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[b]On September 5th, Khoiniki celebrated the 17th Day of Belarusian Written Language – a holiday which grows more important with each passing year. Although the central topic of the event remains our literary and language heritage, the whole holiday was perceived as a common cultural event, covering historical, musical, inter-state and even economic aspects. Khoiniki particularly accentuated this multi-sidedness[/b]Long before the holiday, when it became known that this year’s event would be hosted by Khoiniki, major changes were planned for the town. Nothing similar had been observed since its post-war reconstruction; the town became one big construction site. It suffered from the Chernobyl disaster, so the decision to organise major celebrations here was extremely important, showing that life continues as long as local culture exists.Khoiniki has changed drastically over the last six months, with many returning guests failing to recognise familiar places.
Long before the holiday, when it became known that this year’s event would be hosted by Khoiniki, major changes were planned for the town. Nothing similar had been observed since its post-war reconstruction; the town became one big construction site. It suffered from the Chernobyl disaster, so the decision to organise major celebrations here was extremely important, showing that life continues as long as local culture exists.
Khoiniki has changed drastically over the last six months, with many returning guests failing to recognise familiar places. Changes have been the most radical since the post-war era and have been a major topic of conversation for those who have seen it ‘before’ and ‘after’. So much has been done and it’s vital that improvements continue beyond the holiday. Within two years, Khoiniki will celebrate its 500th anniversary; the town hopes to meet this landmark date with a host of new achievements.
The holiday has been felt everywhere, with its ‘common cultural’ component apparent even where least expected. A military man with a metal detector suspiciously examined my rucksack and, having found nothing, asked me sternly, “When was Khoiniki founded?”
Its ancient park has undergone the greatest change, acquiring modern landscaping, flowers and green lawns. Old trees, which still remember the October Revolution, have been cut down, replaced by young, strong saplings. Modern Khoiniki is full of friendly and smiling people; their delight at being chosen as a cultural capital will be long savoured and nurtured.
Young people had crowded near a presentation, occupying the whole path and blocking the way of a family. They wanted to reach the children’s playground, which had just opened, and were reluctant to step onto the perfect grass. Finally, they passed their smiling, smartly dressed girl through the air…
‘When everything is so beautiful, you also wish to correspond to this beauty’ I heard a local teenager muse rather philosophically as he stood waiting for a sculpture to be unveiled in the park. It was a part of the programme, which is gradually becoming a tradition. Last year’s Day of Belarusian Written Language in Smorgon was marked by the unveiling of a monument to famous Belarusian writer Bogushevich. This time, something original has been invented for Khoiniki. A monument was unveiled not to writer Ivan Melezh, who was born in the area, but to his characters from People of the Marsh; they’re now cast in metal. Unveiling the sculptural composition, Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, invented his own aphorism, “Each nation has created at least one work of genius – their native language…”
An amphitheatre was especially built for the holiday, bringing together the best Belarusian writers, publishers, illustrators, photographers and designers. The site also hosted an awards ceremony, bestowing prizes on the winners of the 50th National Art Book-2010 Contest. Various editions were awarded: from school textbooks to those dedicated to the Great Patriotic War technique. We Won’t Ever Forget, by Mastatskaya Litaratura Publishing House, received the Grand Prix.
Khoiniki has long awaited a new museum, which is now housed inside a late 19th century manor; its last pre-revolutionary owner was Orlov merchant Andrey Askerko. The building boasts a rich history, having housed Soviet institutions after nationalisation, and a German hospital during the war years. After liberation, it served as an orphanage and then became an education department. It’s now home not only to local, historical artefacts, but to visiting exhibitions. The first visitors to the museum have been excited to walk through its revamped ancient halls, which house some familiar exhibits. The museum also hosts a unique exhibition from Vetka museum, with one hall dedicated to Khoiniki’s first art gallery, displaying works by Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian painters.
Belpochta couldn’t leave such a major event unmarked, deciding to issue a stamp and envelope bearing Khoiniki coat of arms to commemorate the event.
The most active participants of the Day of Belarusian Written Language were publishing houses, alongside the media. As usual, many people crowded near the Sovetskaya Belorussiya stand, with newspaper publishers from Bryansk and Chernigov regions taking stands alongside those from Gomel region.
Media and Publishing Projects of the Union State was one of the brightest shows, presenting dozens of editions connected to the Union State theme. One has been written by a war veteran, the former Defence Minister of the USSR, Dmitry Yazov; it has been released with support from the Permanent Committee. Entitled Gurtiev Soldiers: from Omsk to Berlin, it looks at the life of General-Marshal Leonty Gurtiev, who was named a Hero of the Soviet Union. In the foreword, the State Secretary of the Belarus-Russia Union State, Pavel Borodin, writes: ‘… the book by D. Yazov is a worthy assistant in the military and patriotic education of the growing generations, who should remember that we – Russians and Belarusians – are a single nation and a single country; we lived and will continue living together…’.
There was so much to see that it was almost impossible to view everything. Some poets generously shared their emotions via romantic verse, proving that poetry can be good and diverse. Meanwhile, a rare Soviet automated machine selling newspapers were on show at Gomoblsoyuzpechat trade enterprise’s stand, proving hugely popular. It was found somewhere, restored and painted to resume its original appearance; it may be the only one in the country. The revamped cinema welcomed its first guests, while young boys tested out the new stadium’s pitch. Theatrical perfor-mances followed one after another.
We can certainly say that culture (including language) is a living, developing organism. Contemporary culture was in evidence on the festival’s central stage, with the concert programme including not just traditional folk bands but a rapper. His uncompromising patriotic hip hop lyrics were accompanied by strong gestures and an academic choir in national costume. It was an unusual sight that kept the audience rapt with amazement, inspiring many photos to be taken. Of course, it was intended to be a novelty, entertaining us with its element of surprise, but it was no less appropriate as a way of honouring our Belarusian language.
The holiday vividly demonstrated that life really does go on, no matter what tragedy occurs. The Chairman of Khoiniki District Executive Committee, Alexander Bichan, is pragmatically optimistic about the future. He sees the arrival of guests as a happy occasion, allowing the district to show its economic attractiveness and prospects, regardless of the Chernobyl catastrophe. “We want to show that people can work successfully here. We boast trained labour, good communications and a favourable geographical location”, he stresses.
The holiday is over, but Khoiniki’s revival will continue. Its first swimming pool is to be built (four 25m lanes), as well as mini pitches for football, basketball and volleyball.
Preparations for next year’s Day of Belarusian Written Language have already begun, with Gantsevichi (Brest region) awaiting changes and improvements.
By Andrey Novikov