Increasing numbers of tourists — from Belarus and elsewhere — are visiting Grodno Region’s Oshmyany District, tempted to areas neighbouring Lithuania.The region is linked to many interesting personalities
Valentina Luzina, a deputy of the National Assembly and a member of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee for International Affairs and Links with the CIS, is a qualified teacher and sometimes acts as an excursion guide for foreign delegations, showing them the sights of Oshmyany District. She also occasionally escorts Belarusian government officials, writers and figures of science, culture and arts.
Before setting off on a tour, let’s find out more about her. Born in the spring month of March, in Grodno Region’s Dyatlovo, her zodiac sign is Aries. Happy Birthday! She is Russian by nationality but her father settled here after the war (an officer, he helped liberate Belarus from the Nazi Fascists). Ms. Luzina graduated from secondary school #2 and received her first higher education at Grodno’s State Pedagogical Institute. While working, she graduated from Minsk Higher Party School and Grodno State University, then began her career as a teacher of Russian language and literature at Oshmyany’s secondary school #3. She worked in Oshmyany and Ivye Districts for a few years before being elected to Parliament in 2009, and becoming the Deputy Chair of Oshmyany District Executive Committee.
Ms. Luzina knows the Belarusian language perfectly, which is worthy of respect. Accordingly, we used this language for our interview. She recently graduated from the Foreign Language Department for Leading Officials at Minsk’s State Linguistic University, receiving an excellent mark in her final exam in English. Now, she can lead excursions in three languages: Russian, Belarusian and English.
According to the latest population census, representatives of over 140 nationalities reside in Belarus, while Russian is the most common language of communication. “As my parents arrived from Russia, we never spoke Belarusian at home,” explains Ms. Luzina. “I learnt Belarusian at school. During Soviet times, it wasn’t obligatory for children of military personnel, so I learnt purely in respect for those among whom I was living. I’m grateful to my school friends, with whom I could perfectly practise, and to my strict teacher, who didn’t like mixing Belarusian and Russian. He spoke Belarusian beautifully and demanded the same from his pupils. My studies launched my acquaintance with Belarusian culture and its language, alongside Belarus as a land and its people; all have become dear to me.”
Working as Deputy Chair of the District Executive Committee, Ms. Luzina supervised social issues. Penetrating the history of her district, she met local enthusiasts and historians, making many interesting discoveries. She found that various nationalities had lived there since ancient times. For example, Oshmyany was considered to be a Jewish settlement; its 19th century stone synagogue remains, inspiring American donors with family roots there to finance a museum. There is also a gypsy community, which Ms. Luzina is keen to help integrate. She took part in a Vienna conference dedicated to this topic, at the invitation of the OSCE.
Oshmyany residents are known for their tolerance and ability to find a common language with all nationalities. The town received Magdeburg Rights in the 16th century. “On the eve of the last Presidential elections, I was speaking English with EU OSCE observers,” recollects Ms. Luzina. “They arrived several days beforehand and even attended the early vote, visiting various electoral districts. They were much interested in the history of Oshmyany District and told me they’d heard that Belarusians had no regard for their history or language. Of course, they saw the opposite. In rural areas, people speak Belarusian and know a great deal about the history of their land; they look after architectural buildings and honour their outstanding fellow countrymen. Our foreign guests enjoyed seeing Zhuprany — known for its monument to poet Frantishek Bogushevich (a founder of Belarusian literature). Created by famous sculptor Zair Azgur, the work stands in a public park, not far from St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church. The ‘winged words’ of the classical poet are well-known: ‘Don’t leave our Belarusian language to die’. A literary museum dedicated to his works operates at a local school and there is even a sculpture dedicated to the 150th anniversary of his birth. It was installed in 2010 in the cemetery where Frantishek Bogushevich and his relatives are buried, surrounded by fencing. “The memorial, annually visited by thousands of tourists, looks as it should,” notes Ms. Luzina with pride.
“We recently celebrated the anniversary of Bogushevich’s birth, with Zhuprany hosting a solemn flower laying ceremony and evening party at the library. A host of prominent amateur groups attended, including a folk theatre from Oshmyany, which is over 50 years old. The theatre enjoys a good reputation, and its performances are well known to local people and visitors alike. All greatly admire our artistes.”
Ancient traditions — young horses
Ms. Luzina believes that the regions need to promote themselves more actively in the capital. In 2009, a major presentation was given by Oshmyany District at the National Library, at her initiative, with local craftspeople demonstrating their skills and others giving presentations on the historical and cultural heritage of the district, including several photo exhibitions.
Meanwhile, the Gippika or Book on Horses was presented in Minsk: the first edition in the former Rzech Pospolita to detail horse breeding and horse riding. It was first released in 1603 but has only now been translated from Polish into Belarusian, by Minsk’s Valery Dubovsky Publishing Centre. The book was written by Krzysztof Monwid Dorohostajski (1562-1615) — a great Marshall of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who was a doctor of medicine, a traveller, a patron of arts and an enlightener. He undertook the work while living in his palace in Oshmyany District’s Murovanaya Oshmyanka village; the ruins of his home remain even today.
His memory and his endeavour live on, marked by Gippika Sports and Equestrian Centre, in Oshmyany District’s village of Grintsy, where the book also received a formal launch. “Work is being organised in an interesting fashion there, with a range of events conducted; local amateur bands often perform,” notes Ms. Luzina.
“Various editions provide information on the development of Belarusian agro-ecotourism, with photos taken in Grintsy going on display — such as of weddings at our Gippika. Wonderful Zhitnitsa band appear in one photo; I can almost hear the magnificent songs being played for the newly-weds. The group is headed by Roza Yatsukovich, Director of the Krakovka House of Culture, who boasts a brilliant voice. She has often been invited to sing with professional bands but likes to stay in Oshmyany District. We once welcomed a large delegation of around 20 people from Ukraine, with Zhitnitsa entertaining our guests in the evening at Gippika’s coffee inn; the young girls sang for them in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish and the audience simply ‘melted’. The concert lasted until 2 a.m., with constant ovations,” smiles Ms. Luzina.
Ms. Luzina recollects visiting Grintsy in 1997, where famous sportsman and Olympic champion Victor Ugryumov was training at the time. Sadly, there were few horses and much was to be desired regarding organisation but, over the course of time, the owners changed. Ms. Luzina suggested using the name Gippika, with the accent placed on eco-tourism. She explained that Dorohostajski, who had studied horse breeding in Italy, had written a unique book and lived nearby, and she invited TV reporters to the village to promote the idea.
A family then appeared whose children loved horses, especially their daughter Nastya. They decided to invest in the project, turning Gippika into a place where the mind and body can truly feel refreshed. They opened the cafe and built several two-storey cottages in Ugryumov Street for guests, while advertising via brochures and calendars. Hostess Natalia Zolina has decorated in contemporary style, while keeping original features and being inspired by Belarusian folk traditions.
The local authorities have also supported the endeavour, with the district sports school having its own equestrian section on the premises; the trainer’s salary is paid from trade union funds, allowing youngsters to take lessons free of charge. Ms. Luzina adds that Gippika is earning a good reputation via its riders, as several girls are regular prize winners at competitions; their coach is becoming a master of sports.
Moreover, Gippika regularly hosts weddings, incorporating beautiful customs from the past — for locals and foreigners alike. The first marriage ceremony was conducted for foreign guests, using flower thrones for the newly-weds, a horse procession, the sprinkling of guests with grain and other ancient and modern customs. The bride was born in Ivye District but was living in Poland, studying to become a dentist. Her relatives took her to Gippika for a holiday and she fell in love with the place, asking them to organise a unique wedding.
The Days of Dorohostajski festival is celebrated in Grintsy over the last weekend of August. The cultural and sports holiday has an interesting programme, gathering riding amateurs, and those keen to relax in the countryside. Most come from Ostrovets, Oshmyany, Smorgon, Grodno and Minsk, so it’s no surprise that Grintsy and Gippika recently occupied several bright pages in the Tourist Oshmyany District tourist brochure — translated into Belarusian, English and Polish. Its cover depicted the portraits of Krzysztof Monwid Dorohostajski and Duchess Sophia Golshanskaya — the foundress of the European royal dynasty of Jagiellons.
‘We raised kings rather than making lapti’
Some say that Oshmyany District’s popularity stems from its proximity to Lithuania, which influences its culture, manufacturing, farming and crafts. “We once welcomed a top foreign delegation, including a minister, and everyone was impressed at the warm welcome they received so far in the countryside,” recollects Ms. Luzina. “This is a farming region despite lacking particularly fertile soil. We showed our guests the magnificent Catholic church in Ostrovets District’s Gervyaty, including a meeting with the priest, followed by a river bank picnic of shashlyk and sausages — all produced at our Oshmyany Meat Factory, which is headed by talented Tamara Filippovich (also a writer and photographer). Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish songs were performed for our guests and our superb Dzhana Roma Gypsy band from Oshmyany gave a twenty minute show. They’re an amazing group, having won various contests. In the evening, Gippika’s cafe prepared delicious local dishes, offering a top class service. The head of the delegation asked whether the food had come from over the Lithuanian border but I emphasised that the recipes dated back centuries. I also explained that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania used to cover lands in northern Belarus. Some of the recipes were written down by Dorohostajski’s wife, Sophia. One such is Gippika salad. We can cook and offer service at the highest level, as should be no surprise. After all, princely palaces once stood in Oshmyany District, bringing forth the royal elite of Europe. It is not a region known only for making lapti [bast shoes].”
Tamara Filippovich, who comes from an ancient and noble family, has published two books: A Trip Through Oshmyany District and a photo album dedicated to Oshmyany’s 670th anniversary. “As a member of the Parliamentary Committee for International Affairs, I often bring foreign guests to Oshmyany but am sometimes wary of showing them our meat factory,” notes Ms. Luzina. “When they see how well-ordered it is and how natural, tasty and high quality our produce is, while having a wide range, they try to lure away Ms. Filippovich. I realise that Gippika and the meat factory are good examples of how businesses can be run by women, with everything done beautifully.”
Golshany-Jagiellon family tree
Ms. Luzina wishes to see the memory of outstanding Sophia Golshanskaya properly honoured in Golshany. Historians believe that the settlement is one of the most ancient in Belarus, with its title reminding us of the ancient Slavonic country of Nalsen, or Nalshany — as mentioned in the 13th century German chronicles. The Golsha dukes settled here in 1280 but the title may come from the alder tree, which grows easily in the region.
Over time, more will be discovered; archaeological digs are ongoing at Golshany citadel, headed by Pavel Kenka (of the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute). Volunteer schoolchildren take part, digging with spades. Tourists to Golshany are most interested in the ruined Sapegi family castle, completed in 1610. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and the Franciscan Catholic Monastery also draw large numbers of visitors. The castle may be ruined but it is immortalised in Vladimir Korotkevich’s Black Castle of Olshany, who based his book’s castle on the real Golshany ruins. Golshany was the birthplace of the Jagiellon royal dynasty.
Since 2006, international conferences have been organised, with reports presented by historians and archaeologists, as well as pupils from local schools — dedicated to discoveries and archive records from around the world referring to the settlement and its people. In 2006, a monument to Sophia Golshanskaya was also unveiled in Golshany.
Ms. Luzina recollects how everything began, telling us, “An idea was put forward regarding the first forum while I was the Deputy Chair of the District Executive Committee. I supported the notion, as did the former Director of the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute, Prof. Alexander Kovalenya. We decided that there should be an international conference and, as 2006 was the Year of Mothers in Belarus, I suggested that we unveil a stone monument to honour Belarusian Duchess Sophia. Our Oshmyany boulder was polished by sculptor Alexander Krokhalev and he carved a bas-relief and inscription upon it: ‘To Sophia Golshanskaya, a daughter of our Belarusian land and foundress of the Jagiellon dynasty’.”
According to historians, in 1422, King Jagailo, aged 70, married the daughter of Duke Andrey Golshansky, with the blessing of Great Duke Vitovt. It was his fourth marriage, as he was yet to receive an heir. Sophia was 16 at the time and gave birth to his two sons: the future kings Władysław III and Kazimierz IV. She was responsible for the Jagiellon dynasty, which is most well-known in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. Her aristocratic descendants ruled various European states and greatly influenced civil life.
A major avenue in Varna is named in honour of Władysław III, who was killed at the historic Battle of Varna against the Turkish, in 1444. Ms. Luzina notes that Bulgarian historians are currently keen to learn about Sophia as the mother of their kings, who continue the Jagiellon (Belarusian Golshany) family tree.
By Iosif Oreshko
Beautiful road to Golshany
[b]Increasing numbers of tourists — from Belarus and elsewhere — are visiting Grodno Region’s Oshmyany District, tempted to areas neighbouring Lithuania. The region is linked to many interesting personalities[/b]Valentina Luzina, a deputy of the National Assembly and a member of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee for International Affairs and Links with the CIS, is a qualified teacher and sometimes acts as an excursion guide for foreign delegations, showing them the sights of Oshmyany District. She also occasionally escorts Belarusian government officials, writers and figures of science, culture and arts. Before setting off on a tour, let’s find out more about her.