Roots and crown
[b]Every aspect of human existence is infused with the spirit of culture, though we may not realise it. We are surrounded by a rich cultural heritage, whose origins we little ponder. The contemporary culture of Belarus encompasses festivals, buildings under construction and castles being restored, palaces and theatres, museums, clubs and libraries[/b]
Our culture relies on our education system and language, alongside our music and songs and folk creativity. Our ability to work with other nations shapes the future of our culture. Even our speech and clothes show our cultural identity, as do our attitudes towards friends, family, the elderly, children and our Fatherland. All are manifestations of the culture which flows from one sphere to another, from the past to the future.
Culture is like the blood running through our veins, keeping us alive. Accordingly, the state guards and protects our culture in all its facets. A well-thought-out cultural policy is a clear priority. Culture defines our place in the civilised world, while promoting our spiritual elevation, bringing out the best in every one of us.
Results are essential
At a recent session of the final panel of the Belarusian Culture Ministry, hosted by Minsk’s Upper City Concert Hall, a report was given on last year’s cultural development, with priorities outlined for 2012. Appropriately, the venue is home to the Children’s Philharmonic — recently opened in Minsk’s historical centre. Employees of all ‘ranks’ from across the country attended the solemn yet festive forum at the restored hall which once housed the 16th century Holy Spirit Church.
Many faces familiar to me gathered in the spacious and light lobby: an impressive line-up of cultural figures and TV personalities. The hall, with its high ceilings and lancet stained-glass windows, was filled with a soft hum — as is usual before the start of such events. Pleasant music accompanied a photo montage of the architectural and natural beauties of Belarus. Later, the business section of the meeting kicked off with a film on the country’s major cultural events of 2011 (a grand start to the 2011-2015 Culture of Belarus state programme). Feelings of pride were evident in all those gathered, their faces radiating pleasure and admiration.
Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, spoke about major problems, as well as trends in national cultural policy. Early on, he noted, “A priority task is the efficient application of state funds in the cultural sphere. Budgetary policy has been purposefully re-oriented from allocation management to control over results. Moreover, a new system for the funding of state and private cultural institutions is currently being established, working on a competitive principle.” According to Mr. Latushko, the improvement of legislation relating to culture remains an important focus for the Ministry, which aims to update laws relating to the management of state funds.
Having analysed legislation governing the sphere of culture, Mr. Latushko reported on the latest cultural projects taking place, alongside those planned by the 2011-2015 Culture of Belarus state programme. This strategy will affect the employment of thousands of people and the development of young talent. The opening of the Children’s Philharmonic in 2011 is a wonderful example, for which the Minister thanked Minsk’s leadership.
Recent decrees by the Belarusian President and regulations by the Council of Ministers have created a whole series of contemporary legal acts governing the sphere of culture, ready to meet the challenges of today. Presidential Decree #77 (of February 28th, 2011) has been actively supported by sponsors, whose additional funds are a vital addition to state budgetary funding, however considerable it may be. A range of theatre festivals have been particularly well supported.
Lawyers are now working on a Cultural Code — to launch in 2015; this will be comprehensively new, uniting existing legislation. It will reduce the current number of documents while promoting innovative methods of organising cultural events. Vitally, public input is being sought for the Code, to make use of wider expertise. It is a wonderful endeavour!
At the forum, I did notice a few people chatting when they should have been listening quietly (as happens at public events). I felt compelled to turn my head in disapproval and immediately received an apology. I felt such pleasure at seeing culture ‘in action’… which made me recall a previous experience.
Essence of life
During a journalists’ trip to Brussels, I noticed one shy girl from a television channel speaking superb English — a rare talent. I expressed my admiration but was immediately rebuffed. She replied defensively, asking me abruptly to leave her alone. Of course, I didn’t dare to speak to her again. Perhaps she had her own reasons for her response to my interest yet I couldn’t help but feel offended. I mentioned the episode to my roommate in the hotel and came to the conclusion that the human soul is delicate. Of course, those involved in culture must find a common language with their audience.
I forgot about the incident and, on returning to Minsk, went to the premiere of If I Had Gold Mountains… at the State Youth Theatre. I seldom cry or laugh at performances, partly due to my character and partly because I attend so many for work purposes. However, I allowed myself the luxury of being merely a spectator and found myself moved to a few tears and chuckles, to my surprise. I felt that rare feeling of delight when a play transports you beyond yourself to a place at once beautiful and magical. Sadly, the feeling didn’t last long, fading on leaving the theatre. Nevertheless, the sensation of contentment remained, as if my ordinary life had been brightened with rainbow colours. I had a heart-warming desire to understand my fellow man, smiling at passers-by. It’s a feeling that comes occasionally on seeing a wonderful film, exhibition, play or concert, filling our heart with joy.
That evening, I was pondering that such moments make life worth living and, meeting the stage director, Abramov, asked him his secret to success. His answer was simple: ‘nuances and half-tones are necessary in contemporary theatre — as in real life’. I suddenly realised that I may have misunderstood my Brussels ‘conflict’. The girl may have thought my compliment inappropriate; I had misjudged her mood, thinking only of my own desire to praise.
Certainly, every day brings a new lesson. We can forget the importance of tact and the nuances of expression and tone which colour how others view us. I now understand how interconnected we are and the effects of a single remark. Surely, how much more influential are works of art and culture. These promote the best in us and encourage us to carry their ‘magic’ with us into our everyday lives: into our relationships with friends, family and strangers.
Psychologists tells us that some instincts control us regardless of socio-cultural ‘programming’ but there’s no denying the importance of cultural identity in everyday life. Russian publicist, public figure and academician Dmitry Likhachev (whose words are written in my personal quotation diary) once said: ‘What is culture? I can’t define it in a way which will satisfy everyone but I’d like to note some of its salient features. Primarily, culture is a shared experience. It’s not true to say that one culture satisfies us in some regards and another in other ways. Culture doesn’t change with mood; it is integral to our personality. We are fused and imbued with it’.
Will the Code on Culture be able to reflect the subtle nuances of our lives? It seems hardly possible. Of course, life introduces its own changes. However, we certainly do need to improve the mechanisms of how the cultural sphere is managed.
Latest implemented projects
From the report: “In 2011, we took part in the Cannes Film Festival for the first time and the Listapad Film Festival was accredited with the International Federation of Producers. The Republican Public Council for Culture and Arts launched its work and the winners of the National Theatre Award were chosen. The 2nd Minsk International Christmas Forum was held, as was the Big New Year Ball at the Bolshoi Theatre, organised for the third time.
Two new musical projects were implemented: the National Music Award and the Golden Collection of Belarusian Songs cycle. Belarusian-Russian projects were also realised: the traditional Yuri Bashmet International Festival and a concert by the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra — headed by Valery Gergiev, alongside Andris Liepa’s Russian Seasons. Meanwhile, Belarus took a pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale and at the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.
Belarusian museums took first prize at the International Intermuseum Festival (Moscow): won by the Museum of Great Patriotic War History and Vitebsk’s Regional Local History Museum. In 2012, the Museums of Belarus forum, hosted by Grodno, will be the major cultural event.
Last year, Gomel was the Cultural Capital of the CIS, with Nesvizh chosen this year as the Cultural Capital of Belarus. In 2013, Mogilev will be the Cultural Capital of the CIS and Belarus.”
Priorities for the future
It’s well known that adversity is the mother of invention; progress only occurs when we are motivated to overcome challenges. Culture develops similarly, responding to the needs of the age. New projects and achievements were discussed during the session, alongside problems relating to professional art, folk creativity, museum and library services and education. Ideas were shared on how to promote further development and popularise the Belarusian language.
Characterising each direction and noting our successes, the Minister underlined areas still requiring action. One such is the need for our professional theatres (27 countrywide) to tour abroad, building on Belarus’ reputation. Naturally, promotion is vital. Film production is another area in which we can gain wider global recognition. This year, Br90bn has been allocated for this purpose, allowing Belarusfilm Studio to enhance the quality of its films. It’s hoped that its films will recoup their expenses at the box office, attracting private investors in the future.
Of course, it’s great to hear that, last year, Belarusian cinematographers won around 40 prizes — across over 50 international film festivals: in Italy, Canada, France, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Greece and elsewhere. Pleasingly, the geography of Belarusfilm’s business partners has also expanded and Belarusian cinematographers have liaised with colleagues from Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, while co-operating with Europe’s Eurimages Fund.
Museums are an important part of contemporary Belarusian culture, with 154 state museums currently operating. At the President’s instruction, a Museum of Contemporary Belarusian Nationhood is being created, while the National History Museum is organising new displays. How are our museums developing? They are more widely using marketing to attract visitors, while learning how to develop interactive technologies. Souvenir shops are opening and advertising is taking on a greater role. Moreover, new museums are being set up in the regions.
Another bright detail in the country’s cultural mosaic is the adoption of the 2012-2018 Castles of Belarus programme, which aims to preserve and renovate 38 Belarusian castles. The Culture Ministry recently proposed that a CIS Centre for the Preservation of World Cultural Heritage be established. Mr. Latushko announced, “The preservation of historical-cultural heritage is a determining factor in the state’s development.” Many believe that the nation’s historical memory is the foundation on which our national culture grows. The Minister stresses that an improved system of protection is required, as the country’s historical and cultural legacy is an absolute priority.
The socio-economic development of culture and its material and technical base is to be the focus of our cultural policy, alongside international collaboration. Cultural education is to be promoted, with cultural development in the regions expanding and the use of Belarusian language encouraged. Great hopes are pinned on the Institute of Belarusian Culture, which has been given educational, sci-tech, information-analytical and organisational tasks. It is to study, develop and forecast the development of culture, guiding state cultural policy.
Chaos and culture are incompatible
To produce wonderful cultural experiences, management, subordination and co-ordination are essential. For example, actors need to obey their stage director. In Federico Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal, the musicians decide to disobey their conductor, feeling that he restricts their creative freedom. Of course, their revolt brings a cacophony of sound. The great master of cinema showed exactly why various ranks and spheres must work together to produce a worthwhile result.
Another interesting take on the importance of culture in bringing social strength comes from Victor Alshevsky’s Impression of Balance or a Ladder Upwards. The teacher at the Belarusian Theatre and Art Academy was made head of the newly established Centre of Contemporary Arts last summer and received the title of honorary professor. In his diary, he details a trip with friends to Italy in 1999, to organise an exhibition: ‘The border. Everything is already with customs. Our things have passed without inspection and weren’t unpacked. On our side, all was in order, as we prepared for the trip very professionally. An artist is an independent person, so breaking the law contradicts their nature. An artist has principles, so will never damage, destroy or bring disharmony to life, let alone cheat, shuffle or break the law.’
The Culture Ministry’s session was held harmoniously, featuring heads of cultural departments from regional, city and district executive committees, as well as directors of museums, libraries and crafts centres, and arts teachers. Each spoke of the achievements and problems in their section of work, alongside new projects and priorities. Moreover, a range of constructive proposals were offered. Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister, Anatoly Tozik, promised that these precious ideas will be taken on board. He emphasised that feedback will be used to guide policy, being brought to life as soon as possible, and requested that more ideas be freely shared.
The completed restoration of the Palace and Park Estate in Nesvizh is further evidence of the state’s considerable contribution to preserving the cultural heritage of our Fatherland. Its opening will be the most significant cultural event of the year. Belarusian culture, boasting centuries-old traditions, is receiving the attention it deserves countrywide. Even the most humble craft clubs nourish our tree of culture. Around 3,500 state clubs exist across the nation, with the number of amateur groups even greater. Belarus has, of course, always been rich in talent. Our tree of culture, ever associated with beauty, is still flourishing, nurtured by its powerful roots.
By Valentina Zhdanovich