Belarusians succeed in preserving their culture

Tamara Varfolomeyeva receives Belarusian President’s 2014 special award to figures of culture and art

Tamara Varfolomeyeva, a senior research assistant at the Research Centre for Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature, at the National Academy of Sciences, receives Belarusian President’s 2014 special award to figures of culture and art — for compiling comprehensive six-volume Traditional Artistic Culture of Belarusians

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Ms. Varfolomeyeva, who initiated the project, tells us, “In conceiving this collection, we set a very demanding task: to present traditional culture as it stands at the junction of the second and third millennia. Belarusians, like no other nation, have managed to preserve their traditional culture. It has always existed and will continue, although in some other forms.”

The edition took 20 years to complete and should prove interesting not only to Belarusians but to other nations. The book is being used by researchers from Russia and Lithuania and has aroused interest in Serbia. The collection contains a great deal of material — including information on the folk calendar, songs, dances, prose, traditional clothing and Belarusian textiles. “We didn’t include all available materials. It’s amazing how creative rural residents are in how they approach their traditions, how much they know and how gladly they share information,” she notes.

The special award was bestowed upon the team of three: Ms. Varfolomeyeva and her fellow researchers Yelena Boganeva, from the NAS Research Centre for Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature, and Nikolay Kozenko, from the Minsk-based Vetraz Extended Education Centre (in Minsk’s Oktyabrsky District). “Our bid for the award featured just three people, as the rules of the contest did not allow us to indicate more. However, this is not only our award; it belongs to the entire team working on this for 20 years,” Ms. Varfolomeyeva underlines.

The core of the team comprises nine researchers. Olga Bazko, Tatiana Kukharonak and Tatiana Volodina worked on the Folk Calendar chapter. Irina Smirnova studied traditional costume and Olga Lobachevskaya studied Belarusian textiles. Irina Mazyuk assisted the entire team. Ms. Varfolomeyeva emphasises, “We are a close-knit team of dedicated people, who have devoted our lives to this work. We love discovering facts — using our professional tricks. This adds pleasure rather than problems. Our joint work brings such of joy.”

Despite the academic status of the collection, it can find practical application, such as being used to help teach folk dancing. The relevant chapter, compiled by Mr. Kozenko, abounds in photos of dancers and dance moves, and is sure to be of interest to choreographers. He explains, “Work on the dance chapter took a long time, as we travelled to remote areas to find people who remembered traditional dances, persuading them to show us dance moves. After that, we spent much time decoding these dance moves, which are often improvised. It took me a year to explain a ten-minute quadrille!” The last three volumes include discs of songs, music and prose.

Ms. Boganeva notes, “The edition has been completed but we’ll continue our research, as we hope to re-issue the first two volumes: about Vitebsk and Mogilev. Their publication was associated with a lot of challenges and was conducted early in the project, so we had to omit much material.”

By Mikhail Svetlov

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