Belarusians from the Baikal Lake area appealed city authorities of Irkutsk to set up twin city relations with Belarusian cities

Beauty of folk diplomacy

Belarusians from the Baikal Lake area appealed city authorities of Irkutsk to set up twin city relations with Belarusian cities and even gave reasons why Vitebsk can become a good variant for such collaboration

There’re many various Belarusian organizations in Russia and there’re plenty of reasons for this, since, according to recent data, the number of Belarusians in the brotherly country exceeds 500,000. Meanwhile, writer Valery Kazakov, who headed the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of the Belarusians in Russia since 2010, their number can be boldly multiplied by 3-fold: our cultures and languages are very close, so assimilation processes of Belarusians are very quick in the Russian-language environment. The Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of the Belarusians in Russia was established on April 24th, 1999, in line with the Federal Law of the Russian Federation ‘On National and Cultural Autonomy’ and was registered at the Russian Justice Ministry on August 6th, 1999. Frantishek Kovrigo was elected its first chairman at the first congress while now it’s headed by Prof. Sergey Kandybovich, Doctor of Sciences, who was born in Minsk. He was elected at the sixth congress which brought together representatives of almost thirty national-cultural autonomies — members of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy. The congress was held a year ago — on May 22nd, 2015, at the Moscow House of Nationalities.

The same congress elected Irkutsk’s Oleg Rudakov as deputy chairman of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of the Belarusians in Russia. There was time when he was called ‘the major Belarusian in the Baikal area’. Born in Vitebsk he set up the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture (named after Yan Chersky) regional public organization together with his like-minded fellows. He headed it for a long time, until 2013, when this position was occupied by Alena Sipakova. Now, Oleg Rudakov is an honorary member of the Batskaushchyna (Fatherland) Association of Belarusians (elected at the session in 2013 in Minsk) and a member of the Vyalikaya Rada (the Great Council).

Mr. Rudakov sent an appeal to our editorial office, addressed to the Mayor of Irkutsk, Dmitry Berdnikov. Before stating his proposal, Mr. Rudakov told us in brief about his public work, aimed to unite Belarusians of the Baikal Lake area into a single cultural diaspora. Much effort has been already made in this respect. Back in September 1995, Mr. Rudakov was a delegate at the 4th congress of the Belarusian Language Society in Minsk and made a report about the life of Belarusians in Siberia. In November, he began to collect the core of the future society in Irkutsk. “Over 20 years we’ve conducted lots of socially important events and cultural-enlightening holidays,” notes Mr. Rudakov. “The society in Irkutsk worked across 20 major ­areas, with big attention paid to work with war veterans, youth and children. Due to the activity of our society the Belarusians of Irkutsk could use their constitutional right for revival, preservation and deve-lopment of cultural traditions of their ancestors and the right to study their native language and historical legacy.”

Oleg Rudakov has taken part in various scientific conferences, held in Minsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Moscow. He has several dozen publications and scientific works. In December 2010, he organized an international scientific-practical conference in Irkutsk, entitled ‘The 100th Anniversary of the Stolypin Reform, the Most Massive Resettlement of Belarusians into the Baikal Lake Area’, which attracted the attention of scientists from Minsk, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, alongside local historians from Belarusian villages, located in Irkutsk Region. Mr. Rudakov was awarded diplomas, certificates and acknowledgements, including at the governmental level, both from the Russian and Belarusian sides, for his selfless labour.

In spring 2010, he was awarded the Frantsisk Skorina Award of the Belarusian Government and, in 2011, was awarded a jubilee medal (regional) and a badge of honour (city), dedicated to Irkutsk’s 350th anniversary. It’s important that Mr. Rudakov doesn’t cling to power. “Having prepared a young ge-neration which was brought up in the organization I decided to transfer the reins of power in the Belarusian Culture Society of Irkutsk to the younger generation yet I’m actively working in the Belarusian movement aiming to preserve and develop the Belarusian culture.”

Now, two public Belarusian organizations are operating in Irkutsk — the Belarusian Culture Society of Irkutsk and Kirivichi Youth Club — and this is partly the merit of Mr. Rudakov. According to him, both organizations have their own core groups, creative powers and are moving in one direction while fulfilling slightly different tasks.

The essence of Mr. Rudakov’s proposal is as follows: ‘Since Irkutsk has had long historical and cultural ties with Belarus, in my opinion, it would be appropriate to establish twin city relations between Irkutsk and Belarusian city of Vitebsk while the Belarusian diaspora will facilitate strengthening and expansion of multi-faceted ties. You can boldly rely on our activity’. Then Mr. Rudakov gives reasons for his choice in favour of the city on the Dvina River. He believes that long and solid ties have existed between Irkutsk and Vitebsk. For example, these were set up by two scientists: Mikola (Nikolay) Vitkovsky — an archaeologist, a museum conservator (1874) and a member of the selection committee of the Russian Geographical Society’s Eastern Siberian branch — and Yan (Ivan) Chersky — a geologist, geographer and the Baikal Lake researcher. Both were born not far from Vitebsk: the first — in Mokshino village of Surazhsky District (26km from Vitebsk) while the second — in Svolna estate of Drissensky District (150km from Vitebsk). Both took part in the 1863 rebellion on the Belarusian territory and were in Vitebsk before being sent to exile. By a twist of fate they found themselves in Irkutsk where they became great scientists. Yan Chersky arrived in autumn 1871 while Mikola Vitkovsky came in 1873. Both died in Siberia. Moreover, Yan Chersky’s wife, Mavra Pavlovna, left for Vitebsk after her husband’s death (in 1892) and lived there until 1935. The house of Mavra Cherskaya has also preserved in Vitebsk. According to Mr. Rudakov, now negotiations are underway in order to create in that house a museum of the Chersky family, as well as of other Belarusians in Siberia who became famous researchers.

The second layer of ties is realities of the Great Patriotic War. Many Irkutsk residents took part in the famous Operation Bagration which launched the liberation of Belarus. Irkutsk soldiers were fighting near Vitebsk and Polotsk in fierce battles. The Belarusians in Irkutsk have already collected materials and conducted some research on this topic. Moreover, the Vitebsk guard missile division, famous in Irkutsk, also took part in that operation; at that time, it was an artillery division which liberated Vitebsk and was later awarded the title ‘Vitebsk guard division’. After the war it became a missile guard (having undergone equipment) and was dislocated in Vitebsk Region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union missile troops were withdrawn from Belarus and sent to Irkutsk.

Mr. Rudakov’s third argument is that ‘the current time also prompts to choose the regional city of Vitebsk as a twin city for Irkutsk. This city boasts a range of famous plants and enterprises: Vityaz Television Plant, Vitex cosmetic company, Marko and Belwest footwear factories and many others. Some of these have already found their way to our city, with Belwest and Vitebsk Flax Concern opening their representations’.

Mr. Rudakov’s merit is also that cultural ties have been already set up between the cities. For example, Irkutsk’s ‘Krivichi’ ensemble of authentic song was invited to the ‘Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk’ Festival in 2011 and became a laureate of the Festival of Arts of Belarusians of the World. Moreover, in 2012, the ‘Krivichi’ ensemble took part in celebrations of Polotsk’s 1150th anniversary in Vitebsk Region. “Of course, if the cities become twin cities, our cultural, economic and public ties will significantly deepen and expand,” Mr. Rudakov is convinced. “For example, the Yakub Kolas National Academic Drama Theatre in Vitebsk can have tours in Irkutsk. I hope that the opening of the Chersky house-museum in Vitebsk will be accelerated and other important projects will be also developed.”

Time will show whether Oleg Rudakov’s dreams and proposal will come true…

By Ivan Ivanov
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