By Victor Vasiliev
Nikolay Cherginets, the Chairman of the Writers’ Union of Belarus, told the Belarusian President that, over the last five years, the Union ‘has gained 442 new members’, giving a total of 567 members. These include laureates of the State Award and Special Presidential Award, as well as honoured figures of culture. Speaking of the latest editions, writer Cherginets excitedly noted, “We’ve managed to capture the attention of our colleagues in other states!” Journalists ironically noted that the only step remaining is to win the attention of our own readers.
“There’s nothing more precious to me than a book. Without learning, I’d never have become president,” noted Mr. Lukashenko. “I was living in a village, so books were a window to the world for me.” The President shared an interesting page from his younger years, revealing that he wrote poetry at school and submitted it to a district newspaper for publication. Their harsh assessment disappointed him and, probably, shaped his sharp perception of the true quality of literature.
“I’m bringing the Presidential library into order as I do like to have something to ‘boast’ of in front of other presidents!” smiled Mr. Lukashenko. He repeated several times that he has no ‘creative framework’ for writers. “There’s no need to please everyone,” he warned Mr. Cherginets. “Let them write what they wish. Just look how much is written about me!” Mr. Cherginets noted that the same can be said of him. “I don’t need to use the Union of Writers politically and I won’t ever ‘break’ the intelligentsia,” continued Mr. Lukashenko, adding that, “We have bread, factories and plants, yet we lack soul.”
The President invited all the writers at the meeting to express their opinions. Olga Koval, a member of the Writers’ Union of Belarus, who teaches at the Belarusian State Technological University and writes poetry in her free time, gave an interesting response. “Most agree that we need state support, but I’d like to suggest an alternative,” she noted intriguingly. She reminded those present that Yanka Kupala, a Belarusian literary legend, paid for the publication of his first books and found his own sponsors. Ms. Koval is confident that the state should support literature, but would rather not see money directly allocated for publication, since this could lead to favouritism of those well-placed. She would like to see talent supported in other ways.
Ms. Koval’s speech confirmed that the Union of Writers enjoys many differing views — a sign of freedom of speech. The President agreed with the young poetess, saying, “Great masterpieces were created by those who had nothing.” On hearing these words, the writers showed signs of anxiety but Mr. Lukashenko explained, “I don’t believe you should endure poverty.”
Clearly, the state plans to continue supporting literature, but the President is eager to only finance the publication of those editions which will enjoy true demand.
Taking his leave, Mr. Lukashenko promised that he’d try to find time to meet with the writers again this year — perhaps in an editorial office of a literary magazine. He said, “I don’t bid farewell but say goodbye.” Members of the Writers’ Union of Belarus still have some time to write bestsellers.