Passionate people bring home lost treasures

Repatriated historical and cultural heritage of Belarus

By Tatiana Pastukhova

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has hosted a ceremony to accept the return of items removed from Belarus over the centuries. These have been donated to the National Library of Belarus and Nesvizh National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve.

Valery Kazakov, the Chairman of the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of Belarusians of Russia, noted that the ceremony is another step, but not the last, in returning our historical and cultural legacy to its homeland. “Lots of treasures have been taken away from Belarus over the centuries. Now, we’re doing our best to return them,” he stressed.

Mr. Kazakov ceremonially donated the following treasures to the National Library of Belarus and Nesvizh Museum-Reserve: a medal in honour of Ludwika Karolina Radziwill (1667); a medal marking the ‘Capture of Smolensk by Vladislav IV, King of the Rzecz Pospolita’ (1634); an engraving belonging to the Radziwills; The Manual on Compiling a Family Coat of Arms (German edition 1711); two reprints of the Slutskaya (15th century) and Barkulabovskaya (17th century) chronicles; an original edition of the Bible from 1816; Alexey Sapunov’s Old Times of Vitebsk signed by the author (1885); and twelve albums of The Great War in Images and Pictures.

Accepting the rarities, Roman Motulsky, Director of the National Library of Belarus, noted that work on their return has significantly intensified in recent times, while the Radziwills’ library is currently being transferred to electronic form. “We wish to see both electronic copies and originals return,” he asserted.

Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov, thanked Mr. Kazakov for his efforts and awarded him a certificate of honour from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry in acknowledgment of his assistance in the search and acquisition of treasures. For many years, the Federal National and Cultural Autonomy of Belarusians of Russia, headed by Mr. Kazakov, has been conducting such work, aiming to return Belarus’ cultural heritage. Its Vyartanne (Return) programme has resulted in the return of Chants of the 17th Century — a book donated to Mogilev’s Local History Museum — and four out of six famous portraits belonging to the Nemtsevich family (removed in the early 19th century); these have been digitised and brought to canvas. Moreover, John Chrysostom’s Exhortation has been donated to Mir Castle (previously part of the collection of Mogilev’s archbishop), alongside four volumes of the Illustrated Chronicle Compilation of Ambassadorial Records.

The 2011-2015 Culture of Belarus State Programme envisages spending around $1m on acquiring historical and cultural treasures removed from the country’s territory. Pavel Latushko, Belarus’ Culture Minister, announced the sum at the recent ceremony of handing over treasures to the National Library of Belarus and Nesvizh National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve. Mr. Latushko thanked Mr. Kazakov for his great efforts in aiding the return of so much of Belarus’ historical and cultural heritage. He noted that it’s difficult for museums to regain authentic items, “Therefore, digital copies, reprints and exhibitions of items on loan are more common.” For example, several Slutsk sashes from the State Historical Museum of Russia were on loan to the National Art Museum of Belarus while Belarus’ digital copy of the Polotsk Gospel was made with the assistance of Russian colleagues.

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