Irkutsk’s Klondike of Oleg Rudakov
[b]After leaving his Fatherland, Oleg Rudakov, born in the Polotsk District, became even closer to it and found Belarusian treasures in the Baikal Lake area together with his like-minded people[/b]
Enthusiast with ‘Malanka’
Back in late 1990s, an open person appeared in the editorial office of the Belarus magazine with a ‘Malanka’ (Lightning) in his hands. Of course, he didn’t resemble much ancient Zeus or Perun [The God of thunder and lightning among ancient pagan Slavs], yet had a ‘Lightning’ in his hands. It was a newspaper which continues to be published in the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture (named after Yan Chersky). The printed chronicle of the society is monthly delivered to hundreds of addresses. When visiting Belarus, Mr. Rudakov told us that he has founded the Belarusian movement in the Baikal Lake area. He said that Belarusian villages have existed there since ancient times, where the Belarusian language and songs have been heard. Therefore, there’s much work to do.
At present, former military man Oleg Rudakov is one of the famous leaders of Belarusian communities abroad. His Fatherland has also assessed Rudakov’s enthusiastic work and, three years ago, he, alongside our contemporaries Nina Kabanova from Novosibirsk and Sergey Kandybovich from Moscow, were awarded Frantsisk Skorina medals. This news appeared in media when Mr. Rudakov was in Moscow, taking part in the work of the 4th Congress of the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy — Belarusians of Russia — as a head of the editorial commission.
In total, he rarely visits his homeland: the distance between Moscow and Irkutsk is almost 5,000km. Leonid Gulyako, Plenipotentiary Representative for Religions and Nationalities, has invited the fellow countryman to Minsk. He congratulated him on the high award and praised him for his ability to work with people. Mr. Gulyako added that he also works with pleasure and with soul for the benefit of Belarus. The guest then explained why Belarusians unite abroad, “A person, torn from the Homeland, gradually forgets language, traditions and culture… Meanwhile, we create communities in order to preserve the connection with the Fatherland and the Belarusian family.”
At that time, Mr. Rudakov was awarded cembalo — a wonderful gift for the Irkutsk community — in the office of the Plenipotentiary Representative. However, during a session at the Belarusian Embassy in Russia, where we met, Oleg joked that ‘cembalo is still waiting for its time, since cembalo players haven’t grown in Irkutsk yet’.
Preparing my notes, I listened to the recording of his small speech at the Embassy. He made four proposals and each of these was worth attention. First of all, he proposed to pay more attention to the Belarusian youth movement in Russia. The Irkutsk area, which has a youth and children’s clubs, as well as many circles, may share such experience. Mr. Rudakov also remembered young duda player Dmitry Krechet from Krasnoyarsk, who’s managed to learn playing this difficult instrument himself.
This testifies to the fact that there’re many talents in those communities. Moreover, Mr. Rudakov also proposed to organise in Moscow the 1st congress of Belarusian youth from various regions. “It will be a reason to get acquainted, to share experience and to elaborate major areas of activity,” he said, speaking in favour of his proposal. “After the official part a great concert can be held the next day, supporting young talents.”
Another proposal dealt with international scientific conference on Stolypin reform. It’s known that a hundred years ago in the Russian Empire it was the time of the most mass resettlement of Belarusians to Siberia, with 1.5m our fellow countrymen forever leaving their native places and settling in the Siberia. “The first conference was organised in December 2010 by Belarusians in Irkutsk very successfully; the event featured over 60 participants and 34 reports,” recollected Mr. Rudakov.
“Researchers from Minsk, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Irkutsk and the Irkutsk Region attended the event, and we now need continuation. We have a wish to organise the second conference, since that resettlement had global consequences for the nation. However, we won’t be able to organise the event at the decent level alone. Therefore, I address other communities, including the Moscow society: let’s jointly learn the lessons of the past for the sake of the future of our Fatherland.” Mr. Rudakov hopes that they will be able to hold the conference in Moscow. Later, people also spoke behind the curtains about Minsk and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Actually, the problem achieves such a big level: this is the great resettlement of socially active, employable and significant part of the native nation — almost a biblical ‘exodus’.
The third proposal continued the proposal of Nina Kabanova, the Head of the Novosibirsk Centre of Belarusian Culture, who was telling about wonderful masters in the region. “We have many people who renew Belarusian crafts,” noted our fellow countryman. “We support talents and develop the ‘Belaruskaya Khata’ (Belarusian House) museum which is functioning in our community. We’ll register a shop in order to produce and sell souvenirs, made from flax and straw. Ms. Karnitskaya, e.g., crates amazing flowers from straw. When customers sometimes spare money I often joke that a usual flower will stand 2-3 days or a week at the most, while I guarantee that ours will stand 20 years. Therefore, I propose to establish a union or an association of Belarusian craftsmen in Russia. Ties between them will be for the benefit of Belarus.”
Moreover, Mr. Rudakov asked the Embassy to promote establishing twin city ties between Irkutsk and Vitebsk, and the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture (named after Yan Chersky) is also keen on this. The researcher of Siberia Yan Chersky is known to be born in the Vitebsk Region (Svolna estate, now Verkhnedvinsk District). When he lived in exile in the Baikal Lake area for taking part in the liberation uprising of 1863 he fruitfully worked as a scientist and died in 1892 during an expedition at the Kolyma River (where now Chersky settlement is located).
The proposals, voiced in Moscow, evidently demonstrate Mr. Rudakov’s large-scale plans and desires to jointly promote the projects, which are worked over by the community in Irkutsk. Meanwhile, Oleg and his like-minded persons have to do much in order to find money for renting of buildings and organisations of performances. We spoke about this with him last autumn in Minsk. At that time, I didn’t directly ask him — tired by the trips — one question: why was he attracted to the Fatherland? It’s not a secret that only singles out of hundreds of our fellow countrymen, who live abroad, have connection to Diaspora affairs. Though more than 3m Belarusians now live abroad, the processes of assimilation and globalisation inexorably ‘undermine’ the mainland of the nation.
Three hundred thousand and each third in the Baikal Lake area
Just imagine that either frying pan or potato with onion are absent today… In mean that distinctive Belarusian words have gone out of use. Although ‘draniki’ are still cooked, yet these are more often called ‘potato pancakes’. Undoubtedly, this is the language that keeps in harmony the whole ‘tree of culture’ and assists descendants to establish spiritual ties with their ancestors while building their own national future.
Officer Oleg Rudakov sharply felt the importance of preserving the treasure of the native language and living in its life-giving stream when he served in the Baikal Lake area after finishing the military college in 1989.
In his desire to ‘speak only Belarusian whomever he talks to in Belarus’ we can easily guess his aspiration to be as close to his nation through the language as possible, even living in the remote Siberian area. Moreover, his family roots have deeply grown into his native land. He added to his sketch: ‘Son Alexey is a fifth year student at the Polotsk State University. My mother is now alone in the village; my elder brother and younger sister, who reside in Polotsk, visit her and my son also sometimes visits his grandmother’.
How do our countrymen in Irkutsk create the ‘Belarusian aura’? Mr. Rudakov interestingly spoke about this at this year’s 6th Congress of Belarusians of the World. He started originally, wishing delegates and guests to be as healthy ‘as a bear’, to be confident and persistent ‘as an auroch’, to be noble ‘as a stork’, to be spiritually strong ‘as an oak’ and to sincerely love ‘as a true Belarusian’.
Thus earning the audience’s hearts, a reporter from Irkutsk said that during one of his ethnographic trips along Belarusian villages in Siberia he wished old people ‘Siberian health’. However, they asked him where he saw the Siberian health, as everyone is ill: either with flu or something else. These Belarusians told him that previously people were wished to be healthy ‘as a bear’. Mr. Rudakov agreed, since the bear is really strong and healthy…
He believes that together with the revival of simple Belarusian household traditions, it’s vital to live in the stream of ‘belonging towards Belarus’ in order not to turn one’s own native land into a desolated wilderness under the attack of globalisation.
He spoke about 17 year experience of the development of Belarusian patriotism in Irkutsk. His speech was sharp, figurative and full of bright details. Mr. Rudakov also recollected how the Governor of the Irkutsk Region was fixing the Frantsisk Skorina Medal to him is a solemn atmosphere. Moreover, he added that it was the first time he was bestowing an award of another state while local television ‘promoted’ the regional leader of Belarusians ‘as an honourable and respected citizen of the Irkutsk Region’. Finally, other countries encourage activists of ethno-communities of the Baikal Lake area not only with medals.
Mr. Rudakov also recollected a paradoxical expression of a Belarusian woman: ‘It’s more beneficial in Irkutsk to be a Pole while it’s more interesting to attend Belarusian holidays!’ He also mentioned the figure which was voiced at the scientific conference: during the Stolypin reform around 3m people, with half of these being Belarusians, have moved to Siberia (from Tyumen to Baikal Lake).
Around 300,000 people have settled in the Baikal Lake area. At present, according to statistical data, around 16,000 our fellow countrymen currently reside there; however, Mr. Rudakov believes that this figure is significantly reduced. He said that, in 2010, census takers simply didn’t reach the residents of the Belarusian village of Turgenevka in the Bayandai District. Meanwhile, it has a Belarusian society, two folklore bands and a children’s puppet theatre… In total, Mr. Rudakov is confident that almost each third resident in the Baikal Lake area has Belarusian roots, “Undoubtedly, there’re lots of mixed marriages, so nowadays the nationality in Siberia is more awareness of the person and the devotion of their soul rather than blood belonging.”
As we see the Irkutsk Region has a real ‘Klondike’ for those who study Belarusian culture. However, it’s not easy to identify these grains of gold there under the cover of time. Nevertheless, it’s extremely important that, over 17 years of the existence the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture, Belarusians have reliably ‘cemented their territory’ in civil consciousness. “At present, any official would name Belarusians if they are asked about the nations of the Baikal Lake area,” noted Mr. Rudakov. “This is because we’re conducting an active work in Irkutsk. People listen to us and write about us; moreover, local and all-Russian TV channels prepare news about us.” We have so much interesting performances that it sometimes seems to ordinary people that a whole state institution is functioning rather than merely enthusiasts.”
Six Irkutsk components of success
It’s known that active work of the community enhances self-appraisal of people from the Belarusian Diaspora in the Baikal Lake area, as well as their national patriotism. Remarkably, Belarusians and their descendants, who were born in Siberia in the sixth generation, still find their family roots in our lands. Siberia-born members of the group " Kryvichy", which also took part in the congress and performed at the concert, sing in the Belarusian language. Mr. Rudakov accentuated that this is only one of 17 groups of the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture. “How only we manage to conduct worthily represent Belarusian movement on the civil initiative and organise 3-4 or even more events monthly?” asked the reporter and answered himself, “There’re no secrets. Everything is simply and Belarusians of the Baikal Lake area have awakened and they are now proud of their nation.”
However, how was this ‘foundation’ created in Irkutsk? Mr. Rudakov is pleased to share experience, as if everything was done without any exertion. Firstly, enthusiasts are inspired by ‘live, beautiful and bright folk traditions. We study, revive and organise our national holidays and get-together events. It’s interesting for youngsters. Our traditional holidays of Kupalie and Kolyady have aroused interest among many Irkutsk residents to search for their roots. Sometimes, over 300 people attend our Kupalie holiday. After each such celebration the community acquires a new member who is keen to find their roots’.
Secondly, the society thoroughly studies historical legacy of Belarusians. “The nation can feel dignified itself only when people know their history and their prominent heroes. Genuine history inspires and gives wings. However, sometimes it’s necessary to struggle for such history.” Unfortunately, all rebels of 1863 are stereotypically called Poles in Irkutsk: Chersky, Vitkovsky, etc. According to Mr. Rudakov, the history of Belarusians — Russians brotherly neighbours — isn’t studied even at the History Department of the Irkutsk State University.
Third ‘recipe’ for the awakening of the national awareness is interaction which adds some curiosity to activists. “We teach primarily boys and girls to sing folk songs and dance ancient dances. Even I can personally conduct a master class in folk Belarusian dances. Interactive events also enthral old people and these watch with tears in their eyes how we dance their ‘old’ dances or sing songs.”
Fourthly, fashion for national costumes has been established in Irkutsk. “All activists of the association try to create their own costume and do this in line with Belarusian traditions. In this way we further on develop traditional crafts and there’s a range of unique masters in Irkutsk. Twice or thrice a year we conduct Belarusian Crafts Live in the Baikal Lake Area exhibitions.”
The fifth condition for success is that Belarusian contribution into the Siberian exploration is actively studied in Irkutsk. Meanwhile, not everyone is aware that our ancestors have brought to Siberia flax, potato (Adreta variety), rye and other agricultural crops. Even strawberries were brought here in the Soviet time by our fellow countryman while a Strawberry Fest is organised in Baikalsk. Moreover, many Belarusians used to work at the construction of the Eastern-Siberian and Baikal-Amur mainlines and various hydroelectric power stations.
Finally, the sixth component for success is educational projects, which include studying of the language, the release of the ‘Malanka’ newspaper and others. As we see, the community has managed to find and creatively apply those instruments which inspire Irkutsk residents to find their Belarusian roots and join the work of the association.
Meanwhile, at the congress in Minsk Mr. Rudakov performed not as a head of the association, but as a friend of the Irkutsk Association of Belarusian Culture’s Regional Council. Recently, talented singer and craftswoman Alena Spivakova adopted the leadership of the ‘Belarusian movement’ in the Baikal Lake area. However, Mr. Rudakov doesn’t go away from the community’s activities; he is rather going to ‘dig deeper’ while researching the traditions of his countrymen in the region. In particular, he is allured by ethnographic expeditions to the Belarusian villages of the Baikal Lake area and we shouldn’t doubt that the finder of Belarusian treasures will make enough interesting discoveries.
By Ivan Zhdanovich