In the warm heartland of Slavic civilisation
Over 600 delegates from 35 countries of the world take part in 15th International Congress of Slavists, first held in the Belarusian capital
By Yuri Chernyakevich
In mid-August, the capital of Belarus hosted the largest international scientific forum, at Minsk Concert Hall. The first day saw the venue packed to the rafters, gathering over 600 delegates from around the world. All are engaged in aspects of Slavic study: language, literature, folklore, history and material and spiritual culture.
Belarusian, Russian, Polish, Slovak and Bulgarian languages were heard in the forum lobby, as old friends met again with pleasure. Many have worked together previously on publications and joint projects. Clearly, Slavic studies are alive, following their own laws, as they have for the past decade or more, as thousands of people from various corners of the globe give their time, talent and hearts to this science.
The International Congress of Slavists is held every five years, in turn by one of the Slavic countries. This was Belarus’ first hosting, enabling those from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Israel, Italy, Canada, Lithuania, Russia and elsewhere to debate various questions: from creating a dialect dictionary to working on catalogues of Slavic manuscripts. The agenda was filled with plenary and section reports, round tables and conferences of special commissions accredited under the International Committee of Slavists.
President Alexander Lukashenko sent his greetings to all those at the 15th International Congress of Slavists, saying, “It’s symbolic that Belarus has been chosen to host this anniversary forum: the heart of Slavic civilisation. We have contributed to the preservation of its values and ideals, protecting its heritage and always remembering that the only way to allow our Slavic brothers to keep their identity in our globalised world is to promote understanding of the uniqueness of each nation and its spirituality.”
The Chairman of the International and Belarusian Committees of Slavists, Alexander Lukashanets, a correspondent member of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, the forum is vital to the development of Slavic studies, even promoting knowledge of Slavs in non-Slavic countries.
Some of the participants of the congress were visiting Belarus for the first time, while others first made the trip long ago. Canadian Robert Orr, who first visited to study in Soviet days, notes, “The city has changed since those times. There are more cars and shops.” He emphasises that Canada’s Belarusian Diaspora is engaged in publishing various scientific editions ‘in native languages’. Mr. Orr has taken a great interest in Slavic languages since childhood, when he lived in Scotland. “As a boy, my mother listened to radio programmes in Russian and I used to look at the Russian alphabet in our encyclopaedia, being curious to learn the language,” he muses.
Delegates of the congress naturally toured the many sights of Minsk when not taking part in debates, visiting museums and art galleries. An exhibition of the most important Slavic editions of the past five years opened at Minsk’s State Linguistic University, featuring books donated by various delegates.