THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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73 posts categorized "Ukraine"

12 March 2021

New Slavonic e-resources at the British Library

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With the tentative but hopeful news that the British Library Reading Rooms will be able to re-open after 12 April, we wanted to highlight some new Slavonic e-resources. Like the Library's other subscribed resources, the following Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian-language digital collections and archives will be available to access onsite in the St Pancras and Boston Spa Reading Rooms. To view the full list of databases and to access them in the Reading Rooms, please use this link.

We are working on making these resources available remotely to all registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. In the meantime, you can find a number of (mostly) free digital resources via our blog and collection guide.

Cover of 30 Dnei from 1925 with an illustration of a steam train in a station

Cover of 30 Dnei from September 1925. Credit: East View

30 Dnei Digital Archive

Founded in 1925 in Moscow 30 Dnei (30 Days) was an illustrated Soviet literary journal famous for the serialised publications of works such as Il’f and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. It was also known for its visually striking covers designed by famous Soviet artists and photojournalists, including Aleksandr Rodchenko. After falling foul of the central government in later years, the journal ceased publication soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941.

30 Dnei originally appeared as a literary supplement to Gudok (The Whistle), the daily newspaper of Soviet railway workers. In the 1920s, Gudok became known for its satirical sketches, to which Il’f and Petrov were regular contributors. The Library holds imperfect runs of Gudok from 1921 and 1922 on microfilm (MFM.MF1284V).

 

Belarus anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942 

Belarusian anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942. Credit: East View

Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets and Press

These two collections consist of 97 World War II leaflets produced during the period of German occupation of Belarus in 1941–1944, as well as 30 newspaper titles published between 1942 and 1945. Most of the leaflets were published clandestinely by the multiple Soviet guerilla (partisan) detachments, as well as by the scores of underground resistance groups which operated in German-occupied cities and villages. The majority of the newspapers were printed by underground resistance groups in secret printing press facilities operating in small Belarusian towns in the territories occupied by the Germans, while others were distributed by Belarusian partisan detachments operating from remote areas of Belarus. The materials are in Belarusian and Russian.

 

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987. Credit: East View

Chernobyl Newspapers Collection

Following the Library’s recent purchase of the digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, we have acquired an additional electronic collection of newspapers published in towns in the exclusion zone and its immediate vicinity. They include three previously unavailable local newspapers, Prapor peremohy, Tribuna energetika, and Tribuna pratsi, and cover the period 1979–1990.

 

Cover of Nedelia with a photograph of people sledging

Cover of Nedelia, 28 December 1963 - 4 January 1964. Credit: East View

Nedelia Digital Archive

Founded in 1960, Nedelia (Week) was a popular illustrated Soviet weekly newspaper that began as a Sunday supplement to Izvestiia under the editorship of Aleksey Adzhubey, the son-in-law of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was one of the very few Soviet periodicals that kept the official Communist Party propaganda to a minimum, covering instead cultural, social, and political happenings with a certain degree of light-heartedness, which perhaps was the main reason behind its popularity.

 

Ogonek title page from 1903 with an Art Nouveau illustration of a woman reading

Ogonek, no. 1, 1903. Credit: East View

Ogonek (St. Petersburg) Digital Archive

Established in 1899 and in continuous print until 1918, Ogonek started as a weekly illustrated supplement to the influential St. Petersburg-based newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (British Library: Mic.B.1089). Ogonek later became a separate entity, attracting some of the most notable journalists, photographers and critics of the period.

Russia in Transition

This digital collection contains primary source materials, ranging from samizdat newspapers to flyers to posters to booklets and brochures from 1989 to 1993, encompassing a period of unprecedented social and political activism in Russia. In addition to this new collection, the British Library also has access to a large number of digitised election related materials from the countries of the former Soviet Union (see Social Movements, Elections, Ephemera).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Materials republished from products originally made available by East View Information Services

18 December 2020

A musical festive feast from around Europe

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With Christmas approaching, European Collections curators introduce some festive songs from the countries they cover.

‘O Tannenbaum’ (‘O Christmas Tree’)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Illustration of a Christmas Tree

Title page of The Christmas Tree, a present from Germany (London, 1844). 12803.ff.3.

Which Christmas Carol links a student drinking song, a lover’s lament and a socialist anthem? None other than ‘O Tannenbaum’, one of the German-language carols that have gained worldwide popularity.

Originally the song had nothing to do with Christmas. The evergreen fir tree as a symbol of constancy was a familiar poetic motif when, in 1819, August Zarnack used it in a poem about a man betrayed in love, contrasting the tree’s ‘faithful’ branches with the woman’s faithlessness. A few years later, the musician and composer Ernst Anschütz altered Zarnack’s poem, replacing the verses that told the tragic love story with musings on the tree teaching a lesson in constancy, with mention of its bringing pleasure at Christmas. The song was first published in 1824, and its spread around the world probably owed something to the growing popularity of Christmas trees in various countries during the 19th century. Although the German original only briefly references Christmas, metrical necessity caused English translators to use ‘O Christmas Tree’,  thus firmly establishing the song’s festive credentials for English-speakers.

The simple yet catchy tune no doubt also contributed to the success of ‘O Tannenbaum’. Originally a folk melody, it became popular in the 18th century as a student drinking song, ‘Lauriger Horatius’ (‘Laurel-crowned Horace’). It has also been used in many other contexts, perhaps most famously for the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. For such a short and simple carol, ‘O Tannenbaum’ certainly has a wide-ranging cultural background and influence!

‘Shchedryk’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Illustration of a swallow

Illustration of a swallow from BL Flickr. BL shelfmark 10201.e.12

Chances are you’ve heard of ‘Carol of the Bells’, a Christmas favourite that has appeared in films, TV shows and adverts from Home Alone to The Muppets. What many don’t know, however, is that the music was written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’. Dating back to pagan times, the original song tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to predict a prosperous New Year for the family. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the coming of the New Year and spring were celebrated in March but with the move to the Julian calendar, it shifted to 13 January (New Year’s Eve), which is known in Ukrainian as Shchedry Vechir (Bountiful Evening).

Leontovych’s song premiered in Kyiv in December 1916 and was performed as part of the Ukrainian National Chorus’s US tour in the early 1920s. The American composer Peter J. Wilhousky subsequently rearranged the melody and wrote new lyrics around the theme of bells, which is the version we know today as ‘Carol of the Bells’.

You can listen to a recording of Leontovych’s ‘Shchedryk’ here.

Pastorałki (‘Pastorals’) by Tytus Czyżewski
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

A baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. A shepherd, standing next to him, playing the bagpipes. A stork sitting on top of a nativity stable. That’s the kind of images you will find in Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski.

Woodcut of the baby Jesus with angels and cattle

Cover of Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski, design by Tadeusz Makowski (Paris, 1925) Ac.9664 Source: Polona 

Czyżewski (1880–1945) was a futurist poet, painter and co-founder of the Polish avant-garde “Formist” group, whose aim was to create a new national style in art and literature by combining Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism with traditional folk art. Czyżewski’s volume of Pastorałki [Pastorals], named after the genre of Polish Christmas carols with pastoral motifs, is an intersection of Polish folklore, medieval miracle plays and European avant-garde.

You can listen to a recording of one of these carols, ‘Kolęda w olbrzymim mieście’ (‘A Christmas Carol in a Big City) here.

The book is illustrated by Tadeusz Makowski (1882-1932), a Paris-based Polish artist. His primitivist woodcuts, inspired by folk iconography, reflect the atmosphere of friskiness and humour of Czyżewski’s pastorals.

Woodcut of baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. Shepherds, standing next to him, are playing instruments.

Illustration from Pastorałki by Tadeusz Makowski, showing shepherds playing highlander instruments to amuse the baby Jesus. Source: Polona 

References:

Alicja Baluch, “Wizualność poezji Tytusa Czyżewskiego”, Rocznik naukowo-dydaktyczny 101 (1986), 199-137. Ac.9234.eb.

Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature (Berkeley, 1983), 400-401. X.950/37574

Kazimierz Wyka, Rzecz wyobraźni (Warsaw, 1977)

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’) is a popular Dutch Christmas song. It is thought that it originated in the 17th century when children would sing it in the streets of Utrecht, but it was first written down in its current form by Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm and features in his collection of ‘Old and New Christmas Songs’ of 1852.

Lyrics and musical notation for ‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ from Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm, Oude en nieuwere kerstliederen … (Amsterdam, 1852). B.893.

The song has four verses, but usually only the first one, and sometimes the second one, are sung. Children stick to the first verse, and I cannot remember singing the others. The first verse tells how the shepherds were in the fields, having counted their sheep and then heard the angels sing, ‘clearly and fluently’ of the birth of Jesus upon which they went to Bethlehem to find him. In the second verse they see three beams of light shooting from above and from the crib – they ‘see the light’ and, in the third verse they decide to stay with the Holy Family until the New Year and leave their flock to the angels to look after. The final verse ends with a prayer for salvation.

Illustration of shepherds from Egerton MS 1070 f032v

The Angel appearing to the Shepherds,  from a 15th-century Book of Hours Egerton MS 1070, f32v

Alberdingk Thijm was a devout Catholic and an influential figure in the 19th-century Catholic revival in the Netherlands (and also a supporter of the Flemish movement). His faith is reflected particularly in the third verse of the song with its emphasis on Mary and Joseph’s responses, which I don't think would have been found so much in Protestant circles. The last line of the verse differs in Protestant and Catholic versions. The Protestant one has ‘and found the little child there’, and the catholic one ‘it was nearing the new year’, also suggesting that for some this was more of a New Year’s rather than a Christmas song.

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Although it might sound like a very old English Christmas Carol, Ding Dong Merrily on High is the product of several nations – and centuries!

The tune first appeared in the 16th century as a French secular dance tune known under the title Branle de l'Official (the branle or brawl was a type of French dance danced by couples in either a line or a circle, and popular throughout Europe). It was recorded in Orchésographie, first published in 1589, and written by the French cleric, composer and writer Thoinot Arbeau, the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593).

Illustration of a drum and drummer from Orchésographie

Page from Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie (Lengres, 1589). C.31.b.3. Image source: Library of Congress

The illustrated Orchésographie provides information on social ballroom behaviour and on the interaction of musicians and dancers. It contains woodcuts of dancers and musicians and includes instructions for the steps lined up next to the musical notes, an innovation in dance notation. The lyrics however are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (E.1485.f.).

Vignette of Bells from the Cover of 'A Christmas Carol', BL 012622.g.37

 

08 September 2020

Chernobyl: two new acquisitions at the British Library

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Like many, I was hooked by the HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ when it was released last year. Receiving widespread critical acclaim, it sparked a surge of interest in the events surrounding the nuclear disaster of April 1986.

For those keen to delve deeper, the British Library holds a large amount of material relating to Chernobyl (Chornobyl in Ukrainian), from scientific articles and theses to photography albums and poetry collections. Earlier this year, the Library also acquired two particularly important sources: a new digital archive and a copy of a rare Cold War-era newspaper.

Information about the Chernobyl Files from East View

Information about the Chernobyl Files from East View

The digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, is a collection of declassified documents prepared by Russian and Ukrainian government agencies, including the KGB, that ‘detail the most important developments in the wake of the disaster, as well as internal reports and investigations on its various causes’. Among the documents are internal reports, communiqués, and correspondences between local and regional KGB officials long before the tragedy. The archive is currently only available in the Library’s reading rooms (please see our website for information on how to book a slot) but I am happy to assist with enquiries via email if possible. 

Front page of Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2

Front page of Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2 (London, 1987). BL shelf mark ZK.9.d.258

The second new acquisition is an issue of Ukrainian Peace (Committee) News. This newspaper was published in 1986/7 by the Ukrainian Peace Committee (UPC), which, according to the publication’s statement of purpose, ‘was formed in response to the disaster at the atomic plant in Chornobyl’. Its aim was to address issues relating to nuclear disarmament, human rights, the environment and national liberties, which it believed were at the centre of ‘hostilities between the governments of Eastern Europe and Western countries’. Further research, however, led me to a series of declassified CIA documents, which in turn unveiled a more complex story behind the UPC and its newspaper…

In October 1986, an individual, referred to only as ‘RK’, filed a report on the creation and activities of the UPC. The document, which was declassified and released in 2007 on the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room website, detailed how the organisation had been set up that year by Prolog, a small group of Ukrainian émigrés working for the CIA since 1950, with the specific aim of intervening in the World Peace Congress (WPC). The WPC was in turn sponsored by the World Peace Council, a largely Soviet project established in 1949/1950 to promote peace programmes around the world and counter what it viewed as the ‘warmongering’ attitude of the US. The 1986 congress took place from 15-19 October in Copenhagen, the first time it had been held in a non-communist capital since the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The UPC, which was registered at an address in Hammersmith, London, comprised both Prolog and non-Prolog members, the latter of whom were allegedly unaware of the convert operation. In the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen WPC, members of the UPC worked to establish themselves as a credible group and gain access as delegates to the congress.

Despite several hiccups, the group’s activities in Copenhagen were deemed a success and RK recommended that the UPC should be allowed to continue and even expand its work. This included publishing ‘a 4 page tabloid size newspaper 4 times a year’ and travelling to ‘different conferences in Western Europe, Asia and Africa’ to ‘conduct interventions similar to the intervention in Copenhagen’.

Front page of Ukrainian Peace News, no. 3/4

Front page of Ukrainian Peace News, no. 3/4 (London, 1987). BL shelf mark ZK.9.d.258

We know for certain that the UPC went on to publish four issues of the newspaper, Ukrainian Peace Committee News, three of which are held by the British Library (no. 2, published in spring 1987, and the combined no. 3/4, published in winter 1987 and kindly donated to the British Library by the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto). Although they display the same peace dove logo, the design and typeface used for issues no. 2 and 3/4 differ significantly.

All of the issues focus heavily on the Chernobyl disaster and include samizdat (literature secretly written, copied, and circulated in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union) and other articles. The Soviet war in Afghanistan and the issue of workers’ rights also feature in the paper. In addition, one article in issue no. 2 deals with the proposal to build a Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) at the British nuclear power station Sizewell B. By including the latter article, the newspaper supported Prolog’s view that in order to ‘gain credibility within the Peace movement’ the UPC’s position ‘had to be a balanced one – not an anti-Soviet group only, but one critical of the West in some respects as well’.

Pages from Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2 with the headline 'Chornobyl in Samizdat'

Pages from Ukrainian Peace Committee News, no. 2

The UPC appears to have ceased its activities at the end of 1987, at the time the last issue of its newspaper was published. Although the British Library unfortunately does not hold the first issue, Ukrainian Peace (Committee) News is an invaluable source for those researching topics including Cold War relations, the Chernobyl disaster and the peace movement.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further reading:

Svetlana Alexievich, Voices From Chernobyl (London, 1999). YC.2001.a.808

Kate Brown, Manual For Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (London, 2019). DRT ELD.DS.389500

Adam Higginbotham, Midnight in Chernobyl (London, 2019). YC.2019.a.8185

Serhii Plokhy, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy (London, 2018). DRT ELD.DS.277839

21 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

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This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, we hear from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections. 

What my predecessor Dr Christine Thomas left for me was unprecedented: in a small Slavonic book, offered to the British Library by a rare books dealer, she recognised a copy of the first dated Slavonic Primer (Azbuka C.104.dd.11(1)) printed in Lviv in 1574. It was not just another copy – it turned out to be the second surviving copy of this book. The second in the world, and nobody had known about its very existence! Before the British Library acquired this book in 1982 on Chris’s recommendation, only one surviving copy had been recorded at Harvard University Library. A facsimile edition of the Primer had been published just several years earlier, and therefore Chris could match the items and could not believe her luck.

Of course, to be completely honest, this wonderful curatorial success story has been a constant source of melancholy envy for me. On the other hand, it was a real present from Chris, as it provided me with a wide variety of creative opportunities. I can proudly report that I followed in my predecessor’s footsteps by writing an article and a couple of blogs promoting and interpreting this collection item and co-organising a conference Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy (UCL SSEES-British Library, 2014). In the digital environment it was only natural that, as part of the conference outcomes, the Primer was fully digitised and is now available via the BL catalogue. During the lockdown, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, my colleagues suggested a tool that can cope with OCR, and I decided to give it a try. This is a new and exciting skill to acquire and I am really enjoying the project. I hope the text will be available alongside the images very soon.

Screenshot showing work on the Primer in Transkribus

Working on transcribing the Primer using Transkibus

One of my memorable acquisitions is linked to one of the strengths of our collections – Russian futurist and constructivist books. There was no mystery or drama associated with this acquisition, although the story is quite sad, like many stories that originate from the period of early Soviet history.

The Soviet propaganda journal USSR in Construction (P.P.7500) is probably quite well known, not only among those who have a special interest in Soviet history. The style of the journal was visual and cinematographic, and became iconic among designers. Not only were photographs ‘constructed’ using photomontage as a major tool, but some of the issues were really ‘assembled’ containing, for example, pieces of fabric, aluminium foil or vinyl disks.

I acquired a set of the magazine that was a ‘little brother’ of the famous USSR in Construction project. This Soviet art-illustrated monthly magazine has a long and peculiar title Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov (‘At the Construction of Machine Tractor Stations and State Farms’; HS.74/2243). It did not have international editions in various languages and was quite short-lived: 1934-1937. However, despite this, full sets are extremely rare in library collections.

Eight front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov

Front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov.

The magazine covered just one sector – Soviet agriculture. It specialized in promoting the achievements of state farms and collective farms and stood out as a separate edition of the magazine USSR in Construction. Magazine photo essays advocated ‘the best examples of honest work on the farm, the best examples of organizational activity in the MTS and state farms, and the best achievements in raising agriculture, culture and life of the collective and state farms’. Seven issues were designed by El Lissitzky.

The bold and powerful covers by talented artists and designers, and the essays written by gifted journalists and writers tell lies about life in the Soviet Union. The lives of these artists and writers tell a more truthful story about this time:

Semen Borisovich Uritskii (chief editor) – arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940;
Petr Petrovich Kriuchkov (author) – executed in 1938;
Artemii Bagratovich Khalatov (author) - executed in 1938;
Boris Fedorovich Malkin (member of the editorial board) – executed in 1938.

Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov has been already researched and cited, but certainly lends itself to further enquiries.

Further reading:

Christine Thomas. 'Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637'. eBLJ, 1984. https://www.bl.uk/eblj/1984articles/article2.html

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2014/05/ivan-the-terrible-primers-ballet-and-the-joys-of-curatorship-.html

Classroom curiosities https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2013/11/classroom-curiosities-.html

E. Rogatchevskaia. ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”:
An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library.’ Canadian-American Slavic Studies (2017, 51:2-3) https://brill.com/view/journals/css/51/2-3/article-p376_10.xml?language=en

Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley, 1997) YC.1998.b.1122 (Limited preview available)

Margarita Tupitsyn, Matthew Drutt, El Lissitzky, Ulrich Pohlmann. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration (New Haven, 1999) LB.31.b.17233 (Limited preview available)

Victoria Bonnell. “Peasant women in Political posters of the 1930s” In: Public Sociology at Berkeley, 2nd edition (1997) https://publicsociology.berkeley.edu/publications/producing/bonnell.pdf

Erika Wolf, ‘When Photographs Speak, To Whom Do They Talk? The Origins and Audience of SSSR na stroike (USSR in Construction)’ Left History, Vol 6 No 2 (1999) ZA.9.a.9420 https://lh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/lh/article/view/5382/4577

29 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 2)

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This is the second of our blog posts about the Roma community in Europe to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Roma French authors

Our collection of French Roma authors is not, as yet, as developed as it as it could be, but we hold books by some of the most prominent Roma advocates of the Roma culture and way of life in France: Sandra Jayat and Alexandre Romanès.

Sandra Jayat was born in Italy, or France, in 1939. She came from the Roma group called “Manouche” or “Sinti”. At the age of 15, she fled to Paris to escape a forced marriage. She sought refuge with her cousin Django Reinhardt, the jazz musician, taught herself how to read and paint, and soon became the muse of Parisian artists and writers. Herbes Manouches, her first collection of poems, was published in 1961 and illustrated by Jean Cocteau. In 1972, she produced a recording of readings of her poems, accompanied with original music by Reinhardt. In 1978, her semi-autobiographical novel, La longue route d’une zingarina, became a success, selling more than 40,000 copies, and being read in schools. Jayat still lives in France today. Her entire artistic oeuvre is inspired by the world and symbolism of Roma.

Jayat is also a renowned painter, and has always been committed to the recognition of Roma artists. She organised the exhibition ‘Première Mondiale de l’Art Tzigane’, which ran from 6 to 30 May 1985 at the Conciergerie in Paris. We have her Moudravi, où va l'amitié, published in 1966 and illustrated by Marc Chagall (X.908/14070.)

Photograph of books for sale by Alexandre Romanès

Books by Alexandre Romanès, photo by Fabienne Félix, Flickr 

Born in 1951, Alexandre Romanès comes from a famous family of circus artists. Thinking that the circus was losing the values of the Roma, he quit in the 1970s to create his own travelling show. He met the French poet Jean Genet, who became a friend, and Lydie Dattas, who taught him to read and became his first wife. Romanès went on to create his own “Tzigan Circus”, the “Cirque Romanes”, in 1993.

This prompted a writing career, dedicated to poetry and the defense of Roma values and ways of life. After publishing Le Premier Cirque tsigane d’Europe, in 1994, Romanès wrote Un peuple de promeneurs in 1998 (2011 edition, BL YF.2013.a.16398), Paroles perdues, published in 2004, (2010 edition YF.2010.a.32293) and Sur l'épaule de l'ange (Paris, 2010; YF.2011.a.5.). His two latest publications, Les corbeaux sont les Gitans du ciel (2016) and Le luth noir (2017), will soon be at the library.

His style consists of short poems, aphorisms, memories and scenes of Roma life and wisdom:

Si on pouvait noter…
Si on pouvait noter
toutes les phrases magnifiques
qui se disent chaque jour dans le monde,
on pourrait publier chaque matin
un live exceptionnel.

(If one could take note, if one could take note, of all the magnificent sentences, which are said everyday in the world, one could publish, every morning, an exceptional book.)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

 

Diary of a Young Roma Traveller

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka with a drawing of a young man

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (Uzhhorod, 2017) YF.2019.a.9992. The BL’s copy is signed by the author.

Two years ago, the Roma writer Mykola Burmek-Diuri caught the attention of the Ukrainian media following the publication of his book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (‘Diary of a Young Roma Traveller’). Writing in Ukrainian, Burmek-Diuri provides a unique window into the daily life, culture, traditions and history of the Roma community in Zakarpattia, the region in southwestern Ukraine where Burmek-Diuri and the majority of the country’s Romani population live, through a mixture of autobiographical stories, fairytales and ethnographic sketches. Given the rise in violent attacks against Roma communities in the country in recent years, this book is particularly timely and important for its presentation of the world through the eyes of a young Roma writer. Burmek-Diuri has since published two further books: Mama kazaly pravdu (Uzhhorod, 2018; YF.2019.a.7579) and, most recently, a collection of poetry and prose entitled Honir dykoi troiandy. All three were published with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation’s Roma Programme, which works with NGOs and activists in Ukraine to involve ‘representatives of the Roma community in social processes and combating discrimination’.  

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

 

Romani authors in Czechoslovakia

In her foreword to the English edition of the book A False Dawn: My Life as a Gypsy Woman in Slovakia by Elena Lacková, Milena Hübschmannová, one of the founders of the Roma Studies as an academic discipline in Czechoslovakia, wrote: “What can I say about Roma better than the song of a lone Romani woman’s life experience?”. And this is true indeed. This book is available in English, and is a really fascinating account of Romani traditions, customs, ceremonies and superstitions, seen though the life of someone who grew up to become the first Romani author in post-Second World War Czechoslovakia. Elena Lacková (Ilona Lasko, 1921–2003), born in a Roma settlement in Veľký Šariš in eastern Slovakia, was the only girl among the 600 children in the settlement to complete primary education and in her 20s became the first author to give the Romani people a voice in literature. Many consider her to be the Roma equivalent of the writer Božena Němcová, who played a prominent part in the Czech National Revival movement. In her works Lacková transformed and refined original folk tales opening a whole new world of the people who had been almost invisible before. Her first literary work was a play written in Slovak, Horiaci cigánsky tabor (‘The Gypsy Camp is Burning’, 1947) about the local Roma’s collective experience of the Second World War. Later she chose to write in Romani and founded a Romani periodical, Romano L’il (Gypsy News).

Elena Lacková is probably the best-known name, but definitely not the only one in Romani literature. Tera Fabiánová was the first person in the former Czechoslovakia to write poems in Romani. The Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna recorded her reciting her poems in Romani.

Photograph of four Romani women. Three are sitting on a bench and one is standing

Romani women in Czechoslovakia in 1959, a photo by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Zsanda Zsolt, Wikimedia Commons 

Ľudovít Didi (1931–2013) was a Czechoslovak dissident, chartist and Romani Slovak author. His first book Príbehy svätené vetrom (‘Stories of the Holy Wind’; Bratislava, 2004; YF.2006.a.19867) is considered to be the first ever authentic Roma novel. His other three books Róm Tardek a jeho osud (‘Roma Tardek and his destiny’; Bratislava, 2013; YF.2016.a.3251), Čierny Róm a biela láska (‘Black Roma and white love’, 2011) and Cigánkina veštba (‘The Gypsy Prophesy’; Bratislava,2008; YF.2010.a.8945) also tell the story of the Roma community.

Viťo Staviarský, a well-known name in Slovak literature, is the author of the short story ‘Kivader’ (2007) and the novel ‘Kale topanky’ (2012), which are set in a Romani settlement. In 2014, the publishing house Knihovna Václava Havla in Prague published a book of Romani women authors called Slunce zapadá už ráno (‘The sun sets in the morning’). Irena Eliášová, Jana Hejkrlíková, Iveta Kokyová and Eva Danišova contributed to it. I hope that we will see more of these books translated into English, so that they can get a wider readership.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Elena Lacková, Narodila jsem se pod šťastnou hvězdou (Prague, 1997) YA.2003.a.9308 (English translation by Carleton Bulkin, A false dawn: my life as a Gypsy woman in Slovakia (Paris; Hatfield, 1999) YC.2000.a.8592

Helena Sadílková, ‘Romani Literature in the Czech and Slovak Republics’. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/literature/literature-countries-and-regions/literature-czechoslovakia/

Jana Horváthová, Roma in the Czech Lands. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/roma-civil-rights-movement/roma-in-the-czech-lands-abstract/

Radka Steklá, Elena Lacková – romská publicistka, spisovatelka o média. Bachelor's thesis. Univerzita Karlova v Praze. 2006. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://is.cuni.cz/webapps/zzp/detail/1444/?lang=en

 

Bódvalenke

How did a tiny settlement of around 230 souls and 60 houses in northeastern Hungary put itself on the map? Bódvalenke, a community of Romani majority, became renowned as the ‘fresco village’ thanks to a remarkable initiative some ten years ago. A charitable organisation started to invite Romani artists, both from Hungary and abroad, to use the dull windowless walls in the neighbourhood as blank canvasses for giant colourful paintings.

Mural on the side of a building by József Ferkovics

Mural by József Ferkovics. A colourful album dedicated to the work of the artist and published recently is among our recent acquisitions. Image by Pásztörperc - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0 

The aim of the project was to pull the village out of deep poverty: each house volunteered by its inhabitants was given new plastering before being decorated, but the community as a whole would also benefit in a variety of ways from any income generated by the arrival of visitors to this unique open-air display. Today, one can see 33 magnificent murals by 18 painters on Romani and Gypsy themes: old legends, traditional life, family, grief and dreams. Sadly however, with the lack of infrastructure it is proving difficult to attract tourists and the village is still struggling economically.

Mural on the side of a building by Rozi Csámpai depicting everyday life in Bódvalenke

Everyday life in Bódvalenke. Mural by Rozi Csámpai. Rozi Csámpai features in a book on Romani women painters in today's Hungary: Színekben oldott életek: cigány festőnők a mai Magyarországon (Budapest, 2011; YF.2011.a.11388). Image by Pásztörperc at Hungarian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

References:

Ferkovics József festőművész. ([Gencsapáti], 2019). Awaiting shelfmark.

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

21 November 2019

‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’*

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“The War was not our War! Yet it somehow found us. It took us in its clutches and threw us where we are now!” Cengiz Dağcı said, and added, “Fifty years! Fifty years away from my homeland, it has become a wound that never heals…”

The Crimean Tatar writer Cengiz Dağcı is one of the most underestimated novelists of the Second World War, with over 22 books on his beloved Crimea and its long suffering through world wars and Soviet oppression. He, like all Crimean Tatars of the time, suffered greatly. He was forced to leave his home and family when he was only 22. Despite being interned by the Nazis he managed to survive and, after liberation, made the arduous journey to London through a war-ravaged Europe. He would never return to his homeland again. Although he made a life in London, his heart was in Crimea. When he died at the age of 92, his body was transferred to his homeland through the cooperation of the Turkish, Ukrainian and British states.

Photograph of Cengiz Dagci

Photograph of Cengiz Dağcı by Zafer Karatay (reproduced with kind permission)

Dağcı was born, the fourth of eight children, on 9 March 1919 in Gurzuf, Crimea. His family moved to Kızıltaş from Gurzuf when he was a small boy. Located on the Simferopol - Yalta route, their house (which still stands today) has a beautiful, big, tranquil garden facing Ayi Dağı (Bear Mountain). Yalta has breathtaking landscapes and deep historical roots. Pushkin, Chekhov and Tolstoy were among many world-famous Russian authors, artists, and poets who lived in the city.

Photograph of Bear Mountain

Photograph of Bear Mountain by Melek Maksudoglu

After the Bolshevik Revolution and establishment of the Soviet Union, private houses were confiscated. The Dağcı family house was seized and three Russian families were settled in it. In 1931, Cengiz Dağcı’s father, Seyt Omer Dagci, was arrested on account of complaints made by a neighbour that the family was not cooperating with Stalin’s collectivisation policy and had hidden goods from the Soviet. Seyt Omer Dagci was labelled an enemy of the state and sent to the Gulag. The policy of collectivisation and the mismanagement of resources led to one of the biggest famines in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. The Dagci family somehow survived.

A year later, Dagci’s father was released from prison and decided to move his family to Akmescit (Simferopol) from Kiziltas to avoid subsequent humiliation. The family’s new squalid and miserable lodgings are mentioned in Dagci’s memoirs, Letters to my Mother where he writes: “I see, mother, how you are saddened. This move to a miserable place reflects on your face. But how brave you were there and how you turned to God even more”.

Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar cover

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536. A Ukrainian-Tatar-Russian anthology of Crimean Tatar literature from the 20th century

Dagci continued his schooling in Akmescit and started writing short stories. He loved poetry and his early poems were published in 1936 in Crimea’s youth journal Gençlik Mecmuası. His early writings include one poem praising Stalin and the Soviet regime, but in his memoirs he admits that he was asked to write in such a manner. Another poem he wrote about Hansaray (a palace of the Crimean Khanate, the Turkic state which existed from the mid 15th to the late 18th century) in Bakcesaray, which is entitled ‘Söyleyin Duvarlar’ (‘Walls! Talk to us’), was published in the literary journal Edebiyat Mecmuası in Crimea in 1939 and glorifies the Crimean Khanate.

In his second year at university, Dagci enlisted in the Soviet Army and fought shoulder to shoulder with Soviet citizens, consisting of ethnicities such as Ukrainian, Uzbek, Kirgyz, and Tajik. In 1941 he was captured and became a prisoner of war. Throughout his imprisonment, he refused to collaborate with the German troops. When the war ended he tried to return to his homeland but to his dismay the roads were closed. He wanted to go back to his home, finish his studies, and become a good school teacher.

Cover of XX. yüzyılda Kırım with a photograph of 'The Swallow's Nest', a decorative castle located at Gaspra near Yalta.

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey, [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.6. This work, ‘20th-century Crimea’, examines the experience of Crimean Tatar POWs in the Second World War.

In 1945 he joined a Polish émigré group with his wife to seek refuge in the UK. It was a difficult and long journey to London where he built a life for himself and his family. He says in his memoirs; “I created a new home away from home. A home in which I and my wife could take sanctuary and feel safe.” He worked long hours in a restaurant during the day and wrote only at night. He kept writing about his beloved Crimea and the tragedies the Crimean Tatars faced.

All of Dagci’s novels were originally published in Turkish in Turkey. Coupled with the fact that he was living in the UK, this meant that he was able to write about the tragedies of the Crimean Tatar people. However, in the 1980s, Moscow sent a KGB agent to obtain copies of them, which were examined by the authorities and classified as foreign and restricted from the public.

Covers of four books by Cengiz Dagci

A selection of Dagci’s books. Awaiting shelfmarks. 

The most important theme running through all of his novels is the national identity of the Crimean Tatars. He evokes a clear picture of how they lived, their everyday life, customs, beliefs and the structure of their lives revolving around the seasons and their land. The Crimean Tatars lived a double life, having to outwardly demonstrate loyalty to the Soviet Regime that was actively trying assimilate and erase their identity, while keeping that identity alive among themselves, their families and communities, with hidden texts of resistance. They had been resisting Russian rule since 1774. Dagci, in his novels, also suggests that only after the Crimean Tatars become well educated could they ask for, and eventually receive, justice. The Soviet government’s ban on use of their language made it impossible to receive education in their mother tongue and this fact drove some Crimean Tatars to seek higher education in the Soviet system. Many of those educated in this system were subsequently involved in setting up the Crimean Tatar National Movement. 

*‘The Man Who Lost His Homeland’ is the title of one of Cengiz Dağcı’s books

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

This blog post is based on an article by the author published by OCA magazine in January 2017

References/Further reading

E. Allworth, ed., Muslim Communities Re-emerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics, and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, 1994). YC.1995.b.3180

E. Allworth, ed., The Tatars of Crimea: Return to The Homeland (Durham; London, 1998). 98/11840

Alan Fisher, The Crimean Tatars (Stanford, 1978). 81/14726

Isa Kocakaplan, Kirim’dan Londra’ya Cengiz Dagci (Istanbul, 1998)

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation (Leiden, 2001). ZA.9.a.11852

Paul R. Magocsi, This Blessed Land: Crimea and the Crimean Tatars (Toronto, 2014). YD.2015.a.1261

Hüseyin Su, ed., Çağdaş Kırım Tatar Öyküsü (Ankara, 2014). YP.2017.a.5735

A.E. Krymskii, Literatura krymsʹkykh tatar = Kʺyrymtatarlarnynʺ edebiiaty = Literatura krymskikh tatar (Simferopolʹ, 2003). YF.2006.a.11536

Feyzi Rahman Yurter, XX. yüzyılda Kırım (Turkey [1998?]). ITA.2000.a.63

 

05 November 2019

‘The Ark of Unique Cultures’: the story of a remarkable handmade book

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The British Library recently received an unusual donation from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tallinn: a handmade book – The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls – celebrating the history and culture of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group from the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of a limited series of 35 books, which were donated to major libraries around the world. As well as poems in the Hutsul dialect and English translation, the book includes postcards, photographs and even specimens of Carpathian plants. Slavonic curator Katie McElvanney spoke to Eric Johnson, a volunteer at the Centre, to find out more about the project.

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn: Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre)

How did the book project come about and what was its aim? 

The Ark of Unique Cultures is one of the many creations of Anatoli Ljutjuk, a Benedictine friar born in Western Ukraine who has been a resident and citizen of Estonia for decades. Anatoli’s greatest creation is Tallinn’s Church of the Virgin with Three Hands, who is the protector of all living beings who have been falsely accused or unjustly persecuted. The church is affiliated with the secular Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UKK to use its Estonian initials). From the beginning, Anatoli’s conception for the small Eastern-rite Catholic church included the natural world around it. As a result, the UKK’s first book project focused on those vanishing plants and animals that we humans have unjustly persecuted. And so The Poetics of Endangered Species was born (both books in this series were kindly donated to the British Library by the UKK. See YF.2017.b.1281 (Estonia) and YF.2017.b.1282 (Ukraine)).

After the first edition of The Poetics of Endangered Species appeared, Anatoli soon realized that not just plants and animals are in danger of disappearing from our world but also entire human subcultures. As it happens, Estonia became the new home to a fair number of Hutsuls who speak their own dialect and observe many distinct traditions. Known for their forestry skills, Hutsuls were hired in Soviet times to help manage Estonia’s forests. When the Soviet Union collapsed, some of those who chose to remain in Estonia helped Anatoli build his new church.

So Anatoli first came up with the idea of The Ark of Unique Cultures as a way to honour all those ethnic groups whose traditions are in danger of being overwhelmed by the larger groups around them. The goal of this Book Ark is to document and preserve each culture’s unique features for future generations. In the case of the Hutsuls, it also serves as a 21st-century update to Sergei Parajanov’s landmark film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

BL copy page

The British Library’s copy of the book. Awaiting shelfmark.

What can you tell us about the poems included in the book?

Ukrainian Poet Mariya Korpanyuk is widely regarded as the best poet writing in the Hutsul dialect. Although she had already written a short series of poems about the life and customs of the Hutsuls, she agreed to expand her series after meeting Anatoli. Each poem is dedicated to a unique feature of Hutsul culture that was in danger of disappearing.

Because many unique Hutsul words are unknown even to Ukrainians — or a seemingly familiar word may hold a different meaning — Anatoli decided that the poems should be translated into English to help tell the Hutsul story to the world. The UKK is working to secure funding to print a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures so that the book and its wonderful cycle of poems can reach an even wider audience.

Hutsulka page

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

How and where did you collect the plants, postcards and photographs?

The plants were collected by Anatoli and his friends on one of his ‘expeditions’ up into the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian Mountains. They were then dried and used as inclusions in the handmade paper made at the UKK’s hand paper mill in Tallinn.

The postcards, designed by Anatoli, were hand printed on the UKK’s press by Labora — as the UKK’s paper, print, and other workshops are known in distinction to the church (Ora). On another trip to the Carpathians, Anatoli and friends distributed the postcards in Hutsul villages and asked the villagers to send the postcards back to the UKK in Tallinn with their comments on the Ark’s poems or any other aspects of Hutsul life they wanted to highlight. Thanks to the postcards, the Ark became a real community-wide project.

The pre-Second World War (and in many cases pre-First World War) photos were selected by the wonderful National Museum of Hutsulshchyna & Pokuttya Folk Art — the UKK’s partner for this book project — located in the town of Kolomyia and dedicated to preserving and promoting all things Hutsul. Kolomiya is the largest town on traditional Hutsul territory, in the foothills of the Carpathians.

Bride and groom page from book

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

Can you talk us through the book-making process?

The book’s illustrations and overall design are the work of Anatoli. All of the UKK’s original books are made pretty much entirely in its Labora studios, which employ a small group of calligraphers, printers, artists, and bookbinders who can create handmade books — or indeed illuminated manuscripts — in similar ways to a medieval monastery. The UKK and Labora are actively involved in teaching book-related crafts, from ink-making to bookbinding, to future generations through workshops, classes, and various partnerships.

The handmade paper — usually made from a combination of cotton, linen and rag — is beaten in a Hollander Beater before each sheet is hand-pulled by one of the UKK’s paper makers using handmade molds and deckles. The smaller plants are added right into the pulp or slurry. Larger ones are added onto the wet sheets of paper before they are pressed and dried.

Paper sheets before pressing

The paper making process (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and Labora)

What other book projects is the UKK currently working on?

In addition to publishing a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls, the UKK is working on several other book projects including Sanctuarium: The Story of the Church of the Virgin with Three Hands and Horse Tales, an illustrated picture book by Anatoli Ljutjuk about goodness during wartime which will be released around the same time as a new Ukrainian documentary film about Anatoli and his travels with his wooden horse.

Of course, the UKK is also always on the lookout for new country partners to create new volumes — beyond the current two about Estonia and about Ukraine — for its two series The Poetics of Endangered Species and The Ark of Unique Cultures, dedicated to ethnic groups in danger of disappearing.

With kind thanks to Eric Johnson, and to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre for donating a copy of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls to the British Library. A digitised copy of the book is available via the National Library of Estonia. 

20 August 2019

Learning to read Cyrillic from 13th century Novgorod to the USSR

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We do not know much about how children learned to read and write Slavonic languages in Cyrillic script in the 11th-15th centuries. The most popular teaching method was learning Psalms and copying manuscripts. Near the Russian city of Novgorod, among birch bark manuscripts, archaeologists found a tablet with a wax surface for writing on the right and the Cyrillic alphabet carved on the left.

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century. Reproduced in A.F Medvedev, Drevnerusskie pisala X-XV vv., in Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1960, issue 2

It definitely looks like a school exercise book, but who keeps their jotters? Children learning to read Cyrillic did not, and nor did they even care much about their textbooks, passing them from one to another until the books disintegrated. That is why only two copies of the first Eastern Slavonic printed primer, published in Lviv by Ivan Fedorov in 1574, are known. The copy held at the British Library has been digitised and is freely available. 

The first page of the 1574 Azbuka

The first page of Ivan Fedorov’s primer (Lviv, 1574). C.104.dd.11(1)

It starts with listing Cyrillic letters three times: in the direct and reverse order, and in columns rather than lines. Then the book suggests that learners could put together consonants and vowels. As Russian is primarily a phonetic language, where written symbols directly correspond to spoken sounds, it is quite an easy exercise. Try it yourself: M+A=MA, B+A=BA, etc. Elementary grammar and texts for reading were also included.

Such books were called Azbuka, for the first two letters of the Cyrillic alphabet: A – was called Az and B – Buki. Another name for them was Bukvar’, from the word ‘bukva’ – letter. Soon, educators started separating such alphabet books from more advanced grammars. Also, the power of images in teaching and learning was recognised and more educators started to include pictures in their textbooks.

The most remarkable example of an illustrated primer was created by Karion Istomin, one of the first Muscovite enlighteners, who was editor of the Moscow Printing House, court poet and tutor to the royal children. The book was published in Moscow in 1694, but previously two manuscript copies had been presented to the royals for Peter the Great’s son and two young nieces.

The book opens with a short introduction illustrated by an engraving showing Christ teaching schoolchildren. Each page is devoted to one letter, which is drawn symbolically as a picture, and then in various other ways – print and shorthand. Istomin also wrote short poems that would help learners remember the letter, and included images of objects and animals whose names started with that letter. The book was too complex to be printed with moveable type and therefore was engraved by Leontii Bunin. He seems to have worked on it for about two years, between 1692 and 1694.

First page of Karion Istomin's Bukvar

Letter A from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter A.

Letter Zh from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter Zh.

Letter O from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter O.

Letter S from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter S.

First page, letter A, Zh, O, S. Images from the facsimile edition: Bukvar’ sostavlen Kariononm Istominym; gravirovan Leontiem Buinym; otpechatan v 1694 godu v Moskve. Leningrad: Avrora, 1981. X.955/980.

Although most scholars agree that so many variations in the letter shapes could confuse rather than help learners, this primer set up a tradition of illustrated textbooks for learners.

By the beginning of the 19th century, textbooks and learning materials were in demand by a network of various educational establishments and private tutors. Not only royal children could get books with pictures (although of course not so lavishly printed!). An Azbuka published in 1818 for public schools, was called Dragotsennyi podarok detiam (‘A Precious Present for Children’). It also introduced the alphabet in various types and shorthand, illustrating it with pictures, elementary reading exercises and texts for further reading, such as moral instructions and prayers.

As part of our Google Books project the British Library’s copy of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam published without changes from the 1818 edition was digitised

Title-page of 1830 Azbuka

Title-page of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam, ili novaia i polnaia rossiiskaia azbuka (Moscow, 1830) RB.23.a.23374

The cheap popular editions that mushroomed at the end of the 19th century could not afford many pictures, but at least tried to include some under colourful and attractive paper covers.

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Most of the reading materials were still prayers, adaptations from the Gospels, and some simple statements and proverbs. Leo Tolstoy, who established a school for village children, was also concerned with education. He wrote his own Azbuka, where he aimed to offer exercises suitable for any learning method, including the ‘word method’ (reading not syllable by syllable, but memorising whole words), which, as he wrote in the introduction, was popular in England and America. It is interesting to note that Tolstoy thought pictures to be a luxury feature that could only distract pupils.

Cover of L. Tolstoy's Novaia Azbuka

L. Tolstoy. Novaia Azbuka . 25th edition (Moscow, 1908) 12975.m.33

In the new Soviet state this idea of Tolstoy’s was definitely not accepted. Primers illustrated with new communist propaganda became quite popular and were issued for adult learners. In 1921 Dmitrii Moor illustrated an Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier where he applied the same principle as in standard textbooks – introducing letters with a two-line verse and a picture. For example, letter ‘B’ showed a miserable bourgeois, begging for mercy.

Letter B from Dmitrii Moor's Red Army Alphabet. The illustration shows a worker, a peasant and a Red Army soldier standing over a 'bourgeois capitalist'.

Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa, (Moscow, 1921) Cup.401.g.25.

The campaign “Down with illiteracy!”, which started almost immediately after the October revolution in 1917, also required new textbooks, where learners’ first texts would be citations from Lenin and Trotsky instead of prayers.

Cover of a textbook for adults with an image of adults learning

Doloi negramotnost’. Bukvar’ dlia vzroslykh, (Moscow, 1920). 12975.n.15.

The Soviet primary school textbook had Lenin and a map of the USSR as the first pictures that children would see when they started learning to read and write. This is what the last Soviet edition of primer looked like; it was reproduced in more or less the same way for decades, so I also recognise the cover as my first schoolbook.

Last Soviet bukvar' with an image of Lenin and map of the USSR

Bukvar’. 9th edition (Moscow, 1989). YA.1996.a.6783.

Meanwhile, Russian-speaking children abroad also needed primers. Their parents, who had fled the Soviet regime, wanted them to keep their heritage language. It is interesting to see how old fashioned the YMCA-Press edition of 1957 looks. Children born in the early 1950s were introduced to reading through pictures of a 10 kopeks coin of 1911, a samovar, a horse-drawn carriage, and birch-bark shoes. As well as modern Russian, émigré children were also supposed to learn Church Slavonic so that they could read Christian Orthodox books.

Double-page spread from the 1957 reading book for Russian émigré children

V.P.Vakhterov. Russkii Bukvar’ dlia obucheniia pis’mu I chteniiu russkomu i tserkovno-slavianskomu. (Paris, 1957). 12993.w.1

To learn more about reading and writing in various countries, languages, alphabets, and societies, visit our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark which is still open until 27th August.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

Christine Thomas, ‘The East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow 1637,’ The British Library Journal, 10 (1984), 32-47.

E. Rogatchevskaia, ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”: An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library’, Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Volume 51 (2017) Issue 2-3, 376-397.

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship

18 April 2019

Ukrainian Pysanka – the Writing on the Egg

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The egg, as a symbol of life, fertility, purity and eternity, has figured in the rituals, traditions and beliefs of people around the world, in a wide range of geographical regions and cultures, as documented in Venetia Newall’s comprehensive study An Egg at Easter.

Photograph of painted eggs
Painted eggs, from An Egg at Easter (London, 1971) X.200/4543.

In Ukraine the custom of decorating eggs and the related rituals pre-date Christianity, and were initially associated with the pagan new year (the re-birth of spring). With the official Christianisation of Ukraine in the tenth century, the tradition was subsumed into the Christian system of belief, without ever completely losing its former significance. Among the techniques used, the most significant is “writing” on the egg (using the wax-resist method), which results in the pysanka (from the verb pysaty, to write or ornament). The pysanka’s enduring nature and ubiquity is due largely to the fact that it was one of the most accessible means for ordinary people (even if they were not literate in the accepted sense) to create ritual objects and to record their lives and beliefs, albeit in a different kind of language. This resulted in a continuity which has much to tell researchers into Ukraine’s cultural past. An overview of the pysanka tradition, by Gloria Surmach, can be found in Ukrainian Arts, compiled by Olya Dmytriw. Additionally, there are now many websites on this topic (e.g. www.pysanky.info).

Cover of the book 'Ukrainian Arts'

Cover of Ukrainian Arts (New York, 1952) 7946.e.98

Possibly the earliest mention of the pysanka in print is in Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan’s Description d’Ukranie, in which the author describes the celebration of Easter in Ukraine. After a service in Kyiv, for example, each member of the congregation:

kneels before the Bishop [...] and presents him with a red or yellow painted egg, while greeting him with the words ‘Christos vos Christ’ (sic)*, and the Bishop, raising each from their knees, replies ‘Oustinos vos Christos’ (sic)*, at the same time kissing the women and girls, so that My Lord Bishop, in less than two hours, amasses over five or six thousand eggs, and has the pleasure of kissing the prettiest women and girls present in his Church ...

            *Beauplan’s attempt to transliterate the traditional Easter greeting: “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed”

Cover of 'Description d’Ukranie' Cover of Description d’Ukranie (Rouen, 1660) 980.f.6.

Whilst this may have been a slightly unusual way of acquiring a collection of eggs, in the 19th century, with the rise of interest in ethnography, collectors all over Ukraine (in lands within both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires) started collecting pysankas, both as objets d’art and for their cultural significance. This, in turn, sparked the interest of scholars, who began to study these collections and present academic papers on them. For example, the anthropologist Fedir Vovk mentioned the uniqueness of pysankas at the Third Archaeological Congress in Kyiv in 1874:

there is fairly rich, very original and interesting material [...] in the motifs on krashankas or pysankas [...] As far as I am aware, the custom of decorating Easter eggs with motifs does not appear to exist in the Great Russian gubernias, and for that reason the forms of ornamentation of pysankas constitute material which is probably distinctive within the ethnographic context ... (Proceedings of the Congress, vol.2 )

One collection of pysankas, amassed by arts patron Kateryna Skarzhynska in Lubny, Poltava Region, formed the basis for the first comprehensive publication on the subject, Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok, by the ethnographer and archaeologist Serhii Kulzhynskyi (written in Russian at a time when publications in Ukrainian in the Russian Empire were severely restricted by tsarist decree). Lamenting the paucity of published material relating to the Ukrainian pysanka, Kulzhynskyi emphasises “the extraordinary interest which pysankas represent for scholarship and art”.

Cover of 'Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok'
Above: Cover of Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok (Moscow, 1899) 1711.a.3. Below: Plate XVI from the book
.

Illustration of different painted egg designs

From Kulzhynskyi’s time onwards, interest in the pysanka as an object of serious study has fluctuated, often depending on the political situation in Ukraine. In the 1920s a number of Ukrainian-language books and articles on the subject were published: in the Ukrainian SSR, for example Ukrainski pysanky iak pamiatky narodnoho maliarstva, by Stefan Taranushchenko (Kharkiv, 1927); in Galicia under Polish rule, for example Pysanky Skhidnoi Halychyny i Bukovyny u zbirtsi Natsionalnoho muzeiu u Lvovi, by Iryna Gurgula (Lviv, 1929), and Boikivski pysanky, by Mykhailo Skoryk (Sambir, 1934); and in the near diaspora, where there were considerable concentrations of Ukrainian writers and intellectuals, such as Vadym Shcherbakivskyi, author of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia.

Cover of the reprint of 'Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia'
Reprint of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia (Prague, 1925) YA.1992.b.2180 (original available online)

After the Stalinist crackdown in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and the suppression of most Christian denominations in the USSR), little was published in Ukraine, and it fell to the post-Second World War diasporas, particularly in the USA, Canada and the UK, to popularise the pysanka as a cultural tradition, to re-introduce it as an Easter ritual and to produce publications on the subject. In Ukraine, it was not until the post-Stalinist thaw in the 1960s that a small but significant work on the pysanka (drawing in part on Kulzhynskyi’s work) was published, namely Ukrainski pysanky, compiled by Erast Biniashevskyi.

The political repressions of the 1970s again limited the practice of, and research into, the pysanka in the Soviet Bloc. An exception was the publication of Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny by Pavlo Markovych, a scholarly book on Ukrainian pysankas in Eastern Slovakia.

Women decorating pysankas
Women decorating pysankas, from Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny (Prešov, 1972) X.0800/181[no.6,kn.2]

Since Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, much has been published, both in Ukraine and abroad (in various languages), promoting the pysanka as an objet d’art, its symbolism, methods, designs and associated traditions, for example Ukrainska narodna pysanka, by Vira Manko.

Cover of 'Ukrainska narodna pysanka'
Cover of Ukrainska narodna pysanka (Lviv, 2005); YF.2007.b.2920

There are collections of pysankas in many museums, both in Ukraine and abroad, as, for example, in the Ukrainian Museum in New York. In Kolomyia, in western Ukraine, a pysanka museum (established in 1987) currently houses over 12,000 exhibits. Today, the pysanka is undergoing a revival and, as in the villages of Ukraine in past centuries, people all over the world (and not just of Ukrainian heritage) are experiencing this unique phenomenon for themselves. There is, though, so much more to learn about the pysanka.

Marta Jenkala, Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies