By Igor Slavinsky
When Alexander Lukashenko took part in the first such holiday in his home district, he expressed his hopes that it would become a tradition. This year, even more artistes, masters, craftswomen and spectators gathered in Alexandria, on the border of the Vitebsk and Mogilev regions. Several thousand people from neighbouring villages, Mogilev, Orsha, Shklov and Minsk joined in celebrating Kupalle night on the banks of the River Dnieper, revering the ancient customs of our ancestors.
The Alexandria Festival occupies a unique niche among our revived and newly invented Belarusian holidays. Bread makers are the major characters at Dazhynki while the Slavonic Bazaar celebrates pop singers. Meanwhile, Alexandria is a kingdom of folk crafts and folklore, with the Belarusian spirit universally present; everything has a Belarusian aroma.
The Shklov District is certainly a fitting venue, having been part of the famous ‘from Varangians to the Greeks’ route (which passed along the River Dnieper); trade fairs and folk festivals would take place in Shklov, Alexandria and in the Orsha District’s Kopys (connected via a bridge). Skilful craftsmen resided in the area, with Alexandria residents good at osier weaving. Shklov’s woodcarvers made iconostases for churches in Moscow and Smolensk while Kopys’ potters were known throughout Belarus and Russia.
Good traditions should be revived, so the Alexandria Gathers Friends Festival promises to become an annual event, smiles Svetlana Kozlova, Deputy Head of the Mogilev Regional Executive Committee’s Cultural Department. She explains, “The holiday has already outgrown its regional boundaries. Guests from River Dnieper areas travelled to the Shklov District, coming from the Vitebsk, Gomel, Kiev and Smolensk regions; around 2,000 craftsmen, folk masters and amateur artistes took part alone!”
Evidently, a creative team organised the event, which so wonderfully allows each corner of the Mogilev Region to show its talents along the riverside. You can see how Shklov delicacies differ from those of Mstislavl, and how Kupalle night in Bykhov is unlike that of Klimovichi. You can buy straw and osier masterpieces from Glusk and see the skills of Belynichi masters. Curiously, this small region boasts great diversity.
We have inherited our ancestors’ legacy of crafts in a way quite different from that of the rest of Europe. Kupalle is still celebrated in Belarusian villages, with bonfires and games on this magic night. Of course, it’s now a rare thing to see old women singing traditional ancient Belarusian songs, while sitting on a mound of earth. However, the festival in Alexandria is a superb way of honouring and enjoying this legacy — and requires no particular capital investment. It’s enough to simply bring together all that we’ve preserved in our provincial houses of culture and homesteads.