Best view of the city
[b]Belarus magazine contributor writes popular history of Minsk[/b]Viktor Korbut, one of our regular contributors, recently launched his 264 page edition entitled Minsk: Best View of the City. Published by Zvyazda Publishing House, it explores the history of the capital of Belarus — from its foundation in the 11th century until the present day. Mr. Korbut asserts that, on reading the book, residents and visitors alike will become first class experts on the city’s historical sites. He notes, “You’ll find out everything there is to know — drawn from encyclopaedias and textbooks. Well-known Russian journalist Leonid Parfenov emphasises that understanding of our national psyche is impossible without such knowledge. I’ve written the book in simple language while using exact scientific facts in my research. Each detail from the city’s past is supported by interviews with archaeologists and historians, and conversations with eyewitnesses of 20th century events: well-known public and cultural figures. Many of the stories have also appeared in SB — Belarus Segodnya newspaper.”
Viktor Korbut, one of our regular contributors, recently launched his 264 page edition entitled Minsk: Best View of the City. Published by Zvyazda Publishing House, it explores the history of the capital of Belarus — from its foundation in the 11th century until the present day. Mr. Korbut asserts that, on reading the book, residents and visitors alike will become first class experts on the city’s historical sites. He notes, “You’ll find out everything there is to know — drawn from encyclopaedias and textbooks. Well-known Russian journalist Leonid Parfenov emphasises that understanding of our national psyche is impossible without such knowledge. I’ve written the book in simple language while using exact scientific facts in my research. Each detail from the city’s past is supported by interviews with archaeologists and historians, and conversations with eyewitnesses of 20th century events: well-known public and cultural figures. Many of the stories have also appeared in SB — Belarus Segodnya newspaper.”
The book contains original materials which, for the first time, cover almost a thousand years of Minsk’s history — to the present day. It continues in the footsteps of Władysław Syrokomla’s 19th century annals, entitled Minsk, and draws on Zachar ¦ybieka’s Minsk: Pages from the Life of a Pre-revolutionary City, as well as Vladimir Denisov’s Svobody Square in Minsk. Mr. Korbut’s work is inspired by illustrated editions by Vasily Kaleda, Ilya Kurkov and Vitaly Kirichenko, and by the academic Stories of Minsk, from the series entitled Collection of Monuments of History and Culture of Belarus: five of its chronicles are devoted to Minsk, under the title Memory.
Almost two million people live in Minsk and Viktor Korbut was born in our capital. Having learnt its history, he was keen to share his discoveries with other residents and with visitors from near and far. He tells us, “The city is ever growing, acquiring new residents. They, falling in love with the present, do not always look at the past. All large cities face the same situation: accelerated living and a fast pace of life stops us from contemplating who created the city before our arrival from some other corner of the country or the Earth. The city is being quickly modernised, which is a double-edged sword: we gain vital new high-rise buildings but lose some of our ancient monuments (the small dwellings which harbour the former spirit of Minsk). Minor treasures disappear in the shade of sky-high buildings. Clean streets catch the eye of tourists and are something of which every Minsk resident is proud. Our idyllically clean Independence Avenue stretches from the House of Government to the Officers’ Club and from the Belarusian State Circus to the National Library. It seems to go on forever. Somewhere, behind the high walls of the road are hidden the old buildings of the National Library and churches from the pre-war and pre-revolutionary years. Thousands of former Minsk-residents carved their lives there yet how much do we know about those times?”
Mr. Korbut’s book answers such questions as when and where Minsk was founded, whose voices are heard in the metro system, where well-known ‘Narochansky’ bread is baked and where beer has been brewed for one and a half centuries. It also details such facts as how high-rise buildings (for example, the House of Government) were built when the first crane only appeared in the city in 1940 and how street names have changed over the centuries. Meanwhile, Mr. Korbut explains how the National Library came by books autographed by such icons as Andrй Gide, Paul Valйry, Marcel Proust, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.
Chapters are also dedicated to such well-known figures as Felix Dzerzhinsky — the founder of the Soviet Intelligence Service, the first head of the Polish Republic — Jуzef Piłsudski, and the first President of the State of Israel — Chaim Azriel Weizmann: all of whom are connected with Belarus. Chronicles of visits to Minsk by Russian emperors Peter I and Nikolay II, and by American presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, are catalogued and we discover which famous figures of Polish culture once resided in Minsk, being Belarusians by birth: artist Walenty Wańkowicz, composer Stanisław Moniuszko, poet and local historian Władysław Syrokomla, and Belarusian-Polish writer Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz. Breaking the ‘tradition’ of only immortalising worthy people after death, Mr. Korbut gives attention to our contemporaries: architect Leonid Levin, artist May Danzig, writer Adam Globus and many other interesting residents of Minsk.
He explains, “It’s not only possible but, even, necessary to be proud of such neighbours: not tomorrow but today! I suggest you walk the streets of Minsk with my book, feeling the spirit of the city from the past century and earlier. You’ll learn about Minsk and fall in love with it, becoming intimately acquainted — even if you aren’t a local resident. Those who think they know the city well can discover romantic back streets which they have never noticed before, in a shade of high-rise buildings.”
By Viktor Korbut
The book cover has been designed by Yelena Zhdanovskaya, inspired by May Danzig’s My Minsk (1967) and My City is Ancient and Young (1972). She also used a fragment of a picture by Napoleon Orda, from the second half of the 19th century, showing an image of the Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary. The book is illustrated by well-known photographers, such as Sergey Plytkevich and Alexander Ruzhechka, and features post cards from the late 19th and early 20th century, from Vladimir Likhodedov’s collection. Readers will also enjoy photos and documents reproduced from the state archives, from museums of Belarus, and from the Federal Archive of Germany (Bundesarchiv). There is even a Facebook page promoting the edition: https://www.facebook.com/KorbutMinsk
Writer and local historian Ales Karlyukevich, Editor-in-Chief of Zvyazda newspaper, and director of Zvyazda Publishing House:
Viktor Korbut’s book of essays and sketches tells us about Minsk. We may think we know it well but a glance through the pages of the new edition makes us realise that the capital of Belarus is filled with riddles and secrets. Among the problems mentioned by the author is the restoration of the historical centre of Minsk. Which churches, cloisters and cemeteries remain in the city and what legends are connected with them? Viktor Korbut tells us about those townspeople whose lives set a good example for us and our descendants to follow. His edition is well-researched: an original educational guide taking us on a trip through Minsk. It contains a great many photos and reproductions, making it a good assistant in touring the city.
Anatoly Varavva, the oldest guide in Belarus, employed by Viapol Company:
Having read Viktor Korbut’s book, I’m ready to believe that Minsk is the best city in the world. It’s fascinating to wander through Minsk with the author; you will feel as if you know the city and could even tell tourists about it. At the same time, it makes you realise that there is much you do not know. Interviews with key figures from history always strike a chord with the reader and this book features quite a few. I think these are invaluable, being recollections by eye-witnesses of significant events from our past. The book cannot fail to touch you, inspiring you to live and breathe Minsk and to love it dearly.
Larisa Rakovskaya, a journalist, deputy director of Zvyazda Publishing House:
In my library, there are many books which sit decoratively, rather than being read. Some are hidden from view and I never lend them, being afraid that they will never return. Others I share, believing they deserve to be read more widely, and Viktor Korbut’s book is one such. It’s a perfect gift for anyone and makes a great souvenir, besides confectionary and linen items, when visiting the capital.