Steps to meet partners

[b]Cultural ties of Vitebsk Region’s Braslav District help expand its economic opportunities[/b]Vitebsk Region’s Braslav District is famous for its beautiful, pure lakes. It’s no wonder that Turkish investors are keen to construct a five star hotel there soon, to welcome tourists. Latvian businessmen have already proven their intention to open a trade house for a large construction company in this district and to build a yacht club on the lakes. Amazingly, film directors from Indian Bollywood even want to shoot a thrilling blockbuster there. All these intriguing ideas were recently presented at the Braslavskie Zarnitsy Festival of Traditional Culture, which coincided with an investment forum hosted by Braslav.
Cultural ties of Vitebsk Region’s Braslav District help expand its economic opportunities
Vitebsk Region’s Braslav District is famous for its beautiful, pure lakes. It’s no wonder that Turkish investors are keen to construct a five star hotel there soon, to welcome tourists. Latvian businessmen have already proven their intention to open a trade house for a large construction company in this district and to build a yacht club on the lakes. Amazingly, film directors from Indian Bollywood even want to shoot a thrilling blockbuster there. All these intriguing ideas were recently presented at the Braslavskie Zarnitsy Festival of Traditional Culture, which coincided with an investment forum hosted by Braslav. Braslavskie Zarnitsy is one of the oldest holidays in Belarus: organised for the 45th time this year and involving folk groups from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Venezuela.
Dancers from Azerbaijan came for the first time: Azeri ensemble from Baku’s children’s orphanage #1. By the time we met Ravshan Mamedov, the Deputy Director of the orphanage and the ensemble’s Artistic Leader, he was already full of impressions, telling us, “I’ve made my trip to Belarus and have already fallen in love with your hospitable country. Our children, aged 8-15, feel at home here. We’ve in several neighbouring villages and were astonished at how spectators enjoyed our Azerbaijani folk dances. We’re very glad that we were invited to Braslavskie Zarnitsy.”
While Azeri was preparing for another performance, I met Slavomir Titovich, a member of the Belarusian-Latvian-Lithuanian camp, sited near the beautiful Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Catholic Church, in the centre of Braslav. Mr. Titovich teaches at a local children’s art school and conducted master classes on the Belarusian duda at the festival. This ancient musical instrument is very similar to the Scottish bagpipe but has its own unique characteristics.
“There are few people who can play the Belarusian duda or ancient diatonic cembalo these days; they are truly unique people who tend not even to be able to read music, simply relying on their ear. They recently taught at our musical camp in Braslav this spring.
Afterwards, we screened a film we’d shot, at Braslavskie Zarnitsy.
Moreover, jointly with musicians from neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania, we’ve rehearsed for a joint one hour concert featuring Latvian and Lithuanian folk melodies. According to our international project, we’ll present this programme in Lithuania next year,” he explains.
Braslav has always enjoyed warm and friendly relations with its Baltic neighbours, as reinforced during the recent festival. Contracts for co-operation were signed with the Latvian cities of Ķekava and Rēzekne, as well as with Polish Legionowo, by Braslav District Executive Committee, at an international forum organised simultaneously. Moreover, a memorial plaque to honour Otan Gedeman was unveiled at the Braslav Local History Museum, involving the Polish delegation. Both Belarusians and Poles believe that this local historian and teacher, who lived in the late 19th-early 20th century, ‘belongs’ to them. He is known for writing the History of Braslav District; alongside his other books (Druya and Glubokoe) this is still kept at the museum in Braslav.
Potters, artists and craftsmen had their works on display at the festival, while Iolanda Marena folk dance group from Simon Bolivar Latin American Cultural Centre at the Venezuelan Embassy to Minsk attracted crowds with its exotic rhythms.
Braslav became one big concert and exhibition ground, filled with games — such as the ‘Barefoot Race’, run across grass and the banks of the lake. It was a wonderfully healthy event and may become a tradition! Meanwhile, the organisers decided to restore the forgotten tradition of the Choir Assembly, with several hundred people from across Belarus and abroad performing Braslav’s unofficial anthem.
Ukrainian Ternycia Choir, from Belaya Tserkov (Bila Tserkva) town, has pleased Braslav residents with its creativity for over twenty years while the Russian folk choir from the House of Culture of Trade Unions in Smolensk was attending the festival in Braslav for the first time.
Its artistic leader, Yelena Leonova, tells us, “Alongside Russian folk songs, we perform Belarusian ballads. We’ve visited many festivals in Moscow and Italy but have never seen landscapes as beautiful as those in Braslav.”
The Braslav area has been chosen as the site for a tourist complex, at Lake Voloso, funded by Russian investments. Meanwhile, a fuelling station, with a complete set of roadside services, is being constructed on the main road leading to the Latvian border. Another major investment project is to develop a fish farm, at Belryba enterprise in Braslav, producing canned fish. At present, 95 percent of its ingredients are imported but Braslav residents want to change this, since there are so many local lakes. It would be easy to breed sturgeon, with the Chinese perhaps likely to invest.
According to Sergey Shmatov, the Chairman of Braslav District Executive Committee, a preliminary agreement has been signed for their participation at the 2013 festival of Braslavskie Zarnitsy. “This folk holiday has long become a brand for the district, visited by creative groups, as well as diplomats and businessmen. The expansion of cultural ties is being discussed, in addition to investment projects,” he notes.
This year, a Turkish delegation attended for the first time; although Turkey didn’t send any artistic groups, the Head of the Nilьfer District Municipality of Bursa city, Mustafa Bozbey, is delighted to have come along. He particularly enjoyed the investment forum and the traditional Holiday of Braslav Fish Soup. He even discussed the construction of a five star hotel, being a major businessman himself.
Clearly, festivals such as Braslavskie Zarnitsy promote Belarusian regions more effectively than official meetings, as it’s easier to meet potential partners in a festive atmosphere.

By Sergey Golesnik
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