Objective lessons expand sense of history
By Victor Andreev
Our Vitebsk and Smolensk tourist agencies have created a joint project entitled The Patriotic War of 1812: 200 Years On. It covers the sites of the most important battles with the French army, which took place in Belarus and the neighbouring Smolensk Province.
The Belarusian route is to feature Polotsk, Vitebsk, the Rossony District (with Klyastitsy village) and the Beshenkovichi District (with Ostrovno village). Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace about Ostrovno, where a strategic battle took place between the French army and units of the Western Russian Army. In 1962, an obelisk was unveiled here to honour the event.
Tourists will be able to see monuments and memorials honouring the victory over the French enemy, and hear about heroic battles. Moreover, the trip will have an animated re-enactment. Tourists will be able to try on costumes from that time and ‘fight’ either on the French or the Russian side.
A school museum at Klyastitsy has a unique display devoted to the victory of Russian troops — under the command of Lieutenant General Wittgenstein — over superior French forces, commanded by Marshal Oudinot. This battle ended Napoleon’s advance on St. Petersburg — the capital of Russia at the time. Schoolchildren have organised fancy-dress performances illustrating this battle for several years, which they now plan to demonstrate to tourists.
The new project involves Belarusian archivists, scientists and local historians. Before the route is unveiled, it is to be appraised by the National Academy of Sciences, the Sports and Tourism Ministry and the Culture Ministry. Vitebsk’s Regional Executive Committee’s Department for Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism is the main authority co-ordinating the tour, which is to last for three days and include the city of Polotsk. The city celebrates a double jubilee next year, as its 1,150th anniversary is also arriving. Its comprehensive city development programme envisages the restoration of a monument to the heroes of the 1812 Patriotic War, which used to grace Svobody Square (from 1850 to early the 1930s). A new monument was installed in December 2009.
Now tourist facilities dedicated to the Napoleonic War are appearing across Belarus. Meanwhile, uniforms and other archaeological finds are exhibited at the Bivouac museum-estate, opened by entrepreneur Sergey Tolstik, near Borisov (near Brilevsky Field, where Bonaparte lost thousands of his soldiers crossing the River Berezina).