Explore Belarusian Culture

In this section, you will find articles on well-known people and places from the Belarusian cultural scene, as well as interesting facts about the past and present Belarus that remain unknown to the Western audience.

Wed, 2009-05-27 17:42

Maryja Martysevich: “Our Literature Mafia Speaks Belarusian”

One simply can’t help putting some shine on his shoes before meeting Maryja Martysevich for an interview. This young lady who is sipping on her coffee (“No sugar, please!”) in one of the cafés in downtown Minsk is known for her unflattering attitude towards Belarusian men. “The reason of my fondness towards Belarusian men can be easily explained: throughout my whole life I have been non-pragmatically and irresistibly attracted to losers,” she writes in her essay “The Men We Choose”. Paradoxically, many if not most of Maryja’s readers embraced this characteristic and flocked to her readings.

Tue, 2009-04-28 12:50

Maryja Martysevich is a prominent young Belarusian writer and translator. In the essay that appears in her book, ‘Dragons Fly for Spawning’, Martysevich presents a rather critical and non-traditional view of Belarusian men and a personal reflection on what she thinks is the cause of most Belarusian past and present troubles. The essay was written in the aftermath of protests that erupted in March 2006 following the rigged presidential elections. Maryja Martysevich also runs a popular blog аnd, in a truly post-modernistic nature, marks her main ideas with a ™ sign.

 
The Men We Choose
 
I like men a lot, especially Belarusian ones. The reason of my fondness towards Belarusian men can be easily explained: throughout my entire life I have been non-pragmatically and irresistibly attracted to losers™. There is something ineffably touching in the way they muffle themselves up in their scarves, smiling guiltily, charmingly giving way to their inferiority complexes, hesitant to make the first step, stand up to their beliefs, find their place under the Sun. All this enchants me. It makes me think.

Wed, 2009-04-08 03:06

Paval Kastsiukevich: “I wanted to make people laugh”

Ales Kudrytski speaks with Paval Kastsiukevich about Belarus, Israel, literature and the lack of sunshine.  Read an article about Paval Kastsiukevich

Paval, you write short stories. What is your ideal day for writing a story?

Of course, the plot should come first. My ideal day for coming up with a plot includes a relaxed walk in an unknown neighbourhood. I am taking a stroll, looking at people and situations. For example, here’s a recent story I’ve ran into. I was going to fly to Tel-Aviv. Imagine this huge dark building of Minsk international airport. In one of its gloomy passages I saw sculptures of typically Belarusian animals – hairs, bears, elks… and a crocodile among them. That’s a ready-to-use story! Do you remember the old designs of Belarusian money, with different animals on our notes? I already picture myself such a note with a crocodile on it. This is how my stories are born. Or, here is another airport story. A weak-sighted old lady came up to me. She was also flying to Tel-Aviv and obviously had Jewish roots. She comes up to me and asks, “Young man, please, take a look at the indicator panel for me – I periodically see nothing”. This is how characters are born.

Tue, 2009-04-07 18:45

Kastsiukevich ties Israel and Belarus into an elaborate knot.

Paval Kastsiukevich is the Woody Allen of Belarusian literature. This, of course, may not be the most exact comparison, but it was certainly a good one to pull a string. Now that I have your attention, let’s take a look at a slim book that contains twelve short stories by this young Israeli-Belarusian writer who made the year 2008 so much more fun, even despite of the looming recession. Translated from Belarusian, the book’s title reads ‘Edifying Conversations for Summer Cottage Owners’. Its cover shows a young man in an empty kitchen. The window is dark, revealing a faceless urban landscape. The young man is warming his hands over the ghostly blue light of a gas oven. He is searching for some warmth and comfort in the lonesome surrounding. In his stories, Paval Kastsiukevich manages to find the unexpected in the most banal things, taking the reader into a grotesque parallel world, albeit not completely unlike ours.
Wed, 2009-02-25 18:37

This man studied and lived in several countries, shuttled across Europe, went in and out of prison, worked as a publisher, doctor, gardener, with his interests ranging from the art of woodcut to translation, and, possibly, even Kabbalah. Now, here is the best part – he managed to do all these things five centuries ago without any Internet, budget airlines and time management courses. His name was Francysk Skaryna, the man who printed the first Belarusian book in Prague using the knowledge and skills he acquired in Poland and Italy. Indeed, he made a very good use of the “Renaissance globalisation”.

Tue, 2009-02-10 11:06

If you are looking for a pastime in Minsk, a visit to a theatre could be an option worth to think about. After all, you don’t risk much: a nice seat in a major theatre would set you back about five euros. Thus, in terms of money you have a fair choice between a six-pack of local beer (another affordable way to spend a nice evening in the Belarusian capital) and a theatre ticket. Not to offend the feelings of beer-fans, what does Minsk have to offer for a theatre-lover? After all, the capital reflects the most recent trends of national theatre culture.

What surprises you the most, is how traditional Belarusian theatre is. In the West, it wouldn’t be a novelty to see, for instance, Hamlet reciting his famous monologue while lying down on a couch of a psychoanalyst. In Belarus, however, Shakespeare is quite often taken literally. The première of “Mackbeth”, which took place at the Yanka Kupala theatre in 2006, offered enough sword fights, armour rattling and bellicose screams to please the entertainment-hungry crowd visiting The Globe in its early times.

Tue, 2009-01-20 11:30

The Yakub Kolas square in Minsk is an enormous free space, which is extremely popular with pigeons, skateboarders and exhausted shoppers of a nearby department store and marketplace. On sunny days people spend their time here, under the shade of birches, enjoying the breeze, which occasionally refreshes them with splatters of water from the nearby fountains. A bulky black statue overlooks this urban oasis. A bronze-cast bold man is propping up his chin, as if he were daydreaming. This is Yakub Kolas - the writer and poet, the square is named after. 

 

In Belarus, Yakub Kolas is sometimes compared to Homer. Indeed, the two major works by Yakub Kolas, his epic poems “The New Land” and “Simon the Musician” can be compared to “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”. Similar to “The Iliad”, “The New Land” describes a long and exhausting struggle, however, this struggle takes place not under the walls of Troy, but in a Belarusian village on the verge of the 19th and 20th centuries, where a poor family desperately strives to acquire a piece of land in order to gain self-respect and become independent from greedy and arrogant landlords. “Simon the Musician” is a story about a traveler and a kind-hearted musician Simon, who, like Odysseus, gets into plenty of trouble until he finally reaches his goal, which, in his case, is freedom of creation. 

 

Sat, 2008-12-20 12:10

There is a lovely park in the centre of Minsk on a bank of the winding Svislach River. Walking down its mosscovered lanes under the shade of maples and limes, you will eventually reach a fountain. Bronze-cast naked girls send their flower garlands swimming in the water. This symbolizes Kupala, the pagan-rooted Midsummer Night celebration in Belarus.

Mon, 2008-11-10 07:00

A literary journey to the shores of Lake Neshcharda with Yan Barshcheuski

Halloween time passed, so this article is supposed to touch upon some creepy subject. Although there is no such holiday as Halloween in Belarus, the country has enough in stock to get you scared. In fact, there are plenty of stories, which could (and maybe some day will) eclipse the fame of Dracula and other well-known frightening myths. What about meeting Vargin the Cat King, which secretly fills people’s heads with wasps when they listen to his purring? Or seeing Nikitron, the evil spirit, which lives in every sparkle of fire? Or swimming in the lake, which is full with all kinds of beasts and spooky creatures? If you are brave enough, let’s travel all the way up to Lake Neshcharda in northern Belarus, near the border with Russia and Latvia. Your guide will be Yan Barshcheuski, the writer, whose set of stories “Nobleman Zavalnya, or Belarus in Fantasy Stories” (1844-1846) is sometimes called “the Belarusian Thousand and One Night”.
Tue, 2008-10-14 07:00

Retracing the path of the first Belarusian newspaper

 

It was a cold day of November 10, 1906. The air of Vilnius was filled with the odours of burning coal, fallen leaves and the genlte scent of snow, which was just about to start falling. Two men were walking down the street, clutching a sheet of paper and reading it so intensively as if it were a prophecy or a map of the island full of treasures. In a sense, it was. Two brothers, Ivan and Anton Lutskevich, were holding in their hands the first issue of the first full-fledged newspaper in the Belarusian language. Something, this land has never seen before.

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