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Hubert Gregorski and Aksana Rudovich | 07.09.2016

Culture in exile: Narodny Albom 2016

Nowadays traditional Belarusian culture has few opportunities for unimpeded development due to a silent war waged by President Aleksandr Lukashenko against dissident artists in general and legendary Lavon Volski in particular. Thus, the organisers of the second edition of Narodny Albom 'National Album' have had to move the concert to Poland in order to perform their work.

The show lasted for about two hours. (Photo: Kristina Tolok)

Almost 20 years have passed since Michal Aniempadystau and Lavon Volski composed and performed Narodny Albom on the stage of the Belarusian Republican Young Spectator Theatre in Minsk. The concert and the eponymous album that followed it turned out unexpectedly to be a great success. During the period of strong Russification, the performers played a key role in promoting and developing Belarusian language, culture and tradition.

The album's influence was so strong that Belarusian language teachers quoted passages from the songs during lessons, while performances of the album by students of the underground Belarusian-language lyceum in Minsk became iconic in Belarus and beyond. Nevertheless, on the big stages in Belarus as well as on the national TV and radio Narodny Albom has been conspicuously absent due to its allegedly anti-Soviet sentiment.

In the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Białystok on 4 September, twenty Belarusian artists, accompanied by twenty-three Polish actors, gathered to present their re-interpretation of Narodny Albom.

[Have a look at our photo story of the show]

The main organisers of the event were the Polish Ministry of Culture and Belsat TV, a Polish state-run satellite television channel aimed at a Belarusian audience. Around 700 prominent spectators mainly from Belarus and Poland attended, among them well-known Belarusian activists, politicians and scientists.

Agnieszka Romaszewska, Belsat TV director and the main manager of the event, declared that she was "full of hope" that it would be possible to repeat Narodny Albom once more in Minsk, even though the organisers have not yet tried to seek financial or other support from Belarusian authorities. "I sincerely don't understand what is so political about this project. On the contrary, it is an artistic project", Romaszewska told Belarus Votes. Musician Aliaksandr Pamidorau endorsed her view: "We never sing about politics. We sing about our life and life around us. Then somebody tries to stop our concerts."

Impressions from Narodny Albom (Video: Aksana Rudovich)

The concert would be impossible in Belarus

Stanislav Shushkevich, the first Head of independent Belarus, reacted much more harshly. He stated that the concert would be impossible in Belarus because it is "contrary to everything that our President, and our authorities impart to our nation." He added that the authorities "are ready to make bydlo 'scum' of the people to direct them more easily." But thanks to the artists and organisers they would not be successful. For Mikola Statkevich, an opposition politician and candidate in the 2010 presidential election, the artists and activists present in Białystok were "heroes of Belarus". "They were prosecuted, their concerts were banned, but they created these songs, this culture." Statkevich further complained that the project wasn't mentioned in Belarusian state TV. "It shows that those who are in power have anti-Belarusian interests."

Undoubtedly the main star of the evening was Lavon Volski. The singer is informally banned from performing in Belarus due to his engagement in anti-establishment activity. "I cannot do anything in Belarus", Volski said. "For example, I wanted to have a concert and a certain club agreed. Then health authorities came to this club and suggested that the concert should not be held, otherwise a fine would be imposed on the club." This is a very common procedure in Belarus.

Nevertheless, the re-release of Narodny Albom has filled a lot of white-red-white Belarusian hearts with hope. Currently, Basovishcha and Bardauskaja vosen are the most famous cultural events building bridges between Poland and Belarus. Perhaps the success and popularity of all three events will enable similar ones to be held on a more regular basis, and on Belarusian territory.


Hubert Gregorski studies Law, Russian Language, International Relations and Iranian Studies.
Aksana Rudovich is a journalist from Belarus.