“You are welcome!”
Vice-mayor of Bialystok reasons about our common values
Preparing to a visit to Bialystok, I didn’t even think about a language barrier. I was going to the main centre of the national Belarusian minority in Poland... However, my friends, who actively studied the most eastern Polish city from the point of view of shopping, stumbled at effectiveness of my intention to plunge into local life without knowledge of a Polish language, not being limited to the range of local shops. Few people understand our language now, this is why sightseeing can be difficult without a guide…
Nevertheless, hardly having stepped on a platform of Bialystok railway station, I understood that I was awaited. People are still very kind to our fellow countrymen, though they really almost don’t speak Belarusian language in Bialystok. However, the first attempts to talk to passers-by in my native language assured me that I don’t have to worry. Bialystok remembers its Belarusian roots, it is not difficult to speak to local population Belarusian and Russian languages. And if you are lucky, you can even get to know about curious family stories, where the history of Poland and Belarus intertwisted sophisticatedly. Having recognized a Belarusian girl in me, people, whom I saw for the first time, hurried to tell me about themselves and their close relatives, invited me... Surely, this visit to Bialystok was not the last. I will return here not once. There will be many reasons for this, as I understood from our talk with the city vice-mayor Alexander Sosna (besides, he is also a Belarusian).
— Officially, according to the data of the last census, today in Poland live almost 50 thousands of Belarusians, mainly in Bialystok area. Certainly, you, Alexander Grigorievich, will be able to mention other unofficial figures?
— In point of fact, these are 50 thousand people, who openly admitted that they are not Poles. It is possible to define the number of Belarusians in Poland in the other way. As a rule, Poles are Catholics. Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians are almost always Orthodox. If to take into account that approximately 400 thousand people in Poland are Orthodox, than by the most rough estimate there are at least 130 thousands Belarusians here... It means that we “were, are and will be” here.
However, if my parents studied in Belarusian-language schools, than in the lyceum, where from I graduated, only Polish and Belarusian languages were taught. This is why I don’t speak Belarusian fluently, though I understand it perfectly. When somebody approves that it is mauvais ton to speak Russian or Belarusian in Poland, this is absurd. After-war generation grew in different conditions, but it doesn’t hinder many of us to feel ourselves Belarusians.
— It is felt in Bialystok that Belarus and Poland are not simply neighbors...
— After all, we have common Slavic roots. In addition, we got used to the fact, that Bialystok is near at hand for Belarus. For example, yesterday my friend was in Grodno, and I asked him to bring me a loaf — I like Belarusian bread very much... Recently I has watched a film one more time, which was made for a present congress of Esperanto-speaking people in Rotterdam (besides, next year the Universal Esperanto congress will take place here, come compulsorily!). We tried to show modern Bialystok, a city of the XXIth century, where Poles, Belarusians, Jews, Russians, German and French existed in peace side by side — it’s no surprise that here Ludwig Zamenhof was born, who invented a universal Esperanto language... The film ends with a Belarusian song performed by our famous folklore ensemble from Oreshkovo village. We are proud of our Belarusians, do you see? If somebody wants to teach his children to “Belarusian language”, it’s not a problem. There are Belarusian-speaking classes in civic schools of Bialystok, and in September of last year the first non-state Orthodox school was opened here with the study of Belarusian language. I want to say thanks to Belarusian embassy and general consulate one more time for constant assistance to this school — for example, in the end of a school year Belarus presented new books and folk costumes to Belarus...
— Recently the first Belarusian cultural centre to Poland has been opened in Bialystok...
— You see, I am glad as a Belarusian and as a vice-mayor. Such a centre could have appeared in Warsaw... And here it testifies with a fact of its existence: we exist. It means, that Belarusians in Poland don’t forget about their roots, try to be one family with their native neighbors. In Grodno live predominantly Belarusians and Poles — we don’t have to share something. Of course, I understand, that there is a high-level policy, but to exchange exhibitions, concerts, sport or musical collectives, we don’t need policy! It’s enough to invite friends...
— Besides, about guests. The time had gone when Belarusians came to Bialystok for difficult-to-obtain goods. Are Belarusian tourists awaited here?
— Bialystok is rather a transit city for tourists — there are not many sights here as in Warsaw. In my opinion, you can stay overnight, have a rest or spend a weekend here with pleasure. If the process of visa obtainment was simpler, I think that our city could have become a popular place to spend a weekend for Belarusians — it is at the distance of 70 kilometers from Grodno... Come to us to Bialystok Days in summer, which will last for two weeks, and each day there will be big concerts on the main city square. Come to Christmas, come to us always!.. On the whole, we celebrated festivals chamberly and Bialystok was considered the safest Polish city. There was the only supermarket here, no restaurants in the centre of the city, only at a New-Year night a bishop and a mayor of the city raised glasses with champagne, thanked citizens for support in the year — and then together went home. Now city authorities see Bialystok differently — small cafes are open everywhere, concert grounds, cozy theatres, new supermarkets are built, evenings young people don’t sit at home and promenade in the streets... As earlier, our city preserves reputation of the safest in Poland.
— People managed to tell me a lot about an unusual hobby of the vice-mayor — collecting of old post cards.
Our magazine, much to the entertainment of its readers, has been cooperating with a famous Minsk deltiologist Vladi-
mir Likhodedov. Where can we see
— Yes, I know Volodya, I know, that recently he has published one more wonderful book with illustrations from his collection... My collection of post cards is several times less — just one and a half thousand. I collect only images of Russian Orthodox temples, which once decorated Belarusian cities and places on the territory of Poland. As Likhodedov, I want my post cards were effective, — this is why I created a site www.chram.com.pl, gave 125 post cards for a permanent exposition to Suprasl academy, and soon I and my friend from Moscow plan to publish a book “Orthodox temples in Poland of 1815–1915”. I suppose, that there are many people in Belarus, interested in our perished relics.