Homeland of kings and… ghosts
[b]Deputy Valentina Luzina considers the Oshmyany district to be a ‘calling card’ of the country and a paradise for tourists[/b] Apart from important state documents, Ms. Luzina’s table is full of guides, historic textbooks and souvenirs. She has little time to waste. As a House of Representatives deputy, she is engaged in solving the topical problems of her constituents while pursuing her long-term missions to find investors, encourage local historians and organise international conferences. She wants to place her native Oshmyany district on the tourist map.
Apart from important state documents, Ms. Luzina’s table is full of guides, historic textbooks and souvenirs. She has little time to waste. As a House of Representatives deputy, she is engaged in solving the topical problems of her constituents while pursuing her long-term missions to find investors, encourage local historians and organise international conferences. She wants to place her native Oshmyany district on the tourist map.
Last year, Ms. Luzina left her post as Deputy Chairperson of the Oshmyany District Executive Committee to take parliamentary office. It’s sometimes easier to solve district problems from central Minsk. However, with each step of progress, her desire to achieve her goals strengthens. Already, she has seen great success; the new museum at the former Golshany Franciscan Monastery welcomes 7,000 to 14,000 tourists annually (while the village itself boasts just a thousand residents).
Ms. Luzina tells us about the latest projects and shares her views on future plans.
We are situated on the border of Belarus and Lithuania and, correspondingly, are close to the European Union; naturally, we want to promote the country’s reputation. There’s no need for us to create an artificially grand picture; history itself has bestowed so many gifts. Our district has been home to famous people — of whom Belarus and many countries worldwide are proud. The mother of the Polish royal dynasty of Jagiellons — Sophia — was born here. Her descendants ruled over Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Hungary. She was the only Belarus-born Queen and was Polish King Jagailo’s last hope for children. Eventually, she gave birth to heirs with Belarusian blood, who united half of Europe under their sceptres.
How does Sophia influence the modern life of Golshany?
It is now a village or, to be more correct, an agro-town; previously, it was a large settlement. According to legend, it was founded by Duke Golsha — the forefather of the Golshansky dukes, to whose family Sophia belonged. The Golshanskys were influential leaders in Belarus and Lithuania.
Times have changed however…
We are now returning to our roots and are finding that we are unique. Our lives are predetermined by the past. I’ve been asking the Director of the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute, Prof. Alexander Kovalenya, about Sophia Golshanskaya. We agree that it’s necessary to gather scientists from all over the world to discuss her role in the history of Europe, while defining the place of Golshany. In 2006, we organised a forum and a commemorative stone was unveiled in Sophia’s honour. Since then, three such conferences have taken place — becoming a good tradition. Even large cities rarely boast such attention.
Meanwhile, the National Art Museum’s branch at the former Franciscan Monastery closed in 2008, although you say it used to attract many tourists…
This is a sore point. The monastery is very old. Owing to its Director, Cheslava Okulevich, it has become widely known domestically and far abroad. The museum was operational on its premises for twenty years but the building was in dire need of restoration. What is its future? I hope, the Catholic community will help to fund restoration, giving Golshany another sacred place.
The monastery was primarily known for its ghost. What happened?
The White Lady (Belaya Panna) is said to walk one of the monastery’s rooms. She’s brought great fame to Golshany! I actually think another ghost lives in the castle built by the Sapegi dukes (who came after the Golshanskys). Belarusian classical writer Vladimir Korotkevich described the Sapegi palace as a ‘black castle’ where a mysterious ghost lives and people believe the story. Similar legends are common for other castles — in Lithuania, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Why am I mentioning these states? It seems to me that Golshany could become the centre of an international, at least within Eastern Europe, festival of ghosts. Queen Sophia lived here and, in the countries where her heirs ruled, royal palaces inhabited by ghosts remain. Each ghost has its own fate and history. In Golshany, these histories could acquire a new, mysterious and attractive strength. The festival of ghosts could become Golshany’s calling card. We are now discussing this project with like-minded people, and with the heads of the Oshmyany district.
Being a member of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee for International Affairs and Ties with the CIS, can you provide support for such a festival?
Of course, many people need to be involved in such projects — including representatives of culture and tourist business. The idea could be realised though. I’m inspired by the experience of similar projects. Several years ago, the equestrian sports centre Gippika opened in the district. Back in the 17th century, local magnate Christopher Monivid Dorogostaisky printed an encyclopaedia about horses there — the first of its kind in Europe. The book was issued in Amsterdam and was entitled ‘Gippika’; it went on to have several editions and was printed in Belarusian in 2007. The equestrian sports centre continues the traditions of breeding and training begun by our countryman.
Which other nationalities might be interested in visiting the Oshmyany district?
I hope that the Greeks will become interested once they realise that their Prime Minister, George Papandreou, has forefathers connected to this district. His father, Andreas, occupied the same post and was a founder of the largest party (the All-Greek Socialist Movement), while Andreas’ mother was Sofia — a daughter of Zygmunt Mineyko. The latter was born in the village of Bolvanishki (in the Oshmyany district) but, in the late 19th century, emigrated abroad. He later settled in Greece. Mineiko, an engineer by profession, helped plan the 1896 Olympics in Athens. In 2008, one of Oshmyany’s streets was named after him. I’ll consult the Foreign Ministry to see what can be done in the sphere of culture and tourism to create stronger ties between Belarus and Greece. Meanwhile, many plans are being realised.
In autumn, Golshany hosted its first festival — not yet international or devoted to ghosts; it was dedicated to medieval music. Many gathered near the castle where the ghost lives. I should note that such events are possible due to the support of the Chairman of the Oshmyany District Executive Committee, Yuri Adamchik. Pleasingly, tourists often come to our region. Those from Europe will always find something interesting connected with their own country in Oshmyany. For the Norwegians, we have the Struve Arc (in 2005, it was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List). The Arc is a network of points running from Norway to Moldova; in the 19th century, they were used to precisely define the form and size of our planet. It goes without saying that great history was created in our district, through which the Arc travels. The Oshmyany District Executive Committee has published colourful booklets, with descriptions of sites, a map and biographies of our famous people. I can assure you that you’ll have much to see and admire. You are welcome to visit anytime!
By Viktar Korbut