Festival of three sisters

[b]The festival history of Belarus is diverse and multifaceted [/b]Some are more popular than others of course, with a few having a less than predictable future. However, the International Slavonic Unity Festival — or the Festival of Three Sisters — annually brings together multitudes from the border regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The Festival was born more than 40 years ago, back in the Soviet times, when Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were part of one big country. Neighbours leaving in close proximity to each other even during that borderless time felt an acute need to meet in a special way, leaving aside daily routine to celebrate friendship. This natural inner wish finally found an outlet, initiated by the younger generation.
The festival history of Belarus is diverse and multifaceted

Some are more popular than others of course, with a few having a less than predictable future. However, the International Slavonic Unity Festival — or the Festival of Three Sisters — annually brings together multitudes from the border regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Friendship Monument
The Festival was born more than 40 years ago, back in the Soviet times, when Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were part of one big country. Neighbours leaving in close proximity to each other even during that borderless time felt an acute need to meet in a special way, leaving aside daily routine to celebrate friendship. This natural inner wish finally found an outlet, initiated by the younger generation.
Schools from the neighbouring regions of Bryansk (Russia), Gomel (Belarus) and Chernigov (Ukraine) took a step which later transformed into a major event — without limitation on age or nationality. In August 1969, those from the border districts gathered near Novye Yurkovichy village, in Klimovsk District of Bryansk Region, for their first assembly of the kind.
In the 1970s, at the crossroads of our three republics, the Friendship Monument was erected in memory of the Great Victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). Since then, the grandiose memorial commemorating the power of unity has been the ‘permanent residence’ of the Slavonic festival. The site is unusual, being on a hill. From its summit, all three roads — to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine — can be seen. During the Festival, these become ‘rivers’ of guests. Although the majority of visitors arrive from the neighbouring three republics, every year, the geography expands, with guests arriving from new regions and countries. Nevertheless, the event’s philosophy remains unchanged: the world is unshakable when ruled by openness and good-neighbourliness…

The power of spirit
Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Slavonic Unity was untouched. The Festival takes place each summer, gathering friends. The only change is that participants are from a greater number of states.
You can reach the monument either by private car, or by public transport from Grodno. On the day of the Festival, the central city square is usually crowded with buses, with trips taking only an hour and no passport control…
This year, the Festival was hosted by Russia. Among the thousands of people, some wore national costume and white headscarves. Nowadays, the Festival also attracts religious pilgrims. The honoured guest was the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill, who spoke a solemn public prayer for the unity of Slavonic people, “Nobody can doubt that a common foundation exists for our three fraternal peoples. We are strong only if we preserve and cherish this base rather than weaken it. This will allow our three buildings to keep their strength, despite bad weather or, even, an earthquake.”
This spiritual thread is new to the Festival in recent years. The monument is now often visited by churchmen taking part in the celebrations and also gathers pilgrims. Faith unites, enlightens and supports…
The heads of neighbouring eparchies and regional administrations have unanimously agreed that there should be a place of worship near the Friendship Monument, to host church and public events — regardless of citizenship or borders…

To see others, to show oneself
The Festival site becomes a huge town hosting craftsmen, artists, entertainers and master classes. To see and feel everything you would have to walk several dozen kilometres.
The hit of this year’s programme was the reconstruction of ancient times by each region, portraying remarkable events from history or the old way of life. The theatre performance was especially impressive and touching. It is one thing to read of history on the Internet or in books; it is another to see it with your own eyes, even in a stylised form.
Heroes of historical performances later scattered, promenading the streets: brave knights and soldiers, girls dressed in muslin and merchant wives. Costumes could be tried on, souvenirs sought and everyone was ready to chat.
Historical recreations were not the only part of the Festival. The 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, made by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, was celebrated. A ‘space road’ was made in his honour, featuring astronauts, people in costumes of aliens and various other attractions and entertainments.
The craftsmen roads allowed guests to try their hand at forging, glass-making, clay modelling and embroidery, with samples of delicious Slavonic dishes available. The Belarusian tents were filled with the scent of draniki potato pancakes frying, while the Ukrainians treated their guests to borsch soup and lumps of flavoursome salo. There was so much to explore.
The Festival has left bright impressions, recharging everyone with positive energy and leaving them in a fantastic mood for the year ahead.

By Violetta Dralyuk
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