When Words Have Meaning

Recently Postavy, a town in the Vitebsk Region, tried on an image of a cultural capital of Belarus. The town hosted the 13th Day of Belarusian Writing
This is a unique event. No other country in the world holds such festivals. Besides, the date is special. Frantsisk Skoryna printed the Bible in the Old Belarusian language in Prague in August-September 1517. Skoryna was the first East-European printer who used a printing machine to print books. At first, the Day of Belarusian Writing was celebrated in Polotsk to commemorate the city where the famous printer was born. Later the festival was held in other historical Belarusian cities, like Turov, Nesvizh and Kamenets that was honored to host the event last year. Today you may get an impression that the town of Postavy is an insignificant settlement. Nevertheless, two centuries ago this town was the center of attention.

Provincial towns have a good habit of growing into important places. Antoni Tyzenhaus, a treasurer of the Grand Dutschy of Lithuania, decided to carry out an experiment in the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment. Postavy was his test object. His aim was to show that it was possible to gradually reform economic life of the country and reanimate its culture. Tyzenhaus was a multicultural person. Originally he was a Lettish German, but he was brought up in a Polish way. At the same time, he believed that his native land was Belarus. Tyzenhaus ordered to rebuild Postavy. Hauses for craftsmen attracted from other countries were built and modern manufactories and workshops were founded. Moreover, a theatrical school and a palace were constructed in this remote province. Local admirers of art used to gather in that palace. Konstantin Tyzenhaus, the nephew of Antoni, continued his work. He opened the first in Eastern Europe ornithological museum and picture gallery in Postavy.

A contemporary of Tyzenhaus was so much impressed with the local beauty that he uttered: “If anyone asks me where to look for happiness, I will advise him to travel to Postavy.”

There are still some places in Postavy that managed to survive till today. For example, a lovely square with ruins of rich architectural complex by the Italian architect Giovanni Sacco, an Orthodox church, St. Antony of Padua Church and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. The former mill is converted into a house of crafts for modern masters. Here you may find tapestry, pictures, embroidery, ceramic and straw articles. All articles are hand-made in the authentic old style.

Postavy acquired a new sight of interest on September 3. It is a monument to the family of Tyzenhaus. By the way, one more famous personality, Vladimir Dubrovka, a classic of Belarusian literature, was born here. In the 1920s he was living in Moscow. Dubrovka was a poet. He also brought some neologisms to the Belarusian language.

Last Sunday citizens of Postavy and visitors were very well amused. Bread and circuses were awaiting them. It was possible to taste ancient food, watch knight tournaments and dancing of ladies, as well as take a lesson in crafts. Writers and poets presented their new books and were autographing.
Ancient and modern book-printing techniques were demonstrated. Printing machines from different times were delivered to the central square of Postavy.

Belarusian books were considered one of the best books taking into consideration appearance and content. Many Belarusian authors used to publish their works abroad. Skoryna started his publishing activities in Prague. The book by Mikolaj Crysztof Radzivill Sirotka “A Journey to the Holy Land“ was published in Antwerpen in 1614 and republished many times. This bestseller is an exhibit of the Book Museum in Minsk. The museum was opened in Belarus’ National Library on September 1, that is the first school day in Belarus or and is called the Knowledge Day.

The museum lacks only Guttenberg books. There are Arabic, West-European and Old Belarusian handwritten and printed books starting from XV century. These books were quite expensive and rare even at that time. The exhibits were collected in two stages: at first, after the war some books were donated to the museum and then between 1998 and 2001 further books were bought. They were financed by the president’s cultural and art fund. It is difficult to evaluate which book is the most valuable in the museum. The Jewish Torah, the Tatarian Kitab Book, incunabulas, palaeotypes, books with signatures of Chagall, Picasso, Dali, Bunin, Maxim Bogdanovich, Yakub Kolas. This museum is an embarrassment of riches.

Those who were not able to get acquainted with the Belarusian book in Postavy are welcomed to the National Library in Minsk. The library is situated on the way from the Minsk-2 airport. The library is the best place to start learning Belarus, a country in the heart of Europe, its culture and traditions. When you understand traditions it is easier to understand people and accept them as they are. Everyone has his or her own virtues. The potential of humanity consists of personal virtues.

Viktar Korbut
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