Lyudmila Annus was born in Mozyr, in the Gomel Region, and studied in St. Petersburg. She then went to work in the Estonian city of Narva, where she met her husband (also from the Gomel Region). In the early 1990s, hundreds of people became ‘Belarusians abroad’. Lyudmila believes that, in such cases, Belarusians create their Motherland in miniature, being nostalgic for their original home.
In the late 1990s, the Narva Belarusian community of Syabry was established (now headed by Lyudmila Annus). For the past 15 years, Estonians have been able to learn more about Belarusian culture and traditions, while our citizens have been able to preserve their national identity when abroad. Of course, they often tend to visit Belarus. On the eve of May 9th, Syabry members joined representatives of the Union of Belarusians in Latvia to visit Minsk, at the invitation of the Board for Religious and Nationality Affairs. Whenever possible, it supports close ties with Belarusians abroad, helping our countrymen create national costumes and native tongue literature, as well as organising meetings at various levels.
According to official data, more than 3.5 million of our compatriots live abroad: almost a third of the current population of Belarus. Counting their descendants, the number exceeds 9 million. Many ethnic Belarusians are members of various ‘expat’ associations: over 200 exist worldwide, supporting business and cultural contacts with Belarus, helping representatives of the diaspora, and holding concerts, exhibitions and fairs. Such organisations also issue printed editions, and organise trips to Belarus. With 130,000 native Belarusians residing in the Baltic States, the diaspora is active there.
The Yanka Kupala Belarusian school operates in the Latvian capital, helping disseminate information on Belarusian culture, law and tourism, among other things. Vilnius also has the Frantsisk Skorina school, teaching the Belarusian language, while the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences has a sub-department of the Belarusian language and ethnic culture. In Tallinn, children can attend the Belarusian Sunday school named after Vladimir Korotkevich.
Days of Belarusian Culture are organised in Latvia: this year, they are devoted to the anniversary of Frantsisk Skorina. During the Eastern Partnership Summit, hosted by Riga, there was a conference on the role of national societies in developing the state. In particular, participants from Belarus were invited to share their experience with neighbours.
The Chair of the Board of the Union of Belarusians of Latvia, Lyudmila Piskunova, notes, “We love Latvia because we live here, but the diaspora loves native Belarus too. We always remember and are keen to follow what’s happening. We aspire to be perceived not simply as Belarusians abroad, but as an integral part of Belarus.”
By Irina Sudas