[b]Belarus and Venezuela may be situated far apart, but our shared outlook brings us closer each day. Thousands of miles of land and sea divide our countries, yet relations are developing dynamically and fruitfully, with our countrymen successfully extracting oil in Venezuela and building agro-towns. Venezuela sells us coffee — among the best in the world — while we export dried milk in large quantities to this Latin American country. Meanwhile, our cultural partnerships add new colour to our relations[/b]
Many Belarusians are showing interest in the culture of mysterious and beautiful Latin America. Two year ago, a young Gomel resident presented a large collection of posters and books dedicated to Latin America to the Venezuelan Embassy in Minsk. Moreover, for several years, Latin American salsa has been one of the most popular club dances among youngsters in our country. However, until recently, no organisations promoting the culture of such countries as Venezuela, Cuba and Peru existed in Belarus. A year ago, under the initiative of the Venezuelan Embassy to Belarus, the Simon Bolivar Latin American Centre opened in Minsk.
The Centre is modest in size but very convenient, with posters and photos of the country’s prominent political figures adorning its walls: Simon Bolivar, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Belarusian children have tried to depict ‘their own Venezuela’ and their efforts also hang nearby; they see the country as bright, sunny and warm and have also drawn ‘their own’ Peru and Cuba.
Co-ordinator Gerardo Estrada takes us to the Centre’s library, which offers films and books on Venezuela — in Spanish and Russian. Visitors can also listen to Latin American music, with access to scores and Internet resources. “We have satellite TV, allowing us to see the latest news,” says Gerardo. “Visitors to the Centre can also ask staff questions; they’re here to promote Latin America, sharing information.”
Rhythmic music is heard as the Iolanda Moreno girls dance band rehearses a performance. Their head, Anastasia Zvezhinskaya, chatted to us at the Books of Belarus-2010 exhibition; the group danced next to the Venezuelan stand. They conquered visitors’ hearts with their artistry and bright costumes. Iolanda Moreno primarily performs Latin American folkdance, particularly salsa. “Ali Primera musical band operates at our Centre,” Gerardo tells us. “Its members are young people who know Spanish and love to sing and play musical instruments, including those traditional to Venezuela. Meanwhile, a group of boys is engaged in capoeira — an Afro-Brazilian combative art.”
Additionally, the Centre offers courses in Spanish and Portuguese — for those wishing to personally visit Latin America. “The Simon Bolivar Latin American Centre also organises cultural exchanges, exhibitions and contests. We initiate conferences — at Minsk Linguistic University and Belarusian State University — and organise concerts at the Institute of Culture. We co-operate with the leading orchestras of your country,” says Gerardo. “For example, I’ve been pleased to work with the National Orchestra of the Belarusian Radio and TV Company and Gomel’s Symphony Orchestra.” Gerardo himself is a violinist and conductor.
The Centre has also hosted charity concerts, with income from ticket sales sent to help those suffering from the effect of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Additionally, Venezuelan volunteers have joined the Our Countries Have Kind Hearts programme, helping Belarusian children. Several months ago, one of the most famous Venezuelan theatres — Gota Dulce — entertained orphans from Minsk and other Belarusian cities.
The Centre is an innovator of unusual ideas. In autumn, Venezuelans organised the first Latin American gastronomic festival at Minsk’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, demonstrating the diversity of Caribbean cuisine. “We’d like to hold a festival in summer, in the open air — so that everyone can attend,” smiles Gerardo. “We’d be able to share the traditional cuisine of Venezuela, Cuba, Peru and other Latin American countries with our guests. We’ve already chosen the venue — the Simon Bolivar Park in Minsk. No doubt, cultural uniqueness, respect for traditions and love for our homeland is bringing us closer to each other. In fact, in Belarus, I’ve felt as if I’m at home — nowhere else in Europe has ever made me feel like this. Belarusians are like Venezuelans: open,
sincere and hospitable.”
By Lyudmila Minkvich