Neighbours’ songs are like our own

Rymdyuny’s Belarusian-Lithuanian Centre of Culture, Education and Information known for its folk group far beyond Ostrovets District
By Yuri Chernyakevich

Exclamations of ‘Labas ritas!’ and ‘Laba dien!’ are heard not just in Lithuania but in the small village of Rymdyuny, in the Ostrovets District, Grodno Region. The language of neighbouring Lithuania is known to adults and young people alike, as the settlement has been home to a great many ethnic Lithuanians since ancient times. 

When someone hears Lithuanian spoken they don’t automatically assume that tourists are present, coming to admire the beauty of Belarus. Unsurprisingly, Rymdyuny has Belarus’ only Belarusian-Lithuanian Centre of Culture, Education and Information. It features two schools (one using Lithuanian language and the other Belarusian language), a pupils’ boarding school, a hostel for teachers, a cultural centre and a library. Although construction was financed by Lithuania, maintenance and services at the Centre are the responsibility of the Belarusian treasury.

About 140 pupils attend, with the children able to enter either Belarusian or Lithuanian universities on leaving. In fact, most travel to Lithuania but a great many also return to Belarus at a future date, as diplomatic specialists.

The language of Čiurlionis is used for writing, dictation, discussion and, even, singing songs — helped by amateur folk group Žilvitis (‘Willow). The group began entertaining in the mid-1940s, after the Great Patriotic War, adapting customs and songs passed down from their grandmothers. Maria Mozheiko is one of the elders of the ensemble, celebrating her 90th birthday next year. In one of the Centre’s museum rooms, rich in exhibits, she shows me just how people once spun and combed flax, before weaving the thread on looms, singing folk songs as they worked. 

In her unique accent, she tells us, “Belarusians understand our Lithuanian language and we understand Russian and Belarusian. Accordingly, we can sing in various languages: Belarusian, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian. The most important thing is that we are always welcomed everywhere, because our songs are about love, separation and fun. They can be understood without knowing the language.”

Žilvitis has performed in the Ostrovets District and beyond, regularly taking part in the Festival of National Cultures in Grodno. It’s famous in Lithuania too — just 30km away. The grandmothers of Rymdyuny make trips very often. The younger members of the group also perform traditional dances, joined by the seniors. 

Relationships between Belarusians and Lithuanians in Rymdyuny are close, with many books in the local library brought from the neighbouring country and Lithuanian artists coming to perform at the Centre. The village is a true microcosm of diplomacy between our two nations.
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