Posted: 17.10.2023 15:25:00

Our heritage: keys to the cultural code

Deputy Culture Minister, “The sanctions have been beneficial — our enterprises have replaced the production of materials for restoration”

We regularly hear in the news: a church has been restored, reconstruction of a building of historical and cultural value has begun, another folk tradition has been added to the list of intangible cultural heritage and will now be protected by the state... How many unique architectural monuments have been saved, which domestic manufacturers have replaced foreign suppliers of materials for restoration work and what is being done in terms of cultural import substitution, Deputy Culture Minister Sergei Sarakach told The MT.

Pavel Bogush

Restoration is a delicate matter

Sergei Sarakach
— Sergei Aleksandrovich, how many and what objects of historical and cultural value are being reconstructed at the present time?
— The state today pays special attention to objects of historical and cultural heritage. During the current period of 2023 alone — from January to September — repair and restoration work was completed at 38 sites throughout the country. The construction of a museum in the Khatyn Memorial Complex was very important this year — this is an object that is necessary for our citizens and guests of the country as a symbol that no one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten.
Among the significant landmarks where repair and restoration work continues is the Church of the Corpus Christi in Nesvizh. It suffered from flooding — moisture constantly accumulated in the crypt. Work was carried out to drain groundwater, waterproofing the walls and foundation was completed, so the issue of flooding is closed. We completed the crypt in 2022, this year we are finishing work on the belfry and chapel, and in 2024 we will put the church into operation. And the second unique object is the Transfiguration Church in Polotsk, which will celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2025.
In this temple, the preservation of the fresco painting of the 12th century ranges from 75 to 90 percent: this is the only temple of its kind among all the religious buildings of Ancient Rus’ that have survived in such preservation to this day. The uniqueness of the work carried out by the restorers lies in the use of a unique technology for peeling off later paintings, which were transferred for exhibition to the Polotsk Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve. And if earlier we attracted Moscow specialists, now we work also with the help of Belrestavratsiya. The church is included in the Tentative List of UNESCO sites. Restoration work on it began back in 1992 and has continued for more than 30 years; we plan to complete it by the anniversary.
The UNESCO Tentative List also includes the Kolozha Church in Grodno, sacred defence-type architecture and wooden architecture of Polesie.
Also, in accordance with the instructions of the Head of State, we are completing work in the Zhirovichi Holy Assumption Cathedral. By 2025, in addition to current repairs, we plan to restore the iconostasis, one of the oldest in Belarus. Specialists from the National Art Museum and employees of Belrestavratsiya visited the site to study the situation, conduct an examination of the condition of the iconostasis, and identify those elements that needed to be restored or completely replaced. There is serious work ahead, I think we will find funds for it. 


— Will we restore icons in Belarus?
— The National Art Museum today accepts orders throughout the country: the state has invested significant funds in the creation of a new restoration centre, now they need to be justified, so that the Zhirovichi icons will be restored in our country. 

Mixtures, bricks: all is our own

— What other historical objects will be the focus of attention of the Culture Ministry in the coming years?
— Work is ahead at such facilities as the National Academic Drama Theatre named after M. Gorky, the Belarusian State Academy of Music, and the National Art Museum. This year we are doing design work, and next year we will begin repair and restoration work. The buildings, let’s say, are not young. We even raised the category of the conservatory — it is already an architectural object of national importance. We also do not lose sight of the castles: Novogrudok, Krevo, Golshansky, Ruzhany Palace, the Old Castle in Grodno, the former Volovichi Palace in Svyatsk, Grodno Region.

— Do sanctions against our country complicate the restoration of architectural monuments? 
— Today we can do almost everything using Belarusian enterprises: we have many organisations that produce building materials suitable for restoration and reconstruction. In Belrestavratsiya there are currently many craftsmen who are even capable of restoring authentic chandeliers: they were the ones who made the choirs for the Church of the Transfiguration. In a sense, the sanctions did us good: enterprises quickly reoriented themselves and replaced the production of necessary materials. For example, the Gorynsky plant produces bricks, the quality is very good, laboratory tests showed good results. We also try to use our Typhoon dry mixes as much as possible, where possible. If suddenly there is something missing — for example, copper, then we purchase it in the Russian Federation. So we don’t feel any shortage. 

Ivan Yarivanovich

— In every village there is a memorial to those who died in the Great Patriotic War — what measures are being taken to protect and renew these memorial places? 
— Now, as part of changes to the Code of Culture, the Culture Ministry has transferred the authority to approve work on historical and cultural values of regional significance to local authorities. One application is enough, according to which the Culture Ministry issues a permit to carry out repair work, then all approvals take place at the local level. And today we have a huge number of requests for repairs at places of military glory: regional authorities are very attentive to this issue.
Ivan Yarivanovich

Raise patriots of your country 

— Recently the On the Other Shore film was released, dedicated to the liberation of Western Belarus from Polish oppression. Share your opinion about this film.
— It is difficult to describe all the experiences that you experience while sitting in the hall; it is a real emotional explosion. The Culture Ministry is now receiving numerous positive reviews and words of gratitude, including responses from young people. I think Belarusfilm will not stop there: this is only the first film in a planned trilogy dedicated to significant events in the history of our state. I can say with confidence that the On the Other Shore film will beat the acclaimed Avatar at the box office; today it is the highest-grossing film of the National Film Studio in modern history. Therefore, a decision was made to extend the screenings until December 29th.
In the Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, the Head of State made an absolutely correct proposal about the need for cultural import substitution. This is the direction in which we must move, to educate our citizens, starting from kindergarten. And today, the Culture Ministry, together with Belarusfilm, is working on creating a number of animation projects dedicated to our state symbols: these cartoons will be shown to children in kindergartens and schools in order to instil a love for our symbols in an accessible form from childhood. After all, it is at this age that the education of a patriot of our country begins.

By Irina Ovsepyan