryna published The Small Travel Book (1522) and Apostol (1525) intended for daily prayer use by the largest possible audience, both clerics and lay people, as well as for use in primary schools.

Skaryna C.51.b.5 f001r

 Opening of  the Psalter (Vilna, 1522-1523). C.51.b.5

Scholars and churches in Belarus continue to debate Skaryna’s religious affiliation. It is likely that he was born into an Orthodox family but educated by Roman Catholics. He served as a secretary to Bishop Jan of Vilnius and may have converted to Roman Catholicism. In his own prayers (Orthodox in form), Skaryna referred to Catholic dogmas which allows us to assume that he might have been a convinced Uniate (or a Greek Catholic, in the contemporary terminology). Skaryna travelled widely throughout Protestant Europe and was at least once accused by a polemicist of being a “heretic Hussite”, a follower of Jan Hus who was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Church calendars in Skaryna’s books have some elements in common with the Protestant tradition.

After Belarus became part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, all Skaryna’s books were removed from Belarus. They ended up in state libraries in Moscow, St Petersburg, Vilnius and various private collections. Just over 500 books by the first Belarusian and East Slavonic printer are known to survive today, more than half of them in Russia. A significant number of Skaryna’s publications are found in Ukraine. Skaryna’s books were well known in Ukraine and influenced Ukrainian Biblical translation and printing traditions. In Britain, the British Library, Cambridge University Library  and Trinity College Cambridge have copies of Skaryna’s books. The Belarusian Library in London also has a small fragment of one of the Prague editions. Three digitised books printed by Skaryna from the British Library's collections  (Books of Samuel and Kings C.36.f.4; Psalter C.51.b.5; Acts and Epistles; C.51.b.6) will be donated to the National Library of Belarus in September 2017. 

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f065rOpening of part 2 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f139vOpening of Book 3 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In 1925, both the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belarusian community in the western part of the country – then controlled by Poland – celebrated 400 years of Belarusian printing. The date related to the first book Skaryna published in Vilnius. For the occasion, the Belarusian State University Library (now National Library of Belarus) purchased ten of Skaryna’s books from a private collector in Leningrad. Since then, no more of Skaryna’s works were acquired for Belarus until February 2017 when one of the Belarusian banks announced the purchase of a copy of The Small Travel Book for its corporate collection. Currently, this copy is on tour to Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy - countries where Skaryna lived - before returning in September 2017 to Minsk for a grand exhibition, ‘Francis Skaryna and his epoch’.

DSCN5676

The first 17 volumes of the facsimile edition of Skaryna's books (Minsk, 2013- ) donated to the British Library by the National Library of Belarus.  Catalogued and photographed  by Rimma Lough. ZF.9.a.11377

The National Library of Belarus, meanwhile, is about to complete a multi-volume facsimile reproduction of all Skaryna’s books (picture above). Digital copies for this project were offered by many libraries and collections from around the world. The National Library is donating this publication to major libraries in Belarus and abroad, as well as to all institutions preserving Skaryna’s works. On February 27 this year a delegation from the National Library of Belarus presented a copy of the facsimile edition to the British Library in the special event held in the British Library. 

Skaryna Kristian Jensen

Kristian Jensen, Head of Collections and Curation, greeting the audience at the Belarusian event in the British Library. 

Alongside this project, the National Library of Belarus has been acquiring as many digital versions of all known copies of Skaryna’s publications as possible to create a comprehensive collection and make it accessible to researchers. The Library has truly been the driving force in celebrating 500 years of Belarusian and East Slavonic book printing. Hundreds of events have taken place in Belarus and abroad, and more are still ahead, among them an International Congress “500 Years of Belarusian Printing” and the most comprehensive exhibition of Skaryna’s works; both are taking place in Minsk in September 2017. 

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f241v

Colophon of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv with the imprint information: Ū velikom Starom meste Prazskom, Tyseshta Pe̡tsot I Osmʺnadesetʹ 

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London

Further reading:

Ebenezer Henderson, Biblical researches and Travels in Russia, including a tour in the Crimea; and the passage of the Caucasus: with observations on the state of the Rabbinical and Karaite Jews, and the Mohammedan and Pagan tribes, inhabiting the southern provinces of the Russian Empire (London, 1826).  1048.k.28.

Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections :a union catalogue, compiled by Ralph Cleminson ... [et al.]. (London, 2000). 2708.h.903 and m01/33811

Alexander Nadson,  Skaryna's Prayer Book in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/skaryna%E2%80%99s-prayer-book-89

Arnold McMillin, Francis Skaryna’s Biblical Prefaces and their Place in Early Byelorussian Literature in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/francis-skaryna%E2%80%99s-biblical-prefaces-and-their-place-early-byelorussian-literature-27

P. V. Vladimirov, Doktor Francisk Skorina: ego perevody, pečatnyja izdanija i jazyk (Munich, 1989). X.0909/738(85)

Frantsisk Skorina i ego vremia : entsiklopedicheskiĭ spravochnik  (Minsk, 1990). YA.1994.b.231

V. F. Shmataŭ,  Iskusstvo knigi Frantsiska Skoriny (Moscow, 1990). 2708.h.486

 E. L. Nemirovskiĭ, Frantsisk Skorina : zhiznʹ i deiatelʹnostʹ belorusskogo prosvetitelia. (Minsk,1990). 2708.e.1972

H. IA. Halenchanka,   Frantsysk Skaryna--belaruski i ŭskhodneslavianski pershadrukar. (Minsk, 1993). YA.1996.a.12908

16 June 2017

Kamenets Tower

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I went to see the Kamenets Tower (photos below) while visiting my parents this Easter holidays. The Tower has been a branch of Brest Regional museum since 1960. It was closed when we arrived but it was still an amazing experience to have the medieval historical site almost to ourselves.

Picture 5   Picture 5.1
Kamenets Tower  (Photos by Rimma Lough)

The Kamenets Tower is also known as the White Tower – nothing to do with its colour, the name is taken from the local area. It was built between 1271 and 1289 on the order of Grand Duke Vladimir Vasilkovich of Volhynia  who died in 1289. Vladimir Vasilkovich also established the town of Kobrin in 1287.

Picture 6

Monument to Grand Duke Vladimir Vasilkovich and distant view of St Simeon’s Eastern Orthodox church, built 1914 (Photo by Rimma Lough)

Over the centuries the tower was under constant attack: first in 1378-1379 by the Crusaders. In 1382 the town of Kamenets was captured by Janusz I of Warsaw, and in 1390 briefly by Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania.  All of them saw the tower as a strategic fortress for the area.

Picture 1   Picture 1-1
Napoleon Orda’s drawing of the tower. Reproduced in Zʹmitser Vaĭtsiakhovich, Kraina zamkaŭ, alʹbo Belarusʹ na starazhytnym maliunku (Mensk, 1997) YF.2012.a.5328. 

Legends say that there was also a palace that did not survive. In 1500 Kamenets came under attack from the Crimean Khan Meñli I Giray’s  army.

The town of Kamenets  was established around 1276 and situated in the Brest Region. Today it has a population of 8,425. Its coat of arms features the outline of Kamenets tower.

Picture 7

In 1899, the tower was explored and measured by the Russian academician of architecture Vladimir Vasilevich Suslov, who planned a restoration, which did not violate the ancient forms of the tower.

The first restoration of the tower was carried out in 1903-1905 and later work was done in 1968-73 and in 1996-2003. Over the years and centuries the Kamenets tower became very popular with visitors, and I was glad to discover that British Library has a number of books about it.

  Picture 3
Turisticheskie marshruty Kamenetchiny (Brest, 2007) YF.2009.a.24106

Picture 4Legendy srednevekovʹia Belarusi = Legends of Medieval Belarus (Minsk, 2012) YF.2014.a.160

Rimma Lough, SEE Cataloguer Belarusian/Russian/Ukrainian

References/Further reading

A. A. Iarashėvich, Kamianetskaia vezha = Kamianetskaia bashnia = Kamenets tower ((Minsk, 2005) YF.2006.a.8414

M.A. Tkachev, Zamki Belarusi (Minsk: Belarus, 2007). YF.2007.a.35100

Napoleon Orda, Senosios Lietuvos vaizdai =Views of ancient Lithuania  (Vilnius, 1999).LF.31.a.452

 

 

10 March 2017

The First Anthology of Belarusian Poetry in English: Sponsors and Censors

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For 57 years, from 1948 to 1985, UNESCO published its Collection of Representative Works, a series of books aiming to popularise major works of world literature written in lesser-known languages by translating them into more widely-used ones, particularly English and French. In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English appeared in this series. The book, Like Water, Like Fire: an Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day, was jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Byelorussian SSR, and published by the London imprint George Allen & Unwin.

Vera Rich, who translated all 221 poems in the anthology, came across the Belarusian community in London in October 1953 and since then took an active part in the life of the Belarusian diaspora in Britain and translated Belarusian poets. She also made an immense contribution to making Ukrainian poetry known in the English-speaking world. By the time Like Water, Like Fire appeared, Rich had already established herself as a poet, publisher of the poetry magazine Manifold, author of several books about Ukrainian and Belarusian literature, and a successful journalist.

LikeWaterTitle-pageTitle-page of Like Water, Like Fire. (London, 1971). X.981/2398

Like Water, Like Fire begins with the only known poem by Paŭliuk Bahrym (1812-c1891), ‘Play Then, Play’, which was taught in the schools of Soviet Belarus as the earliest example of peasants’ liberation literature. Already in this choice of the opening poem the influence of the anthology’s sponsors can be detected; it is even more obvious in the later sections of the volume.

This influence wasn’t absolute: the book contains a modest selection of persecuted authors such as Jazep Pušča, Uladzimir Duboŭka and Larysa Hienijuš. But there are no poems by Alieś Harun, a talented author deeply despised by the Soviet authorities. Vera Rich addressed this omission in 1982 when she published a volume of selected works by Harun, Maksim Bahdanovič, and Zmitrok Biadulia, The Images Swarm Free.

IMagesSwarmFreeTitle-page of The Images Swarm Free. (London, 1982) X.950/22024.

Arnold McMillin, who later became the most important scholar of Belarusian literature in the English-speaking world, welcomed Like Water, Like Fire as “an outstanding piece of work which will serve many English readers as an introduction to an unjustly neglected corner of European literature”. He noted that the book was the product of nearly 20 years of work and “the translations adhere closely to the form and rhythm of the original poems, and in many cases Miss Rich achieves felicitous results” . He was critical, however, of a misrepresentative – to a certain degree – selection of works, particularly from the 19th century:

No representation is given to such 19th-century poets as Ravinski, Čačot and Dunin-Marcinkievič, or to the anonymous Taras on Parnassus […] It is a pity that both by her selection of poems and by her introductory survey of the development of the Byelorussian poetry […] she creates the impression of a cultural void between 1828 and 1891.

Anton Adamovich of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York, also noted that “Soviet Belorussian poetry is represented most extensively […] and is translated most adequately […] But the poetry of the 1920s, the ‘years of plenty’ […] is very poorly represented with just a dozen poems.” Adamovich refers here to the translator’s comment that the “years of plenty” of the 1920s – the years of immense richness and vibrancy in Belarusian literature – were followed by the “years of dearth” under Stalin’s purges and repressions. About 90% of Belarusian writers published in the 1920s and-1930s were shot, died in NKVD prisons, were sent to the Gulag or were forced to leave the country.

It seems that Vera Rich’s work wasn’t entirely accepted by the Belarusian diaspora which had had great hopes for this publication and contributed to the translator’s efforts, as is evidenced by an extensive acknowledgements list. The book must have been seen by Belarusians in the west as a victim of Soviet ideological pressure. The Reverend Alexander Nadson, head of the Belarusian Catholic community in London, who knew Vera Rich for many years and assisted her with translations, recalled that the translator kept the exact content of Like Water, Like Fire secret. One day archival materials may shed light on the circumstances of appearance of this first – and so far only – anthology of Belarusian poetry in English.

Two curious stories relate to its publication. The first is narrated by the translator herself, who thanked “last and most definitely not least (and in view of the title, most appropriately) […] the Enfield Fire Service who salvaged the manuscript during a flood-cum-electrical-fire shortly before its completion”. Reading these words, those who knew Vera Rich would easily recall a chaotic but immensely amusing person who lived from one disaster to another and somehow even thrived on all those challenges.

The second story relates to the fact that the book appeared with two different dustjackets. One, with the former Belarusian coat of arms, the Pahonia evidently didn’t get approval from at least one of the sponsors: the Pahonia was banned in the Byelorussian SSR. The dustjacket had to be reprinted and the copies that went on sale carried a plain sky-blue jacket. A small number of copies with the original dustjacket have survived and occasionally appear in antiquarian bookshops in English-speaking countries.

Like_water_1    Like_water_2
The two dustjackets of Like Water, Like Fire.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London


References:

A. Adamovich, Review of ‘Like Water, Like Fire.An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. Slavic Review, 32 (1973), 4, pp. 863-864. Ac.2684.e.

Leanid Marakoŭ, Rėprėsavanyia litaratary, navukoŭtsy, rabotniki asvety, hramadskiia i kulʹturnyia dzeiachy Belarusi, 1794-1991: ėntsyklapedychny davednik u trokh tamakh.
Volume 1. (Minsk, 2002-2005). ZF.9.a.2546

A. McMillin. Review of ‘Like Water: Like Fire. An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. The Slavonic and East European Review, 50 (1972), pp. 118-120. Ac.2669.e

Rich, V. (2009) The most significant event in my life. Available from: https://belbritain.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/1-15/.

 

21 June 2016

An Unparalleled Authority on the History of Belarusian Literature

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On 21 June Prof Arnold McMillin will celebrate his 75th birthday. Until he retired in 2006, he was a Chair of Russian Literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He is particularly well known and loved for researching Belarusian literature. Prof McMillin is the author of the first English-language history of Belarusian literature, published in 1977. Since then, he has remained an unrivalled authority on the subject in the English-speaking world. His academic achievements are also a great witness to the work of small community-run libraries in Britain.

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Prof. Arnold McMillin by Alexandra Belookaya.  With a kind permission of the photographer. 

Prof McMillin’s contacts with the Belarusian community in London started soon after he began his doctoral dissertation in 1964. The topic was suggested by a slavist, Robert Auty: the vocabulary of the Belarusian literary language in the 19th century – a completely neglected field of Slavonic studies at that time.

The Belarusian community in Britain was not large, but active and intellectually strong. Many cultural activities then took place at the Belarusian Catholic Mission and its Marian House in north London, which are still in existence and maintaining their central role in the community. Marian House accommodated a rapidly-growing book collection started by few Belarusian priests who were passionate to preserve the Belarusian heritage which found its way to the west during and after the Second World War.

Here is how Prof McMillin describes his experience:

The librarian was Fr Haroška, a rather fierce man, but he truly helped me a lot – I needed texts of the 19th century for my research. The priests who lived in Marian House were very kind and learned. They were very helpful too, while I was quite ignorant of the subject. Some of the texts I needed were in the British Library, e.g. Czeczot, Rypiński, but by no means all. And Fr Haroška was very keen to help me. So between the two of them, the British Library and the Skaryna Library, I wrote my thesis. That was the beginning

By 1970, the book collection on the first floor of Marian House had grown to almost 7,000 volumes, among them many valuable and rare editions. On one occasion the floor of the room the library was housed in collapsed under the weight of books into the church directly underneath it. Soon after, a building across the road was purchased to house the newly established Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum; it incorporated the book collection from Marian House. Skarynaŭka was oficially opened in 1971 and it played a central role in supporting Belarusian studies in the west, as well as helping to re-publish authors and works forbidden under Soviet rule in newly-independent Belarus. Prof McMillin was not only the most committed user of the Library, but also its passionate advocate and supporter. When the Library became a registered charity, he joined its Board of Trustees and remains a member.

Soon after Prof McMillin’s dissertation appeared as a book, he was invited by a German academic publisher to write a history of Belarusian literature. A History of Byelorussian Literature: From Its Origins to The Present Day (Giessen, 1977; British Library X:0900/189(6)) provoked a lot of interest on its publication: it was the first academic work of such scale in). Initially, the publication was met with silence in Soviet Belarus: someone had to work out how to react to writings from the west. Prof McMillin’s evaluation of some untouchable Soviet writers was damning while he praised others who didn’t make into the official literary pantheon. Eventually, a nine-page review appeared in the leading literary journal Polymia (PP.4842.dcs.) in 1980. It was written by Prof Adam Maldzis of the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of BSSR. He was allowed to publish that review on two conditions: to accept the collaboration of two state-approved scholars and to include serious criticism of McMillin’s work. Eventually the review appeared under the names Ivan Navumienka, Michaś Mušynski and Adam Maldzis. McMillin’s approach was characterised as “bourgeois objectivist” – a made-up description to calm the editors’ fears.

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Despite this meaningless characterisation, the two scholars developed a cordial and productive friendship. Prof Maldzis was the first Soviet scholar to visit the Belarusian Library in London in 1982. His travel diary published in Minsk five years later contained extensive excerpts from publications and manuscripts he could not access often – on account of censorship – in the BSSR.

Meantime, for Prof McMillin A History of Byelorussian Literature was only the beginning. In the following years he published another four outstanding books surveying the Belarusian literary landscape. Belarusian Literature in the 1950s and 1960s (1999; ZA.9.a.4768(28)), Belarusian Literature of the Diaspora (2002; YC.2003.a.5621), Writing in a Cold Climate (2010; YC.2011.a.1614) and Spring Shoots (2015) continued his first monograph with newly emerging materials. All four books were translated into Belarusian soon after appearing in English: no other scholar, even in Belarus, had attempted such monumental and ground-breaking publications before. Only collective works from academic institutions covered some of those periods and authors.

McMillin 1

In addition to books, Prof McMillin authored dozens, if not hundreds, of articles, conference papers and book reviews. He brought to the light many names forgotten or intentionally ignored in Soviet Belarus. He has been passionate about discovering talented young authors and has pioneered many themes in the Belarusian literary studies; to take one example, he was the first to talk about the phenomenon of Belarusian prison literature.

For decades, Prof McMillin supported the Belarusian community and academic Belarusian studies in Britain. He edited the Journal of Belarusian Studies (ZC.9.a.9127), published by the Anglo-Belarusian Society since 1965, and delivered many talks organised by the Society.

Finally, any serious biographical article about Prof McMillin must mention his ingenious humour. Amusing and even shocking in his interviews, Prof McMillin is a curious example of a profound scholar never failing to captivate the hoi polloi with his broad knowledge and wisdom.

 Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London 

A symposium to mark Prof. Arnold McMillin's 75th birthday will be held at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies on June 24-25.  The full programme is available here

McMillin 3#

 

24 April 2016

Vera Rich In Memoriam (1936-2009)

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On April 24 2016 Vera Rich would have been 80. Everybody who knew this remarkable woman, seen often in the British Library’s Reading Rooms or on the Piazza, still can’t believe that she is no longer amongst us. I was particularly struck by the obituary in Index On Censorship written by Judith Vidal-Hall, stating the facts, obvious to all who met her:

Vera (born Faith Elizabeth) Rich, who died at home on 20 December 2009, was, quite simply, unique, her formidable intelligence matched only by her stubborn resistance to the cancer that plagued her later years.
They will miss her, increasingly, for there will not be another like her. I shall miss her very particular brand of extreme eccentricity combined with humour and the touch of genius.

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Vera Rich with the Right Reverend Borys Gudziak, then rector of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, at the Ukrainian Institute in London (Photo by Olga Kerziouk) 

I am one of those who miss her badly. I miss her phone calls and emails (example below), reading Shevchenko in Ukrainian on the Piazza during coffee breaks, ordering books to answer her numerous queries about Ukrainian and Belarusian culture. Vera Rich is one of the best-known modern British names in Ukraine and Belarus. To understand why, it is worth looking in our catalogue

VERARICHTRANSLATIONSHEVCHENKOEmail from Vera Rich with her translation of Shevchenko's poem Oi hlianu ia, podyvliusia

Her contribution to translating and promoting Belarusian and Ukrainian literatures is enormous. English speakers interested in Eastern European literatures became familiar with works by Lesya Ukrainka, Taras Shevchenko, and Ivan Franko due to Vera’s translations. The British Library holds Constantine Bida’s, Lesya Ukrainka: life and work, which includes selected works translated by Vera Rich (Toronto, 1968; X.900/3941). For the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko’s death she translated his poetry for the book Song out of darkness.

VeraRichSong out of DarknessDSC_0041
Title page of Song out of darkness: selected poems by Taras Shevchenko (London, 1961) 11303.bb.3

The crowning achievement of her career as a translator from Ukrainian was published posthumously in 2013, for Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday: a translation of his Kobzar (Kyiv, 2013; YF.2014.b.264). Other translations are available online in the Ukrainian Electronic Library, such as her translation of a famous poem by Ivan Franko, Moisei (‘Moses’). A full bibliography of her Ukrainian literary translations is included in Hanna Kosiv’s monograph : Vira Rich: tvorchyĭ portret perekladacha (‘Vera Rich: portrait of a translator’; Lviv, 2011; YF.2012.a.17207). Interesting memoirs about meetings with her are published in a book by the Ukrainian literary critic Dmytro Drozdovsky Merydian rozuminni︠a︡ (Kyïv, 2011; YF.2012.a.12084). For many years Vera worked with the Ukrainian émigré community; from 1993-1999 she was a Deputy Editor of The Ukrainian Review (P.P.4842.dns), and later she wrote a popular column about recent news from Ukraine with the picant ending “And finally…” for the London-based émigré newspaper Ukrainska Dumka (‘Ukrainian Thought’; LOU.1165 [1994])

Her first translation from Belarusian appeared in 1957 in the émigré newspaper Batskaushchyna (‘Fatherland’), published in Munich (MFM.MF537T). It was a poem by the famous Belarusian poet Janka Kupala. In 1971 the first anthology of translations of Belarusian poetry into English, Like Water, Like Fire: An anthology of Byelorussian poetry from 1828 to the present day (X15/4600), containing the work of 40 poets, was published, followed by a bilingual selection of poetry, The Images Swarm Free (London, 1982; X.950/22024) with translations of poems by Ales Harun, Maksim Bahdanovich, and Zmitrok Biadula. In 2004 Radio Free Europe in Prague published her translations of modern Belarusian poetry Poems on liberty: reflections for Belarus (YD.2011.a.1845). After her death her translations were included in a bilingual book Melodiya︡ natkhnenni︠a︡ = A melody of inspiration (Minsk, 2012; YF.2012.a.21519; photo below). The full bibliography of her translations from Belarusian can be found here: http://www.belarus-misc.org/v-rich.htm#top

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A passionate defender of human rights, Vera Rich translated from Russian manuscripts about Soviet censorship for The Medvedev papers by Zhores A. Medvedev (Nottingham, 1975; X.100/16205) and wrote an extensive chapter ‘Jewish themes and characters in Belorussian texts’ for The image of the Jew in Soviet literature: the post-Stalin period  (New York, 1985; 85/23477). For more than 20 years she was the Soviet and East European correspondent for the scientific weekly Nature. Her numerous contributions can be found in the archive

Other articles on a variety of subjects appeared in The Lancet and Index on Censorship. She also translated poems from Polish, especially by Cyprian Norwid, Spanish (the poem Los puntos cardinales by Carlos Sherman; Minsk, 2000; YF.2008.a.37017), Old Icelandic and Old English.

Vera Rich was also an accomplished original poet in her own right. Her modestly-published poetry books are: Outlines (London:, 1960; 11351.g.1), Sonnetarium: a chapbook of sonnets (London, 1962; 011498.a.45), Portents and Images: A collection of original verse and translations (London, [1963]; 11303.i.49) and Heritage of Dreams. A sketchbook in verse of Orkney ([Kirkwall], 1964; X.909/5128). Examples of her short, witty poems are available on the site AllPoetry. She was a founder and editor (1962-1969 and again from 1998 until her death) of the poetry magazine Manifold (ZK.9.a.6262). It published not only high-quality original poetry but also translations from lesser-known languages. Amongst all these numerous activities Vera found a time to prepare literary events and perform with her enthusiastic friends for various occasions in different places. I particularly remember the inspirational programme “Ukraine: From Mazepa to Maidan” performed in Oxford in 2007 at the invitation of the Oxford Student Ukrainian Society.

I would like to finish my tribute to this extraordinary woman with her own poem written for the 80th birthday of the prominent Belarusian priest Father Alexander Nadson  in 2006 and published in the Festschrift Sontsa tvai︠o︡ ne zakotsitstsa, i mesi︠a︡ts tvoĭ ne skhavaetstsa = Your sun shall never set again, and your moon shall wane no more: essays in honour of Fr Alexander Nadson on the occasion of his eightieth birthday… (Minsk, 2009; YF.2011.b.788) :

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 Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies

14 October 2015

Solitary voices from the people’s chorus: the painfully human art of Svetlana Aleksievich

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                   Swetlana Alexijewitsch 2013 (From Wikimedia Commons,   ©Elke Wetzig; Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 8th October a new winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced. Svetlana Aleksievich became the first writer from Belarus and the first woman author who writes in Russian to receive this prestigious award. Born in Ivano-Frankivsk to Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father, Aleksievich also provides Ukraine with an opportunity to take pride in her.

The Nobel Prize has always attracted so much attention and controversy that very few laureates were received with solid approval and joy. Aleksievich is not an exception, being in the honourable company of Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and others. I will leave it for the readers to find more immediate responses to this award for themselves and take this opportunity to reflect on Aleksievich’s writings. 

Journalist by training, Svetlana Aleksievich finished her first book The War’s Unwomanly face just several years before the launch of perestroika in the Soviet Union. Cut by censorship, cautious editors and the author herself, fragments of this book were first published in literary magazines and in 1985 – as a book. In a short time the overall print run of several consequent editions reached two million copies. The book told real stories of women – participants in WWII. Aleksievich interviewed hundreds of women veterans and let them speak for themselves in their own words, so that the book reads as a series of individual monologues: memoirs, accounts, cries and confessions. The tone of the book presented a sharp contrast with the Soviet official line on treating the subject of the war with Nazi Germany as heroic sacrifice for the Soviet Motherland. Aleksievich showed the war in its entirety as horror and madness, fear and pain, hard labour and exposure of the best human and the worst beastial features in people. On the one hand, Aleksievich followed the steps of Ales Adamovich and Daniil Granin with their The Blockade Book and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Some critics trace the roots of her style to Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion.  On the other hand, Aleksievich turned document-based prose into a unique creative method. By removing the author figure from her books Aleksievich eliminated any distance between her heroes and the reader and created a narrative where the reader felt unprotected by an intermediary. The reader is ‘naked’ in front of the text and is wounded by the simple words in which the stories are expressed.

For the next 30 years Aleksievich continued to work in this genre, which I would describe metaphorically as ‘written oral history’. Together with her first book The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys (about children at war), Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, and Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster form the cycle that she entitled Voices from the Big Utopia. Her other two books Enchanted with Death (stories about suicides in the early post-Soviet period), and Second-hand Time (2013), that examines such as phenomenon as the Soviet Man, are written in a similar style and are closely linked to the cycle.

Prior to her major award, Aleksievich had received over twenty national and international prizes. Her works are translated into more than 30 languages. Over 20 films and a dozen theatre productions are based on Aleksievich’s books, including Prayer for Chernobyl  directed by Jenny Engdahl  at the New Vic Basement in 1999 and Juanita Wilson’s directorial debut The Door, a 16 minute short film based on Monologue About a Whole Life Written Down on Doors, the Testimony of Nikolai Fomich Kalugin – one of the accounts from Voices from Chernobyl. We sincerely congratulate Svetlana Aleksievich and wish her further great strength to write more books that challenge our understanding what it is to live, love and be human.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, European Studies

24 April 2015

“As though everyone were alive…”

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Type the word “Chernobyl” into our online catalogue, and a few thousand results will come for your attention. Unsurprisingly most of them will be scientific articles in academic journals and papers from international conferences as in the 29 years since the Chernobyl disaster a lot has been done by the world scientific community to assess the tragic event on 26 April 1986 and its consequences in all aspects. Articles and books have been published in many countries in various languages.  At the moment 13 theses about Chernobyl from universities in the United Kingdom are listed in our catalogue.

In addition our Belarusian and Ukrainian Collections offer researchers  ethnographical studies of the region of Polesia which was most severely affected by the catastrophe, as well as valuable albums of photographs by intrepid journalists who regularly visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In the Zone they take pictures of the rich wildlife there and of people who refused to leave their ancestral land and continued living in the contaminated places (they are called samosely).

CHERNOBYLALBUMSDSC_3048 Albums from our Collections

For the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the catastrophe Ukrainian photographers published the album Imennia zori Chornobyl (‘The star is called Chornobyl’; Kyiv, 1996; YA.2001.b.4323) and five years later the bilingual album Chornobyl: chas podolannia = Chornobyl: time of overcoming (Kyiv, 2001; LB.31.a.9541). British independent photographer John Darwell  travelled to the Exclusion Zone and produced a memorable album entitled Legacy. Photographs inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Stockport, 2001; LB.31.a.10507).

One of the most impressive albums was published in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the catastrophe by the well-known Belarusian photographer, ethnographer and publisher Dzianis Ramaniuk  with the title and text in three languages: Charnobyl / Chernobyl / Tschernobyl (Minsk, 2006; LF.37.b.78) It contains outstanding colour and black-and-white photographs by Ihar Byshniou, Anatol Kliashchuk and Dzianis Ramaniuk. The album gives a comprehensive overview of the nature and history of the region and its inhabitants. The German photographer Rüdiger Lubricht took pictures of abandoned villages and of samosely and of people who were involved in dealing with the immediate results of the catastrophe (Verlorene Orte. Gebrochene Biografien (Dortmund, 2012) LF.31.a.4052). The most recent photographic album by German photographer Gerd Ludwig (he visited the Chernobyl area nine times in recent 20 years), The long shadow of Chernobyl/Der lange Schatten von Tschernobyl/L'Ombre de Tchernobyl (Baden, 2014 [Awaiting shelfmark]) with an essay by Mikhail Gorbachev has already been acquired for the British Library.  

This great catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale inspired poets from various countries – from Belarus to Wales and Venezuela – to reflect about it and the future of the nuclear energy.

ChernobylPoetryDSC_3046Books of poetry from our Collections

A poet from Venezuela, Lucila Velasquez (1928-2009), was one of the first to write a long poem El Arbol de Chernobyl = Tree of Chernobyl (Caracas, 1989; YA.1993.a.6858) based on her meditation about the catastrophe and the future of humankind. Poems by Belarusian authors were collected in the anthology Zorka Palyn (Minsk, 1993; YA.2000.a.14105). In Britain, poet and environmentalist Mario Petrucci published two poetry books: Half life: Poems for Chernobyl (Coventry, 2004; YK.2006.a.9836) dedicated to the prominent Belarusian writer and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich) and Heavy water: A poem for Chernobyl (London, 2004; YK.2005.a.16818). Some of these poems can be found here. Later two versions of a documentary film were made based on Petrucci’s poem: Heavy Water: A film for Chernobyl and a shorter version called Half Life: A journey to Chernobyl. They were shown at various festivals (one of reviews is available  here).

The Ukrainian poet, translator and journalist Liubov Sirota, who is a native of Pripyat and witnessed the catastrophe with her own eyes, writes extensively on the subject. Some of her poems are accessible online. The title of my blog which just touches on our vast collection about Chernobyl derives from Sirota’s poem “To an Angel of Pripyat”. The poem is dedicated to the talented young pianist Olenka Chemezova, who died from cancer in the summer of 1995. It was published in a photo album of the same name.  The poet imagines that the ghost city of Pripyat is returning to life through the magic touch of the young pianist:

The darkened eye sockets of dead buildings
will once again be filled with the heat of human beings…
The city will hold its breath for a moment
while you descend into your house…

And again a thousand voices from the street
will begin to sound the former daily happenings…
as though everyone were alive, and all had returned,
as though the city were still alive….

(Translated from the Russian by Liubov Sirota and Debra Romanick Baldwin)

Liubov Sirota worked together with Rolland Sergienko to create the film Porog (‘Threshhold’) about Chernobyl. The British Library does not hold many DVDs from Eastern Europe, but it has a DVD of the Belarusian film-maker Viktor Korzun’s, Verytsʹ tolʹki vetru: Charnobylʹ 20 hadoŭ paslia (Minsk, 2007; EF.2013.x.26)

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Names of Lost villages, in the  Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum (Photo by Volodymyr Levchuk from Wikimedia Commons)

Music is another powerful vehicle to express the human pain and horror caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. Some specimens of musical works about Chernobyl are available in our Sound collections: from Chernobyl by Blanck Mass and Chernobyl Rain by Hibbs (Gong) to orchestral music (Chernobyl by Nancy van de Vate, performed by the Polish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra). New musical works about Chernobyl are created every year. It is heart-warming to find out that on Sunday 26 April 2015 the London-based Ukrainian composer Alla Sirenko will present the premiere of her own work in London dedicated to the victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies

References

Aleksievich, Svetlana. Voices from Chernobyl: chronicle of the future. Normall, Il., 2005. m05/30342

Medvedev, Zhores A. The legacy of Chernobyl.   Nottingham, 2011. YC.2012.a.15740

Mycio, Mary. Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl. Washington, D.C., 2005. YC.2006.a.10733

Park, Chris C. Chernobyl. The Long Shadow. London, 1989. YC.1989.a.6423

Read, Piers Paul. Ablaze: the story of Chernobyl. London,1993. YK.1995.a.2707

Shcherbak, Iurii.  Chernobyl: a documentary story (translated from the Ukrainian by Ian Press; foreword by David R. Morples). Basingstoke,1989.  YC.1989.a.8562 and 89/12279.



26 September 2014

Kazimir Malevich - pioneer of Russian abstract art

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Vistula

“Look, just look, the Vistula is near”. Poster designed by Kazimir Malevich with caption by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Moscow, 1914). British Library HS.74/273(3)

Having just viewed the excellent Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example the figure of an officer on one of the series of anti-German propaganda postcards in the “Works on paper” section with the caption “Look, just look, the Vistula is near” appears again on one of the lithographed posters Malevich designed for the project “Today’s Lubok” in the same year. In both the postcard and poster (which uses different colours) you can already see the tendency towards depicting the human figure as being made up of geometrical shapes, the use of bright colours (also found in Russian folk paintings or lubki) and the stylised patterns (e.g. to depict grass) of contemporary Primitivist paintings.

The British Library holds four lithographed First World War posters designed by Malevich.  One of these – “Wilhelm’s Merry-go-round” (HS 74/273(4)) – is also displayed in the British Library’s current exhibition Enduring War.

Malevich, Prayer

Kazimir Malevich, “Prayer” from Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh. (St Petersburg, 1913). C.114mm.28.

Also included in the “Works on paper” section of the exhibition is Malevich’s “Molitva” (Prayer). This appears in the lithographed Futurist publication Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh (known in English as “Explodity”). It is in the Cubo-Futurist style which combines the multi-viewpoints and cylindrical machine like shapes of Cubism (cf. Léger) with the dynamic approach of Futurism though here applied in the Russian manner to a static meditative pose rather than depicting movement.

During his Futurist period Malevich developed the theory of alogism where colour is divorced from the object that is being depicted. This combined with the irrationalism of the Russian Futurists can be seen in  An Englishman in Moscow (1914) where objects of different scale and unnatural colour are combined in a surrealistic collage.

Punin, Lectures

Nikolai Punin, Pervyi tsikl lektsii. (Petrograd, 1920). C.145.a.2.

There are several examples of book covers designed by Malevich included in the exhibition. One also held by the British Library is his cover for Nikolai Punin’s, Pervyi tsikl lektsii (First cycle of lectures). This cover exemplifies the use of bright colours and geometrical forms of Malevich’s abstract Suprematist  style for a book about drawing in modern art.

New systems in Art

Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve. (Vitebsk, 1919). C.114.n.46.

In 1919 Malevich joined the art school set up by Chagall in Vitebsk. Here he began to produce books that promoted Suprematism as the correct method for modern art. His ideas were elucidated further in the manifesto O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New systems in Art) published in Vitebsk in 1919. This publication was hand produced in the Art School by transfer lithography with a linocut (see above) by El Lissitzky. It was republished in abbreviated form by Narkompros as Ot Sezanna do suprematizmu (From Cezanne to Suprematism) in 1920. (C.127.g.11.) 

Affirmer of the New Art

“A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin” from  Mikhail Karasik, Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva. (St Petersburg, 2007). HS.74/1966. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

An interesting use of Malevich’s Suprematist imagery can be seen in Mikhail Karasik’s artist’s book of 16 lithographs entitled Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva  (To the Affirmer of the New Art). In No.6 “A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin: Stalin calls upon the spirit of Malevich” his black square and a robotic looking figure together with the letters of the artists’ collective UNOVIS are merged into a contemporary photo of Stalin making a speech.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

References

Other original works by Malevich held by the British Library:

Kazimir Malevich, Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika [God is not cast down: art, church, factory], (Vitebsk, 1922). C.114.n.33.

Kazimir Malevich, Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: novyi zhivopisnyi realizm [From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: new painterly realism], 3rd edition. (Moscow, 1916). C.114.mm.25.

Artists books containing illustrations by Malevich:

Daniel Kharms, Na smert’ Kazimira Malevicha [On the death of Kazimir Malevich], (St Petersburg, 2000). Lithographs and commentaries by Mikhail Karasik. Cover decorated with a fabric design by Malevich. HS.74/1743

Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, Igra v adu [Game in hell], 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). Cover and 3 lithographs by Malevich. Cup.406.g.2 and C.114.mm.41.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Pobeda nad solntsem; opera [Victory over the sun: opera], music by M. Matiushin, (St Petersburg, 1913). A set design by Malevich appears on the cover. C.114.mm.9.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Slovo kak takovoe [Word as such.], (Moscow, 1913). Cover illustration (Reaper) by K. Malevich. C.114.mm.23.

Troe [Three] by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and E. Guro, (St Petersburg, 1913). Cover and drawings dedicated to the memory of E. Guro by K. Malevich. C.105.a.7

Zina V. and Aleksei Kruchenykh. Porosiata [Piglets], (St Petersburg: EUY, 1913). Cover (Peasant woman) and illustrations (including “Portrait of a builder”) by Malevich. C.104.e.21

Useful reference sources:

Malevich edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. (London, 2014.) [Catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition]

Leaflet text of Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern by Simon Bolitho.