THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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19 posts categorized "Belarus"

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

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As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry鈥檚 contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde鈥檚 collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of Shchas使livy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of Shchas使livy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. Khval使ko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from Shchas使livy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from Shchas使livy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from Shchas使 livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135鈥136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (Shchas使 livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. Khval使ko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamit臈t).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann G枚ring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book 鈥榝or the Belarusian family and school鈥 (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhyts使tsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, 鈥淒isplaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.鈥 Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92鈥114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

22 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction I

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For this blog, the first of a mini series in collaboration with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year鈥檚 timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction (BL ELD.DS.463137), edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published last year (the UN鈥檚 International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It鈥檚 got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in our collections鈥

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeap盲盲, The Sun, My Father

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeap盲盲, The Sun, My Father, translated by Harald Gaski, Lars Nordstr枚m, and Ralph Salisbury (Guovdageaidnu, 1997), YA.2001.a.9397

S谩mi

Spoken in S谩pmi, the S谩mi languages are part of the Uralic language family. As of August 2019, and the approval of an official Pite S谩mi orthography, eight of the nine S谩mi languages have written standards. That said, S谩mi poetry is tied much more to an oral tradition, at the heart of which is the 鈥渏oik鈥 form of song. The joik is often dedicated to a person, animal, place, a landscape and its mode of expression is to evoke its subject directly and not to speak about it. The first S谩mi poet to win the Nordic Council Literature Prize was Nils-Aslak Valkeap盲盲 for his Beaivi, 谩h膷谩啪an (鈥楾he Sun, my Father鈥) (YA.1994.b.2494), a title referring to the myth that the S谩mi are the children of the Sun. Written in North S谩mi, the illustrated meditation on 鈥榚verything of which humans form a part鈥 (Heith), connects us to nature fundamentally:

eanan
lea ear谩l谩g谩n
go das lea orron
v谩nddardan

biv谩stuvv谩n
拧uv膷膷agan

oaidn谩n beaivvi
luoitime loktaneame
l谩hppome ihtime

eanan lea ear谩l谩g谩n
go dieht谩
d谩ppe
m谩ttut
m谩ddagat

鈥撯撯撯撯撯

the land
is different
when you have lived there
wandered

sweated
frozen

seen the sun
set rise
disappear return

the land is different
when you know
here are
roots
ancestors

(From Valkeap盲盲鈥, The Sun, my Father)

Valkeap盲盲鈥檚 unpunctuated, short-lined flow moves us through the poem as if the voice is taking the reader on the very wander it imagines. It is well worth listening to Valekap盲盲 sing the lyrics. Contemporary S谩mi poetry is thriving, and McCabe鈥檚 anthology points us towards a poem by Synn酶ve Persen, and we have recently acquired a range of titles from leading S谩mi voices such as Persen, Inga Ravna Eira, Maren Uthaug, and Rauni Magga Lukkari, to name a few.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Engraving of a 30 year-old La Villemarqu茅 transcribing a song

A 30 year-old La Villemarqu茅 transcribing a song. Engraving by Ernest Boyer, half-brother of the poet Brizeux, 1845, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Breton (Brezhoneg)

Before the revival movements of the 19th and early 20th century, most literature in Breton consisted of religious writings. This revival had been first generated by the publication and international success of La Villemarqu茅's Barzaz Breiz (鈥楽ongs and Ballads of Brittany鈥; 20010.ff.45.), the foundation of Brittany's literary renaissance.

Our collections present a good selection of Breton poets, from War poet Yann-Ber Kalloc鈥檋 (1888 鈥1917) to Pierre-Jakez Helias (1914-1995). Born on the island of Groix, near Quimper, Kalloc鈥檋 was the son of a fisherman. Taking the name of Bard Bleimor (鈥楽ea Wolf鈥), Kalloc鈥檋 described himself as 鈥榥ot in the least bit French鈥 and wrote in autonomist and regionalist reviews and publications. His most famous work is the posthumous collection of poems, Ar en deulin, published by his friend Pierre Mocaer in 1925 (1963 parallel text edition at X.989/21387). This collection includes the famous poem 鈥楳e 鈥檢o Ganet kreiz ar e mor鈥 (鈥業 was born in the middle of the sea鈥), which can also be found in Minhoarheu ha dareu. Sourires et pleurs. Poe虂sies de Bretagne (Quimper, 1926; 10657.b.36.).

A major literary figure in Brittany (and in the whole of France) in the second half of the 20th century, P锚r-Jakez Helias directed a weekly radio programme in the Breton language and co-founded a summer festival which became the Festival de Cornouaille. Helias鈥檚 poetry includes two collections in Breton, Ar m锚n du (鈥楾he Black Stone鈥; Brest, 1974; PP.4881.sdp.[niv.47/48.]) and An tremen-buhez ( 鈥楾he Pastime鈥; Brest, 1979; X.950/1993). The Breton language itself is an important theme in his work: 鈥楤reton speaker that I am, my heritage lies on my tongue鈥.

The Library also has a collection of literary magazine Al Liamm (P.901/1500), first published in 1946. Many modern Breton authors have contributed to the magazine with poems, short stories, essays, and songs.

It is interesting to note another trend in later Breton poetry: Haikus. Contemporary Breton poets have taken to this art form, and seem particularly keen on experimenting, as in Paol Keineg鈥檚 35 haiku (Morlaix, 1978; X.907/20940) and the recent Breton/Japanese haikus by singer and musician Alan Stivell, Amzer (2015; BL 1CD0378512)

And if you want to delve into the Breton language a bit more, we have also digitized the 1744 Dictionnaire franc抬ois-breton ou franc抬ois-celtique du dialecte de Vannes!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

 

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau (2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Belarusian

Belarusian is one of the two official languages of Belarus (the other is Russian), yet it is estimated that only around 10% of the population use it in everyday life.

In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English, Like Water, Like Fire (1971; X.981/2398.), was published as part of a UNESCO series of books aimed at highlighting literature in lesser-known languages. It contained works by 41 authors, from Franci拧ak Bahu拧evi膷 to Larysa Hieniju拧 and Maxim Tank, which were translated by the poet and translator Vera Rich.

Although still relatively little known outside of Belarus and the Belarusian diaspora, contemporary Belarusian poetry is thriving. In his 2015 book, Spring Shoots: Young Belarusian Poets in the Early Twenty-First Century (YC.2017.a.1460), Arnold McMillin introduces 40 poets born in or after 1980 and loosely connects them through common themes present in their poetry, including the use and defence of language, historical heritage, protest at alienation and repression, and religion.

One stand-out poet who does not feature in Spring Shoots (but is instead included in McMillin鈥檚 earlier work as a 鈥榩oet of the future鈥) is the US-based Valzhyna Mort, who writes in both Belarusian and English. The British Library recently acquired Mort鈥檚 collection, Epidemiia ruzhau (鈥楻ose Pandemic鈥), which explores the themes of war and displacement, music and gardens, language and earth. In an article published on the website of Cornell University鈥檚 English Department, where Mort is a professor, she observes that, 鈥楾he landscape of Belarus is burdened by silence, by the unverbalized history of war and colonization鈥 and describes the collection as 鈥榯rying to untie the nerves of silence.鈥 

Mort features on http://litradio.by/, an archive of audio recordings featuring writers, poets and translators reading their work and one of the many projects set up by Belarusian PEN Centre aimed at fostering and promoting Belarusian literature.

You can read and listen to Valzhyna Mort鈥檚 poem 鈥楤elarusian I鈥 (鈥楤elaruskaia mova I鈥) from Factory of Tears (Port Townsend, Wash., 2008; YD.2009.a.3260), which is included in McCabe鈥檚 anthology, here.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further Reading:

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here

Anne Heith, 鈥楶utting an end to the shame associated with minority culture and its concomitant negative self-Images 鈥 On gender and ethnicity in Sami and Tornedalian literature鈥, accessed 7/4/20

Harald Gaski, 鈥楽ong, Poetry and Images in Writing: Sami Literature鈥, Nordlit 15 (1), 2011, pp. 33-54.

29 October 2019

UNOVIS 鈥 the Bauhaus of the East

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This year is the centenary of the Bauhaus, prompting worldwide celebrations from Brazil to the UK, from Germany to China. The Bauhaus as a school of art and architecture is long gone, but as a marketing and PR campaign it has not yet run out of steam. The history of art has put it on a pedestal, and for decades it has been widely recognised as the undisputed primary source of inspiration for Modernism, but is it?

The almost fanatical reverence for the Bauhaus in the West certainly overshadows its most influential contemporary, the People鈥檚 Art School, which was located in a small provincial town in modern-day Belarus called Viciebsk (Vitebsk), hundreds of miles from any major cities.

Professors at the People's Art School in Viciebsk

Teachers at the People鈥檚 Art School in Viciebsk, July 1919 (Wikimedia Commons)

The school was the brainchild of Viciebsk鈥檚 most famous son, Marc Chagall. It was approved in August 1918 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, head of the People鈥檚 Commissariat for Education, and officially inaugurated in January 1919, just over two months before the Bauhaus and amid the upheaval of the Russian Civil War. But it was what happened next that actually cemented Viciebsk鈥檚 place in the history of modern art. The following year in November 1919, Chagall invited the maverick of 20th century modern art, Kazimir Malevich to teach in his humble art school in Viciebsk.

Title page of O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve with Malevich's black square

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

2019 therefore marks the centenary of Malevich鈥檚 arrival in Viciebsk, and under Malevich, the People鈥檚 Art School became a completely different breed with a singular voice. Malevich was in fact persuaded to move from Moscow to Viciebsk by a young teacher who was already teaching there, El Lissitzky, who would later become a celebrated artist worldwide in his own right. With Malevich came his Suprematism, and a clash with the pluralistic approach to styles preferred by Chagall was inevitable. Lissitzky very soon was won over by Suprematism and created his famous/ infamous pro-Bolshevik propaganda poster 鈥楤eat the Whites with the Red Wedge鈥 (1919), a powerful image that graces the floor of the art school (now a museum) today.

El Lissitzky  鈥楤eat the Whites with the Red Wedge鈥 (1919)

El Lissitzky, 鈥楤eat the Whites with the Red Wedge鈥 (1919) (Wikimedia Commons)

Next year will be the centenary of another significant event in modern art history: the emergence of UNOVIS, and this warrants separate mention. The group was first founded by students from the People鈥檚 Art School on 19 January 1920 under the Russian acronym MOLPOSNOVIS, meaning 鈥榊oung Followers of the New Art鈥, but within days, the group was joined by the teachers and was renamed POSNOVIS, meaning 鈥楩ollowers of the New Art鈥.

On 14 February 1920 it was renamed again, this time UNOVIS, meaning the champions, or the affirmers of the New Art 鈥 not followers any more. The architect of this cult-like group was Malevich, and it counted many future superstars among its converts, including Lissitzky, Vera Ermolaeva (who was also director of the School for a time), Nina Kogan, and Lazar Khidekel. The transition of the school from the influence of pluralistic individualism championed by Chagall to collective, impersonal and non-objective art was now complete 鈥 all the works created by UNOVIS were signed with Malevich鈥檚 iconic black square for anonymity.

Title page of Suprematizm. 34 risunka with Malevich's black square

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematizm. 34 risunka (Viciebsk, 1920). Wikimedia Commons. The British Library holds two facsimiles of this work in Russian and English (X.419/3137 and YA.1997.a.15443).

The whole town of Viciebsk soon became their testing ground as members decorated it with Suprematist art in all its forms, but the group鈥檚 ultimate goal was to apply Suprematism to the largest and most permanent art form with a more lasting impact on society: architecture. Although the group did not actually realise any architectural projects during its ephemeral existence, its Suprematist aesthetics inspired and continue to inspire many architects, even its antagonists, throughout the 20th century and up to this day, including the late Zaha Hadid, one of world's most sought-after 鈥榮tarchitects鈥 of recent decades.

The Bauhaus as a school is famous for its short life-span which ended in 1933, but UNOVIS was even more short-lived, it lasted just over 2 years and was dissolved in May 1922 for various reasons including financial ones. Nevertheless, UNOVIS had announced its presence to the world and had a far-reaching impact on 20th-century art and architecture beyond its very short life. The legacy of Viciebsk was re-affirmed by a major exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year (the catalogue is available at the British Library, LF.31.a.6493). The Viciebsk Centre of Modern Art is also planning a series of UNOVIS centenary publications and events next year, including exhibitions, a conference, and a poster competition.

Issue of Supremus newspaper

Issue of Supremus, a newspaper dedicated to Malevich and the legacy of Suprematism (Moscow/Zurich, 1991-2001). HS.74/803

There are a number of additional items related to this intensely creative period in Viciebsk in the collections of the British Library. Most notably, they include an original copy of Malevich鈥檚 manifesto Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika (鈥楪od is not cast down: art, church, factory鈥; Viciebsk, 1922; C.114.n.33.). The Library also holds the first issue (1919) of the Viciebsk journal Revoliutsionnoe iskusstvo (鈥楻evolutionary Art鈥; C.191.b.6), which includes articles by Chagall and Malevich, as well as a facsimile of Almanakh UNOVIS 1 (Moscow, 2003; LF.31.b.1837), which was originally published in 1920. In addition, there is a strong collection of works by and about individual members of UNOVIS, as well as a wealth of secondary literature on the group.

Tszwai So, co-founder of Spheron Architects, is a London-based artist and architect

 

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 (鈥楩reedom Day鈥), 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 鈥 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鈥檚 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 鈥 just a few days 鈥 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鈥檚 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 Arlo怒, 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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 鈥搒ociety was not yet ready for radical changes.

Belarus StampPahonia_(25_Hro拧a怒 _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 Belaruskai虇 Narodnai虇 Re虈spubliki (鈥楢rchives of the Belarusian Democratic Republic鈥) 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 艩upa, a talented  journalist and translator (among his translations into Belarusian were George Orwell鈥檚 Animal Farm and 1984), stumbled upon them almost by chance and spent six years preparing their publication.

BelarusArkhivyBNR
Arkhivy Belaruskai虇 Narodnai虇 Re虈spubliki (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鈥檚 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鈥 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鈥檚 collective work Historyia belaruskai虇 dziarzha怒nastsi 怒 kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (鈥楢 history of Belarusian statehood from the end of 18th to the beginning of 21st centuries鈥) the BNR is characterised as the first attempt at a national Belarusian state.

BelarusHistoryiaHistoryia belaruskai虇 dziarzha怒nastsi 怒 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鈥檚 future.

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

Further reading:

D. Michaluk, 鈥From the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: the Idea of Belarusian Statehood, 1915-1919鈥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 艩upa 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 Tura怒 [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Tura怒, 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.

Facsimile title-page of the 1588 statute with a woodcut device of a mounted knight
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鈥檚 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 (怒) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

A monument celebrating the character 褳_

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

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 膶a膷ot, the author Jan Bar拧膷e怒ski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievi膷, and the first major national poet, Franci拧ak Bahu拧evi膷 鈥 all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first 鈥 illegal then 鈥 Belarusian newspaper, Mu啪yckaja pra怒da, was published by Kastu艣 Kalino怒ski, also using Latin script.

Cover of 'Niaczys虂cik'Cover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczys虂cik, Ballada Bia艂oruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


Cover of a facsimile edition of 'Dudka bia艂aruskaja' Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushe虈vich, Dudka bia艂aruskaja (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 鈥淩ussian and Polish characters鈥. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet 鈥 for Roman Catholics. The Na拧a Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

Page from a facsimile edition of Nasha NivaPage 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 Branisla怒 Tara拧kievi膷 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 (膷, 拧) 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 Branisla怒 Tara拧kievi膷鈥檚 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 鈥 some were invited to join the Duchy鈥檚 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 I怒je 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 鈥 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 鈥 and people among whom they lived 鈥 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, 鈥The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century鈥, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

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

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

Shirin Akiner, 鈥The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum鈥, 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: 臈ntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, 鈥楾urauskae Evanhelle 鈥 samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi鈥, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22鈥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 Krak贸w and Padua, and started his publishing endeavours in Prague 鈥 then one of the main centres of printing 鈥 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 鈥 23 books. These were translated into the Belarusian version of the Church Slavonic language then widely used in the Orthodox Church. Skaryna鈥檚 translation is close to the 鈥楤enatska Bible鈥 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鈥檚 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: 鈥淪eeing 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.鈥 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鈥檚 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 鈥渉eretic Hussite鈥, a follower of Jan Hus who was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Church calendars in Skaryna鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 publications are found in Ukraine. Skaryna鈥檚 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鈥檚 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 鈥 then controlled by Poland 鈥 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鈥檚 books from a private collector in Leningrad. Since then, no more of Skaryna鈥檚 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, 鈥楩rancis Skaryna and his epoch鈥.

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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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 鈥500 Years of Belarusian Printing鈥 and the most comprehensive exhibition of Skaryna鈥檚 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: U虅 velikom Starom meste Prazskom, Tyseshta Pe獭tsot I Osm屎nadeset使 

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鈥檚 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, pec虒atnyja izdanija i jazyk (Munich, 1989). X.0909/738(85)

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

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

 E. L. Nemirovskii虇, Frantsisk Skorina : zhizn使 i deiatel使nost使 belorusskogo prosvetitelia. (Minsk,1990). 2708.e.1972

H. IA. Halenchanka,   Frantsysk Skaryna--belaruski i u虇skhodneslavianski 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 鈥 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 drawing of the tower. Reproduced in Z使mitser Vai虇tsiakhovich, Kraina zamkau虇, al使bo Belarus使 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 Me帽li I Giray鈥檚  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 srednevekov使ia Belarusi = Legends of Medieval Belarus (Minsk, 2012) YF.2014.a.160

Rimma Lough, SEE Cataloguer Belarusian/Russian/Ukrainian

References/Further reading

A. A. Iarash臈vich, 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 Pa怒liuk Bahrym (1812-c1891), 鈥楶lay Then, Play鈥, which was taught in the schools of Soviet Belarus as the earliest example of peasants鈥 liberation literature. Already in this choice of the opening poem the influence of the anthology鈥檚 sponsors can be detected; it is even more obvious in the later sections of the volume.

This influence wasn鈥檛 absolute: the book contains a modest selection of persecuted authors such as Jazep Pu拧膷a, Uladzimir Dubo怒ka and Larysa Hieniju拧. But there are no poems by Alie艣 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 Bahdanovi膷, 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 鈥渁n outstanding piece of work which will serve many English readers as an introduction to an unjustly neglected corner of European literature鈥. He noted that the book was the product of nearly 20 years of work and 鈥渢he translations adhere closely to the form and rhythm of the original poems, and in many cases Miss Rich achieves felicitous results鈥 . He was critical, however, of a misrepresentative 鈥 to a certain degree 鈥 selection of works, particularly from the 19th century:

No representation is given to such 19th-century poets as Ravinski, 膶a膷ot and Dunin-Marcinkievi膷, or to the anonymous Taras on Parnassus [鈥 It is a pity that both by her selection of poems and by her introductory survey of the development of the Byelorussian poetry [鈥 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 鈥淪oviet Belorussian poetry is represented most extensively [鈥 and is translated most adequately [鈥 But the poetry of the 1920s, the 鈥榶ears of plenty鈥 [鈥 is very poorly represented with just a dozen poems.鈥 Adamovich refers here to the translator鈥檚 comment that the 鈥測ears of plenty鈥 of the 1920s 鈥 the years of immense richness and vibrancy in Belarusian literature 鈥 were followed by the 鈥測ears of dearth鈥 under Stalin鈥檚 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鈥檚 work wasn鈥檛 entirely accepted by the Belarusian diaspora which had had great hopes for this publication and contributed to the translator鈥檚 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 鈥 and so far only 鈥 anthology of Belarusian poetry in English.

Two curious stories relate to its publication. The first is narrated by the translator herself, who thanked 鈥渓ast and most definitely not least (and in view of the title, most appropriately) [鈥 the Enfield Fire Service who salvaged the manuscript during a flood-cum-electrical-fire shortly before its completion鈥. 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鈥檛 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 鈥楲ike Water, Like Fire.An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day鈥 by Vera Rich. Slavic Review, 32 (1973), 4, pp. 863-864. Ac.2684.e.

Leanid Marako怒, R臈pr臈savanyia litaratary, navuko怒tsy, rabotniki asvety, hramadskiia i kul使turnyia dzeiachy Belarusi, 1794-1991: 臈ntsyklapedychny davednik u trokh tamakh.
Volume 1. (Minsk, 2002-2005). ZF.9.a.2546

A. McMillin. Review of 鈥楲ike Water: Like Fire. An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day鈥 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.

Photograph of Professor Arnold McMillin

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

Prof McMillin鈥檚 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 鈥 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 Haro拧ka, a rather fierce man, but he truly helped me a lot 鈥 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, Rypi艅ski, but by no means all. And Fr Haro拧ka 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. Skaryna怒ka 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鈥檚 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 English. 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鈥檚 evaluation of some untouchable Soviet writers was damning while he praised others who didn鈥檛 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鈥檚 work. Eventually the review appeared under the names Ivan Navumienka, Micha艣 Mu拧ynski and Adam Maldzis. McMillin鈥檚 approach was characterised as 鈥渂ourgeois objectivist鈥 鈥 a made-up description to calm the editors鈥 fears.

Cover of 'A History of Byelorusian Literature'

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 鈥 on account of censorship 鈥 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.

Cover of 'Belarusian Literature of the Diaspora

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.  

Cover of 'Spring Shoots'

 

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鈥檚 Reading Rooms or on the Piazza, still can鈥檛 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.

  Photograph of Borys Gudziak presenting Vera Rich with flowers and a gift
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

Email from Vera Rich to Olga Kerziouk, with an English translation of Shevchenko's poem 'Oi hlianu ia, podyvliusia'Email 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鈥檚 translations. The British Library holds Constantine Bida鈥檚, Lesya Ukrainka: life and work, which includes selected works translated by Vera Rich (Toronto, 1968; X.900/3941). For the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko鈥檚 death she translated his poetry for the book Song out of darkness.

Title-page of 'Song out of Darkness'
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鈥檚 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 (鈥Moses鈥). A full bibliography of her Ukrainian literary translations is included in Hanna Kosiv鈥檚 monograph : Vira Rich: tvorchyi虇 portret perekladacha (鈥榁era Rich: portrait of a translator鈥; 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 rozuminni锔燼锔 (Kyi虉v, 2011; YF.2012.a.12084). For many years Vera worked with the Ukrainian 茅migr茅 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 鈥淎nd finally鈥︹ for the London-based 茅migr茅 newspaper Ukrainska Dumka (鈥楿krainian Thought鈥; LOU.1165 [1994])

Her first translation from Belarusian appeared in 1957 in the 茅migr茅 newspaper Batskaushchyna (鈥楩atherland鈥), 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 Melodiya锔 natkhnenni锔燼锔 = A melody of inspiration (Minsk, 2012; YF.2012.a.21519; photo below). 

Covers of two collections of Belarusian poetry translated by Vera Rich

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 鈥楯ewish themes and characters in Belorussian texts鈥 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 鈥淯kraine: From Mazepa to Maidan鈥 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 tvaio ne zakotsitstsa, i mesiats tvoi虇 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鈥 (Minsk, 2009; YF.2011.b.788) :

  Acrostic poem in honour of Alexander Nadson, by Vera Rich

 Olga Kerziouk, Curator Belarusian and Ukrainian studies